What core principles or concepts do I need to know in order to have a basic understanding of Taoism?

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Answered by: Joel, An Expert in the Taoist Principles 101 Category
Let's imagine that you and I are canoeing down a river somewhere. Let's imagine it's a quietish river with smooth water and trees along the bank, just the kind of place that you'd like to go canoeing. As we're paddling along, minding our own business, you notice that your paddle is making fun little swirls in the water as you swoosh it back and forth. The little swirls look like the ones that form in bath tub drains except that, unbounded by the tub, they drift off into the river, swirling and bobbing, sometimes with a little bubble on top, until they fade back into the river.

In a moment of insight, you realize that you are rather like one of these little swirls. Like the little swirl you appear to be your own thing but you are actually composed of the world around you just like the swirl is made from the river. Your made out of food you've eaten and ideas you've heard and the swirl is made of water but the idea is the same. You also notice, as you drag your paddle in the water, that the river with all its comings and goings was doing just fine before the little swirls arrived and will continue to be doing fine long after the swirls are gone.

In fact, the only problem the swirl could ever really have was imagining that it had problems. Your troubles and the sense or urgency in your life suddenly seem quite small. The Universe has been hanging on without you for a long time and your cares seem suddenly no larger or more important than the eddies in the river. An incredible feeling of "suchness" falls over you. The world is what it is and that's about all that can be said. The colors are bright, the sounds of the birds are relaxing, and for a few moments your brain shuts off and you really and completely enjoy our lazy trip down the river.

You may not know it but you've just had a few moments of the real experience of Taoism. There is a general tendency to describe Taoism as a philosophy or religion and these methods aren't wrong but a basic understanding of Taoism comes from that sense of "suchness" that comes when our brains are quiet.

The earliest know writing on Taosim is the Tao te Ching (Tao Virtue Book.) It's very first stanza observes that the real living Tao, can't be named or described. It can only be known. The other 80 stanzas offer practical advice on how to live a simple, happy life. But time and time again it returns to that wordless place of happiness where we make peace with the larger world.

There's plenty to learn about Taoism. Teh - action through inaction, Pu - the uncarved block. The line about "a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" is from the Tao te Ching. Taoism isn't about books though and so a basic understanding of Taoism, doesn't come from books. Books are pointers and signposts to a wisdom that you already have. If you want my advice, take your book on Taoism outside somewhere where there are trees and birds. As your reading you may find what you are looking for is just in sight over the top of your book.

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