The Tao


As I delve into the mysteries of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I am feeling a complete harmony with the philosophical aspects of Taoism [this is the energy work that I have recently described].  The best way of understanding (at least superficially) this form of philosophical and religious tradition is through the Tao symbol itself [“Tao” literally translates to mean “way” or “path”]:

First, an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching [or Dao De Jing], a fundamental text that outlines some of the fundamental precepts of Taoism [an ancient shamanistic East Asian religious/philosophical practise encompassing elements of ancestor and nature spirits]:


“The Dao gives birth to One

Two gives birth to Three

Three gives birth to the Ten

Thousand Things”

-Dao De Jing


The Dao [Tao] is akin to the Indian concepts of brahman or atman.  Tao itself is the influence that gives order, balance and harmony to the Universe.  It represents nature, due to the belief that nature represents the Tao.  Qi (or Chi as you may have commonly heard the term) is the energy of action or existence that brings this about.  The idea, is that this energy (Qi) should be balanced and harmonized for Tao to be achieved (a sort of Universal order). 

In it’s simplest form, the Qi energy can be described as being derived from Yin and Yang (pronounced “yong”) components.  Yin is the dark swirl in the symbol (female, grounded, cold and moist), counterbalanced by Yang (male, airy, warm and dry).  To ensure further balance of the Yin aspect, it must contain a tiny bit of Yang, and vice versa.  According to some Taoist schools of thought (the Yang school being the exception), the Yin energy is the first energy. [the chicken and the egg concept]. 

The concept of the Tao then can be applied on a macrocosmic level (ie. the Universe, the Environment) and a microcosmic level (ie. the Body).  In health, there is a balance of Yin and Yang (the “Two” from our Dao De Jing script) and the force of Qi is capable of sustaining the Unified Whole or the “One”.  Now, the idea of the “Three” has some scholars confused, in that it might mean the Self, heaven and earth [the number three has often been associated with the holiest of numbers, representing the three states of consciousness – heaven, earth, hell…three aspects of time – past, present, future…three divine activities – creating, conservation, destruction].  The “Ten Thousand Things” refers to the multiplicity of this alchemy that is created from the basic elements, and the continued balance required for Tao [I could imagine that a more metaphysical version of this symbol would involve alternating Yin and Yang smaller dots within the smallest circles…ad infinitum…].

Metaphorically speaking, the Tao symbol analogy is a beautiful one for understanding the fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM].  One school of TCM teaches The Five Element Theory.  This theory further describes the Tao as being in harmony with nature – the elements (earth, wind, fire, water) and seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall).  For example:  the period of deepest winter corresponds with the descent of Yin (approximately the 4 o’clock position of the symbol, where the black portion of the swirl is thickest).  This is a period of energy grounding and storage.  It corresponds with the kidney (the organ responsible for storing Yin).  Not surprisingly then, the element water (ie. kidney fluid) is associated with this portion of the symbol.  As one moves around the symbol in a clockwise fashion, we encounter spring (liver, wood, Yang mobilisation), summer (heart, fire, Yang storage) and fall (lung, metal, Yin Collection).

Now, how does all of this information get utilised in the TCM system, you might ask?  The Tao symbol and philosophy of Taoism provides such a lovely for balancing the microcosm of the body, when applied to a system of practise which includes intuitive and objective observations (environment, diet, health, physical examination). 

I will dip into some of these aspects in my next post.

“The Sage stands facing South”

-Nai Jing


10 responses to “The Tao

  1. So succinctly explained. And “namaste” – there’s a word I’m familiar with, because I grew up in India.

    Someone said (might have been Pope Terry) that my moon picture from Sunday was a yin-yang shot. He’s right, you know!!

    Thanks David! I hoped to explain the meaning of this symbol clearly because of it’s metaphorical importance. The idea of balance, harmony etc. can be translated to so many things in life (health, climate, environment…even photos!). You know…Pope Terry is right. I popped over to your site again to have another look at your photo – and it just occurred to me that it does, in fact, look like a swirl from the Tao symbol (Pope Terry has a great eye…and a very abstract sense of structure)! To me, it seems like the swirl starts out as Yang (light, airy) on the horizon and deepens into Yin (darkness, grounding). The moon, is that little touch of both Yang (bright crescent) and Yin (the shaded 3/4 part of the moon) dotted in the photo for good measure (to balance the aspects of Yin and Yang in the swirl). Wow. Once again, Nature shows us her balance and harmony (and your eye sought this out in perfect composition – good work!).

  2. This is all so interesting. This is a topic I have often thought to read up on but somehow never seemed to get to it. I thank you for bringing it to me.
    I will continue to read, thank you

    Thanks Bill! I’m glad you stopped by. I am particularly interested in the harmonic nature of the Tao as it applies to most things in life, especially health. I hope that you are hanging in there. I think of you often and wish you well.

  3. Welcome back!! Hope your time of deep workingwas both productive and no less strss-filled than required.
    Thank you for the lesson on this symbol. My husband and I have used it to explain so many things (the balance that marriage requires, the way his Path and mine are balances for each other, etc.) but we’ve both been too lazy to understand it’s true meaning and the way it corresponds to specific elements and the body as well as the way the seasons of eneryg use are symbolized there.

    Hi Signmom! Well…the very fact that you and your husband even discuss the Tao in light of relationship harmony etc., is rather wonderful, in and of itself! I thought I knew what the symbol meant until I learned about the multiplicity of the metaphor…and it’s relationship to Taoism (I understood the symbol on a very basic level — which in itself is often just enough to get the “jist” of things).

    Some of the information that I provided sounds a little esoteric and arcane, but once applied to a system of practise, like TCM, it provides such a practical model for understanding complex natural systems. So…To learn these things, I needed a bit more esoteric guidance from people that understand the inner workings of the symbol (TCM practitioners) – and I signed up for the course (literally!).

    I got into a discussion with my partner about metaphors last night – and their importance. I love metaphors. Traditionally, ancient practises (medicine, rituals) and stories (ancestral, etc) were passed down through the oral tradition in many cultures (this makes sense, considering that the printing press is a relatively “new” invention in the general scheme of things). Metaphors then became a wonderful way to easily remember relationships and stories, such that they might be passed down through many generations (and “saved” in a human memory bank). Metaphors are also open to interpretation as well…and that is not necessarily a bad thing, when one considers that the definition of a metaphor can be expanded…contracted…


  4. Taoism is a fascinating philosophy, not just because of its own ideals, but how they share things on a universal level with all forms of mysticism, as opposed to ‘religion’.
    You’re aware of my views of moderation and balance, and can perhaps see a touch of Taoism in it.
    As for true balance, my windowsill includes a bust of Lao T’su, alongside Buddha, the Virgin Mary, and a space for Islam.
    Still hoping to collect one of the Hindu Trimurti, a suitable symbol for Judaism and a Native American mystic.
    As for traditional Protestantism, in which I was brought up, I occasionally find a bunch of flowers, arranged by Yvonne.

    Hi Anthony! Yes. I had figured you to be a man of open, balanced thought. Sounds like your windowsill and my windowsill are one in the same. I like the Protestant touch too – very earthy 😉

  5. very intresting
    love to see u in my blog

    Hi Fatima! I’ll pay your blog a visit shortly! Thanks for stopping by.

  6. ooh god that smiley
    i didn t mean that:(
    it s angry

    Hi Fatima! It’s ok, I understand!

  7. Hey thanks for the post. I study the Tao Te Ching and am interested in TCM when I get enough credits to attend.


    Dancingmoogle! My, that’s a neat name. Say…Good for you – I highly recommend studying TCM. For those interested in study within Canada, PCU in Vancouver offers a three year diploma program (for TCM practitioner), and an extra year of internship to become a Doctor of TCM. I’ve been told that it takes three lifetimes to fully study TCM:

    1 lifetime to study Acupuncture
    1 lifetime to study Chinese Herbs
    1 lifetime to study Qi Gong

    Hmmm…Is there an alchemist in the group?!

    Thanks for stopping by…My next post will dip into the relationship of the Tao and TCM to health.

  8. Excellent PM. I saw this on the login page on wordpress and had no idea it was your blog I was clicking on.

    Very nice, clear, consise explanation of the Tao. It’s something I’ve been living with my whole life because my father was into learning and he shared much of that with me.

    Thanks love. Peace.
    ~ RS ~

    Login page huh? Interesting. Thanks Ruby! I told you that we were on the same wavelength. Glad to hear that the Tao brings harmony and equilibrium into your life (I am not surprised by this – you are one very strong, special lady). I love you. xoxo

  9. the rolling has begun…you’re up girl…..

    Mission accepted Captain!

  10. Very interesting post, Muse. I had never read a full explanation of the Tao before – makes complete sense to me.

    Loved Anthony’s comment – I too have little shrines in the house from different religions. And me the atheist! I just find them beautiful and interesting and hey, I respect the belief systems of the world. How’s that for balance?!

    Completely off-subject: You’ll be happy to know I’m sucked in to Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares show now. He’s completely irresistable.

    Hi OB! Thanks for that. You know, the Tao does make alot of sense, doesn’t it? I have only really scratched the surface of the metaphor itself…but what I have described can give someone a general feel for it’s meaning. This metaphorical iceberg is large…and reaches fathomous depths.

    I liked Anthony’s comment too! I don’t find your little “shrines” that unusual, even if you consider yourself an atheist (and there is certainly nothing wrong with atheism)! The fact that you have respect for multiple religions and theosophies is remarkable and, as you described, a great balancing pivot point!

    Gordon’s Kitchen Nightmares show is great, isn’t it? I love his passion and creative force. He’s also very easy on the eyes…

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