Teachings From The Tao Te Ching: Speaking Truly


“Too much talking

Brings about ruin

Better to abide by

The Middle way”

Excessive talking is ruinous, because words cannot express The Way – thus, an inordinate attachment to them misdirects us from The Tao, which, when it speaks, speaks only silently. Speech is inherently deceptive. It enables us to create truths about ourselves that simply don’t exist. How often do you say things in a conversation that are absolutely meaningless to you, but which you say anyway to abide by the rigid preconceptions inherent in social intercourse? How often do your heart and your words completely co-exist? If many of us were asked to speak only when we had something truly meaningful to say, we would either find ourselves mostly silent, or be wrestling with an attempt to express an infinite fund of knowledge we know we can never put into words.

So, one along The Way should speak only when they have something purposeful to say, avoiding meaningless dialogue, words spoken only to pass the time, or fill up space. Words spoken without meaning are tremendous insults – it is throwing shit on the perfect body of silence. A wasteful expenditure of energy, no worse than eating when you’re not hungry, having sex out of habit instead of love, buying what you don’t need, or spending time actively pursuing things you know cause harm to everyone involved.

Abiding by The Middle Way, The Sage speaks when he needs to, does what he needs to, and then stops once he’s fulfilled his purpose. Then he rests, and conserves his energy through keeping his mind empty, so that he will be fully prepared for the next time The Way calls upon him to act or teach.



Tao Te Ching Teachings: Artifice and Desire

Immortal Looking at Mountains

“Always keeping people

Free from artifice and desire”

What is usually translated as ‘knowledge’ here I have translated as ‘artifice.’ Whilst the word chih does have the meaning ‘knowledge; knowing; learning’ it also has the additional meanings of ‘craftiness; cunning; wiliness; cleverness.’ The Taoist isn’t renowned for keeping people free from knowledge – he’s all about wising people up! However, a distinction should be made here between intellectual knowledge – which is purely provisional and limited – and ultimate knowledge, which comprises everything, and has no limits. What the sage is keeping people from here is artificial knowledge and artificial ways of being and behaving – hence, artifice.

Intellectuals want to explain everything, because it gives them a sense of power, as though their knowledge enables them to control the world. And, to a degree, it does. Knowledge is power, because it is capable of giving us the key to the secret working of things. This is why we must remove our craftiness and wile – that ruthless part of us that is willing to destroy everyone else in order to succeed. Many people have attained great power through The Way, only to be corrupted from it, because they have not completely overcome their wiles and desires. Thinking their power is their own, rather than something bestowed on them by heaven, they become egomaniacal, and think it is their right to abuse others, because of their superior strength.

But the greatest strength is having strength, but not using it. The greatest martial artists in the world never fight; the wisest men in the world never show off their learning. Approach knowledge and power with a selfless heart, and a limitless mind, then you will truly use your power to benefit all beings.

Tao Te Ching Commentary: Empty the Mind, Fill the Spirit


“Therefore, the sage’s way of life

Empties the mind and fills the spirit”

So, the sage empties minds, because he knows that a mind full of thoughts, delusions, and dross can only bring about disaster. As emptiness is one of the basic characteristics of the universe, a being needs to thoroughly empty his own mind if he wants to comprehend existence. We need to be empty in order to draw on the infinite energy of that emptiness. We cannot hope to fill our minds with the spirit, if the gateways to our mind are already obstructed with ignorant beliefs and erroneous perceptions. Thus, the sage empties and cleanses our minds, so that we are ready embrace a new state of awareness – complete unity with the spirit.

This simple phrase is also a basic formula for meditation and internal alchemy. Once our hearts and minds are settled – (for the Chinese ideogram for ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ is the same) – we make ourselves receptive to the primordial energy of the Way. This is something that has to be experienced to be understood. The primordial energy of The Way is simply not able to take up residence in a busy mind. The Tao is never forceful, and is yielding by nature. We need to yield to it, in mimicry, before it will ever yield to us.

Once we realize the bliss of a thought-free mind, we begin to realize just how draining thinking is. Thinking robs of us of energy. It exhausts us. When we don’t think, we conserve energy, which we redirect towards higher-functions. So, learning not to think really does help us to fill the spirit.

‘Fill the spirit’ can also be translated as ‘reinforce the centre.’ Not thinking enables us to stay centred, as we have no wily thoughts to lead us off track. The more we practice emptiness, the more reinforced the centre becomes, bequeathing us with an energy, power and self control we could never have previously fathomed.

Tao Te Ching Commentary: Long and Short



“Long and short contrast one another”

What is considered long or short, is, again, a matter of perspective. Time and length are entirely relative according to one’s specific placement within the infinite manifestation of things. To an ant, a tree must seem like a ladder to the stars. But, to a giant in another dimension, all the variegated lights from the stars within our galaxy may just seem like so many compacted photons in the tip of a candle flame. The Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu was very fond of saying that man’s lifespan must seem like that of insect compared with trees that can live for thousands of year. How much smaller our lifespans must look when compared with the eternity of The Tao! The point being that we should not trick ourselves into thinking we know everything, when we are share a tiny blip of consciousness in an endless expanse of suchness. Only when we become one with everything will we know everything, because that knowledge will be what we are.

Tao Te Ching Commentary: Existence and Non-Existence


“In this way

Existence and Non-Existence

Are mutually interdependent”


So, the underlying sameness of good and evil, of beauty and ugliness, also apply to the underlying sameness of existence and non-existence, of being and non-being, of presence and absence. You may think a being has died, just because its body has died. But beings are not their bodies – they are their consciousness – an infinite consciousness that resides everywhere, and has no limits. Consciousness does not need a body to sustain it – but a body does need consciousness to sustain it. Though things may seem to exist just because their bodies have stopped, they have in fact gone somewhere else. The idea of life, of existence itself, is always a relative one. In this way, we could re-phrase this quote to be more in-line with the ones that preceded it:


“Everyone recognizes

Existence as existence

Only because there’s non-existence”


But just what is existence? The Gnostic Christians considered those living in ignorance to be ‘The Dead’ and those living in enlightenment to be ‘The Living.’ The ignorant have only a narrow-frame of perception, and are therefore oblivious to much of what is around them, essentially ‘dead’ to the vast plethora of knowledge that surrounds and imbues them. Alternatively, the enlightened have an expanded frame of awareness, and are capable of perceiving a vast array of things of which most people are completely unaware. Able to see spirits, demons, energy, and other-dimensions, their threshold of experience is entirely at odds with that of other people.

But, could either the ignorant or the wise said to be truly right? The ignorant man sees what he sees, and that is existence to him. The wise man sees what he sees, and that is existence to him. But neither of them are right or wrong in what they see, for both of them – even the wise man, with his heightened powers of perception – are both constrained by their limited powers of perception. They are both limited by the fact they have a self.

Only once you acknowledge the limitations of perception are you able to approach the limitless. Only once you acknowledge the limitations of the self are you able to approach selflessness.

So what is held to be existent and non-existent depend entirely upon one’s viewpoint. Where others see a dead body, the enlightened man sees liberation from a corpse. Whilst others grieve over death, the enlightened rejoice at the prospect of expanded awareness. The perception of existence as existence is illusory. The perception of non-existence as non-existence is also illusory. Indeed, the perception of anything as either one thing or another is always illusory. Only once our awareness has expanded to degree where it can embrace all things with equanimity and without distinction, can it be said to have been liberated from the illusion of perception.