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Traditionally attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the true authorship of the Tao Te Ching, as well as the date around which it was written (usually said to be 6th c. BCE to 4th century BCE), is often debated. The Tao Te Ching is one of the most famous Chinese classic texts and one of the founding texts of Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophical and religious tradition.
The Tao Te Ching includes short verses regarding a number of central aspects of Taoism, such as action, the duality of nature, knowledge, and virtue. However, the true basis of the Tao Te Ching, as well as of Taoism overall, is the “Tao”--an abstract concept most commonly translated as the “Way.” The Tao refers to, in rough terms, the natural order and progression of the universe. While Taoism describes nature as the interaction of two opposite but complementary forces, the Tao itself is unified, eternal and indescribable, and such aspects of its nature are emphasized throughout the Tao Te Ching. The goal of adherence to Taoism is to harmonize oneself with the Tao, and therefore with nature and with the universe.
The Tao Te Ching is basically everybody's handy guide to Taoism. These eighty-one short chapters cover the ways of the "Way" and lay out all the main ideas of one of the world's most old-school philosophies.
The main attraction in the TTC is the Tao itself, which is the great flow of everything—like everything. The Tao is the mysterious, unnamable process through which everything in the Universe happens. Throughout the book, the great Tao is held up as an example of how we all should try to live our lives.
The TTC tells us that the Tao has a ton of virtues; it's humble, non-judgmental, generous, flexible, and peaceful (for the most part). The Tao is also the master at wu wei, or "unattached action," and if a person practices this as well, they can effortlessly succeed in life. In the mind of the TTC, it's only through personal discipline and by releasing desire that we can find these virtues and reach enlightenment in oneness with the Tao.