Words of wisdom from Lao-Tze | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Although I’m an Oriental, my entire scholastic education, from elementary to post-graduate in the Philippines, the only Christian nation in Asia, was heavily Western-influenced.

In fact, college graduates in the Philippines know more of American and European history and culture than they do of Asian countries. Typical of a people of a colonized nation, Filipinos adapted the values of the colonizer.

It was only after graduating from college that I began to read voraciously on Oriental literature and philosophy and realized what I had missed. I was fascinated by the mysticism of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus, the practical teachings of the Buddha and the moral sayings of Confucius.

But it was the Tao Te Ching, also known as Lao Tzu, Laozi or Lao-Tze that I always turned to whenever I sought deeper insight into the meaning of things.

‘Book of Tao’

The origin of “Book of Tao,” which contains a mere 5,000 words, written 2,400 years ago by a mysterious philosopher named Lao-Tze, is unknown. And yet, more than any other single work, it has quietly influenced the minds of one third of the world’s population.

This led the Chinese writer Lin Yutang to declare in his book “The Wisdom of China”: “If there is one book in Oriental literature which one should read above all others, it is in my opinion Lao-Tze’s ‘Book of Tao.’ If there is one book that claims to interpret for us the spirit of the Orient, or that is necessary to the understanding of characteristic Chinese behavior, including literally ‘the ways that are dark,’ it is the ‘Book of Tao.’

“For Lao-Tze’s book contains the first enunciated philosophy of camouflage in the world; it teaches the wisdom of appearing foolish, the success of appearing to fail, the strength of weakness and the advantage of lying low, the benefit of yielding to your adversary, and the futility of contention for powers.

“It accounts in fact for any mellowness that may be seen in Chinese social and individual behavior. If one reads enough of this book, one automatically acquires the habit and ways of the Chinese.

“I would go further and say that if I were asked what antidote could be found in Oriental literature and philosophy to cure this contentious modern world of its inveterate beliefs in force and struggle for power, I would name this book.”


The Western-trained mind may not easily appreciate the deep wisdom of Lao-Tze’s book because it is full of apparent logical contradictions. For instance, it teaches that “the Tao never does, yet through it everything is done.”

Then it continues:

“To yield is to be preserved whole. To be hollow is to be filled. To be tattered is to be renewed. To be in want is to possess. To have plenty is to be confused.”

Lao-Tze’s words often sound similar to the Japanese Zen master’s use of the Koan to teach others. The Koan is an apparently contradictory statement whose meaning cannot be gleaned through logical analysis.

A typical Koan goes like this: “Can you hear the sound of one hand clapping?”

‘Wisest of men’

About 450 years BC, Socrates, the great philosopher who was Plato’s teacher, said he was considered the wisest of men by the Oracle at Delphi because he only knew one thing and that he knew nothing.

Lao-Tze seems to echo Socrates’ words when he said in “Tao the Ching”: “Who knows that he does not know is the highest, who pretends to know what he does not know is sick minded.”

Something reminiscent of Christ’s teaching in the New Testament is in this passage from Lao-Tze’s book:

“He who reveals himself is not luminous; He who boasts of himself is not given credit; He who prides himself is not among men.”

It was Lao-Tze who said, “A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step.”

The “Book of Tao” deals with the inner world, the world of causes, and not with the external world, the world of effects. Understanding this is the key to understanding the Tao.

The next Basic ESP Seminar will be held Nov. 23-24, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; tel. 88107245, 0998-9886292