The Dao

In an honored place on my desk is a plaque with the Chinese character 道 on it. It’s pronounced “dao” with a down tone, and means “way” or “path.” The most accurate pronunciation is “tow” (to rhyme with “bow” meaning bend at the waist) with the “t” unaspirated. In Vietnamese, where I first learned it, the word is Đo with a barred D and a glottal stop tone.

道 is also the name of a religion or philosophical teaching, what we call Taoism in English. According to Wikipedia, “Taoism (/ˈtaʊ-/), or Daoism (/ˈdaʊɪzəm/), is a philosophical and spiritual tradition of Chinese origin which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (Chinese: 道; pinyin: Dào; lit. ‘Way’, or Dao). In Taoism, the Tao is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Taoism teaches about the various disciplines for achieving ‘perfection’ by becoming one with the unplanned rhythms of the all, called ‘the way’ or ‘Tao’. Taoist ethics vary depending on the particular school, but in general tend to emphasize wu wei (action without intention), ‘naturalness’, simplicity, spontaneity and the Three Treasures: 慈, ‘compassion’, 儉, ‘frugality’ and 不敢為天下先, ‘humility’.”

I don’t remember where I got the plaque, but it was probably during one of my trips to China. Dao as a way of life appeals to me because it emphasizes gentleness and tenderness, the veritable opposite of Vietnamese and Chinese communism which now dominates the region where I worked for so long.

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