Tao Te ChingEdit
The Tao Te Ching, or Daodejing, is widely considered to be the most influential Taoist text. Jedi hold knowledge gained through self-discovery, above any knowledge gained from any book or person. However, these books can be a guide on your quest. It is a foundational scripture of central importance in Taoism. It has been used as a ritual text throughout the history of religious Taoism. However, the precise date that it was written is the subject of debate: there are those who put it anywhere from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC. Taoist commentators have deeply considered the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching. They are widely discussed in both academic and mainstream literature. A common interpretation is similar to Korzybski's observation that "the map is not the territory". The opening lines, with literal and common translation, are:
- 道可道，非常道。 (Tao (way or path) can be said, not usual way)
- "The Way that can be described is not the true Way."
- 名可名，非常名。 (names can be named, not usual names)
- "The Name that can be named is not the constant Name."
Tao literally means "path" or "way"(and also means "say" or "be said"), and can figuratively mean "essential nature", "destiny", "principle", or "true path". The philosophical and religious "Tao" is infinite, without limitation. One view states that the paradoxical opening is intended to prepare the reader for teachings about the unteachable Tao. Tao is believed to be transcendent, indistinct and without form. Hence, it cannot be named or categorized. Even the word "Tao" can be considered a dangerous temptation to make Tao a limiting "name".
The Tao Te Ching is not thematically ordered. However, the main themes of the text are repeatedly expressed using variant formulations, often with only a slight difference. The leading themes revolve around the nature of Tao and how to attain it. Tao is said to be unnameable and accomplishing great things through small means. There is significant debate regarding which English translation of the Tao Te Ching is preferred, and which particular translation methodology is best. Discussions and disputes about various translations of the Tao Te Ching can become acrimonious, involving deeply entrenched views.
Ancient commentaries on the Tao Te Ching are important texts in their own right. The Heshang Gong commentary was most likely written in the second century AD, and as perhaps the oldest commentary, contains the edition of the Tao Te Ching that was transmitted to the present day. Other important commentaries include the Xiang'er, one of the most important texts from the Celestial Master movement, and Wang Bi's commentary.
The Daozang (道藏, Treasury of Tao) is sometimes referred to as the Taoist canon. It was originally compiled during the Jin, Tang, and Song dynasties. The version surviving today was published during the Ming dynasty. The Ming Daozang includes almost 1500 texts. Following the example of the Buddhist Tripitaka, it is divided into three dong (洞, "caves", "grottoes"). They are arranged from "highest" to "lowest":
- The Zhen ("real" or "truth"真) grotto. Includes the Shangqing texts.
- The Xuan ("mystery"玄) grotto. Includes the Lingbao scriptures.
- The Shen ("divine"神) grotto. Includes texts predating the Maoshan （茅山）revelations.
Daoshi generally do not consult published versions of the Daozang, but individually choose, or inherit, texts included in the Daozang. These texts have been passed down for generations from teacher to student. The Shangqing school has a tradition of approaching Taoism through scriptural study. It is believed that reciting certain texts often enough will be rewarded with immortality. In Taiwan, one often finds Buddhist texts being chanted in Taoist temples.
While the Tao Te Ching is most famous, there are other important texts in traditional Taoism. Taishang Ganying Pian ("Treatise of the Exalted One on Response and Retribution") discusses sin and ethics, and has become a popular morality tract in the last few centuries. It asserts that those in harmony with Tao will live long and fruitful lives. The wicked, and their descendents, will suffer and have shortened lives. Both the Taipingjing ("Scripture on Great Peace") and the Baopuzi ("Book of the Master Who Keeps to Simplicity") contain early alchemical formulas that early Taoists believed could lead to immortality. A book titled "The Wisdom Of Laotse" offers a translation of "The Book of Tao" while comparing Laotse's philosophies against Kǒng Fūzǐ's.
The Zhuangzi (莊子) was named after its author, who also appears as a character in the book's narrative. It is more in the form of a collection of stories than the short aphorisms and maxims of the Tao Te Ching. Also among the cast of characters in the Zhuangzi's stories is Laozi of the Tao Te Ching, as well as Confucius.