Free Themes in Tao Te Ching Essay Sample

The Tao Te Ching text is the sole provider of the philosophical basis and practice of Taoism. This ancient text authored by Lao Tzu presents the duality and cyclical nature of life in a philosophical perspective of life based on different themes identifiable within its verses. This paper identifies three common themes that emerge through various verses. The themes include returning or the reunion with the primordial, non-action or emptiness, and the mysterious female, which is the complementing half of the duality in nature (Tzu, n.d).

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Returning/ Reunion with the Primordial

The continual return theme highlights how the vast array of life forms continuous journey through the paths of life, moving from youthful life to lifeless forms within the cosmic principle from where they once emerged. The theme highlights the cyclical flow of essence between life and non-existence or death, which also portrays the dual nature of life’s aspects. The theme contrasts weakness and soft nature of man at birth to his stiffness and rigidity at death as a path of travelling which returns or unites man to the primordial. This theme emphasizes a cyclical nature and flow of life of all living things. This theme emerges in verse 1.

The Theme of Non-action or Emptiness

The theme of emptiness or inaction highlights the essence of both space and lack of action. This theme highlights the essence of space as compared to form and the value of inaction as compared to action. Empty space seems to fail in catching human attention, and inaction also fails to attract attention. This fact makes the empty void and inaction to be mostly neglected, and, thus, forgetting that being part of a complementing duality to form and action, they also have significance. The importance of space is expressed by highlighting the void within a vessel, which is the valuable essence of the vessel rather than its outer solid form. The theme seems to call for a cessation of the reactive nature of approach to life, and instead calls for a pursuit of nature and recognition of the usefulness of what is not existent. The whole theme calls for having no preferences, agenda, solid preconceptions, and intentions. It is a theme that emphasizes the need to let nature take its course in life rather than exerting active human intervention in most aspects and deeds of life. The theme is strongly highlighted in verse11 (“It is the space within that makes it useful....”), verse 22 (“Have little and gain...empty and be full...”), verse 47 (“He sees without looking; He works without doing...”), verse 48 (“The world is ruled by letting things take their course...”) (Tzu, n.d).

The Mysterious Female Theme

The mysterious female theme, which is represented in some verses as the valley spirit, also denotes a theme of duality, expressed as the generative spirit which is the base from which earth and heaven spring. This theme shows that life has an inexhaustible generative force anchored on earth. The theme tends to emphasize the Yin or ‘female’ values of the Tao system, which are the quiescent, passive, and solid natures that must complement the masculinity of the dual system in life. The theme presents the essence of both complementary sides by emphasizing the need for a balance in the system. The theme highlights the duality in life and need for balance. This theme appears in verses 6, 28 (“Know the strength of man, but keep a woman's care... Know the white, but keep the black...), and 42 (“The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang. They achieve harmony by combining these forces...”) (Tzu, n.d).


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