Tao Te Ching: Notes & Review

tao te ching

Tao Te Ching is a book of ancient Chinese philosophy. Lao Tzu, the author, is one of the “founding fathers” of Taoism.

Bullet Summary

  • Focus on the small things and the big things will take care of themselves
  • Never underestimate your enemy: the underdog often has the advantage
  • Seek the truth: even when it hurts

Full Summary

Tao Te Ching is a collection of gold nuggets that serve as deep food for thoughts.
I will list here the ones that I liked the most:

Just Do What Needs to Be Done

Just do what needs to be done, never take advantage of power.
Achieve results, but never glory in them, achieve results but never boast, achieve results but never be proud, achiever results because this is the natural way.

Achieve results, but not through violence. Force is followed by loss of strength. This is not the way of Tao. That which goes against Tao comes to an early end.

Perception of The Nature of Things

That which shrinks must first expand, that which fails must first be strong, that which is cast down must first be raised, before receiving there must be giving.

This is called perception of the nature of things.

Don’t Try To Be: Just Be

A truly good man is not aware of his goodness, And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good, And is therefore not good.

A truly good man does nothing, Yet nothing is left undone.
A foolish man is always doing, Yet much remains to be done.

On try hard also read: don’t try hard to gain social status.

Don’t Get Attached to Material Possessions

He who is attached to things will suffer much.
He who saves will suffer heavy loss.

A contented man is never disappointed.

He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble. He will stay forever safe.

Later on Laozi says:

Therefore the sage seeks freedom from desire.
He does not collect precious things.
He learns not to hold on to ideas.

Don’t Be The Loud Mouth

Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know.

Keep your mouth closed.

Guard your senses.
Temper your sharpness.
Simplify your problems.
Mask your brightness.
Be at one with the dust of the Earth.
This is primal union.

Achieve Greatness In The Little Things

Practice non-action.
Work without doing.

And what I liked most:

Achieve greatness in little things.

Furthermore:

In the universe great acts are made of small deeds.
The sage does not attempt anything very big, and thus achieves greatness.

Easy promises make for little trust.
Taking things lightly results in great difficulty.

While saying “the sage does not attempt anything very big” might seem in contrast to much self-help of today which clamors for big goals (The Magic of Thinking Big), I think this is genius.

To me it’s a message which I found similar to The Slight Edge and The Compound Effect, such as that great things are achieved through the small, daily actions.
Take the small things very seriously and the big things will come.

The Best Cure is Prevention

Peace is easily maintained;
Trouble is easily overcome before it starts.

The brittle is easily shattered;
The small is easily scattered.

Deal with it before it happens.
Set things in order before there is confusion.

And later on:

People usually fail when they are on the verge of success.
So give as much care to the end as to the beginning;
Then there will be no failure.

The Art of Non Action

The art of non action is something that Robert Greene in The Laws of Human Nature describes Eastern and feminine qualities of waiting for troubles to dissipate and for the enemies to destroy themselves.

It is better to become passive in order to see what will happen.
It is better to retreat a foot than to advance only an inch

This is called being flexible while advancing,
pushing back without using force,
and destroying the enemy without engaging him.

And on one of the biggest sins one can commit:

There is no greater disaster than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy means losing your greatest assets.

And on the force of desperation:

When equal forces meet in battle, victory will go to the one
that enters with the greatest sorrow.

This to me suggests that there is huge power in being the underdog. Sometimes you should play up your underdog qualities.
Also read:

Be Like Water My Friend

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.

To me this suggests that being “strong and unyielding” is often the cause of your downfall.
It’s true, also considering that tough exteriors often hide internal issues.

A little later Laozi writes in Tao Te Ching:

The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.

Seek Truth, Even When It Hurts

And finally, one of my favorites:

Truthful words are not beautiful;
beautiful words are not truthful.

This is similar to what Greene says in The 50th Law and what Ray Dalio says in Principles: learn to love reality, even when it hurts.

I wholeheartedly agree with it, and that’s one of the reasons why I dislike so much the Law of Attraction as espoused in books such as The Secret: it’s a big, feel good empty lie.

tao te ching

CONS

Tao Te Ching is an outstanding text, but it doesn’t come with some cons: 

Cryptic
Like many old classics, Tao Te Ching is not the easiest read.
As soon as it starts, it differentiates between two “Tao”: one which can be named and expressed, and the Eternal Tao, which is inscrutable.
Just to add to the complexities, it says that Tao is “darkness within darkness, the gate of all mysteries”.
Just keeping things simple, you know 🙂

PROS

The audiobook version I had a lovely soothing voice which made the whole experience a bit similar to The Power of Now: a mystic trip into wise-dom.

Tao Te Ching Audio Summary

And here is a Tao Te Ching video summary with a few notes that I haven’t touched here:

Review

The “Tao Te Ching” is not usually my cup of tea type of book, but in this case, I actually enjoyed it.
I connected a lot of the dots to some major beliefs I have, and I suppose that’s one of the secrets of its success: different people can read into this book pretty much anything 🙂

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