non-dogmatic • non-theistic • non-proselytizing

Lesson Objectives

• Define Key Terms

• Appreciate the challenge of studying an esoteric concept like the Dao

• Appreciate the global fascination with an unseen, guiding Force

• Understand in academic terms what one can of the Dao and Daoism

• Appreciate the simple, powerful beauty of Wu Wei

• Understand the relationship between the forces of Yin and Yang

• Appreciate how the Dao is applied to practical concerns like warfare

Key Terms


Qi (Ch'i)

Tàijí (Tai Chi)

Fung Shui

Yin Yang

Dao (Tao)

De (Te)


Wu Wei

The Art of War

A Note on Translation

This course uses the pinyin method (Dao, Laozi, Qi) rather than the archaic Wade-Giles method (Tao, Lao Tzu, Ch'i) for transliterating Chinese.

Embracing the Mystery

道可道 非常道

"Dao k'e dao fei ch'ang dao"

The first line of the Daodejing


• 道 (dao): WAY, this/that, nature, path, marga, logos

• 可 (k'e): CAN, able (to), can (be), (be)come, approve, permit

• 非 (fei): NOT, (can)not, other, opposed, wrong, blame

• 常 (ch'ang): ETERNAL, constant, absolute, forever

What does it mean?

Words and names are not the way. (J. Clatfelter)

The Dao that can be told is not the eternal Dao. (Gia-Fu Feng)

The way that can be named is not the Eternal Way. (J. Jerkins)

A way that can be walked is not The Way. (J. Star)

Before We Begin

From the first line of Daoist scripture in the Daodejing, we can already see that this teaching is meant to be obscure. In some ways, it has to be because it's subject is so esoteric. The first six ideograms, which themselves defy clear explanation, seem to promise the reader that, if you feel like you start to get it, that it won't really be "it." Daoist teaching says the Dao isn't something you label and pick apart; it's something pre-rational. Intuitive. Something you feel.

So let's embrace the mystery, and find out what we can say about it...