The Value of the Tao

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In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu describes the Tao as the value beyond value, with a price beyond price. Even the coronation of the emperor, the ceremony of the utmost honor in ancient China, could not compare to the simple joy of being seated in the Tao.

What makes the Tao so special? Authentic traditions of the Tao emphasize practical teachings that anyone can follow, so we cannot stop at simplistic slogans like “the Tao is priceless.” We also cannot avoid answering the question with glib statements like “the specialness of the Tao cannot be expressed with words.” We have to examine the how and why to illuminate and clarify. There are no formal guidelines on how to conduct such an examination, but we can begin by considering the following:

1. Connecting with the truth

One way to see the value of the Tao is to recall what happens when you connect with a great truth. It is an unmistakable moment, because the truth reaches deeply into you to resonate with incredible power. It can move you to tears. It can make you jump for joy. It can shake you up with the shock of recognition. In that moment, you realize that the Tao is both the path that leads us to the truth, and the essence of the truth itself.

2. Harmonizing with others

Another way to see the value of the Tao is to recall what happens when you connect with a kindred spirit. This may be an old friend, or someone you have just met. When you establish rapport with this person, you can feel your spiritual energies harmonizing with one another. Hours elapse as the conversation flows. When you finally emerge from it, you are surprised by the amount of time that has passed. You have just experienced the effortless and eternal nature of the Tao.

3. Tapping into the source

The Tao is the ultimate source of creation. It is the field of infinite possibilities poised to manifest as actualities. You possess the same power at the human scale, because the Tao within you is the same Tao underlying all of reality. The universe expresses it as the birth of stars and galaxies; you express it as creativity at work and at play. Those who understand this will never experience writer’s block or run out of ideas. They know the Tao is a limitless source that they can tap into whenever they want. This is all about the value of new perspectives, paradigm shifts and innovations.

4. Living life with wisdom

The Tao isn’t just about being creative. It also has a practical aspect that is meant to be applied in everyday living. Those who do not understand think the Tao is only about the ethereal mysteries of the spiritual realm; those who do understand know it is every bit as concerned about all the mundane details in the material world. It is not just about learning from saints and sages; it is just as much about dealing with fellow human beings at their best and worst. You do not need to wait until the hereafter to reap the benefits of Tao cultivation. Its value is real and tangible in the here and now.

5. Transforming the self

If you have kept yourself on the path for an extended period of time, you will find yourself changing for the better. You may not notice at first because the changes are gradual and imperceptible. You may think there is nothing different about you, but positive transformation is an inevitable result of Tao cultivation. You may find others commenting on you being more composed and more at ease even in difficult situations. People who have not seen you in a while may remark on the difference they see in you. These are real changes that will last you a lifetime, and the benefits they bring you are but a small part in the value of the Tao.

6. Offering a helping hand

The more people notice the change in you, the more curious they become. After a while, when they are certain it isn’t just a temporary phase you go through, they will want to learn from you. As they approach with questions, you find yourself in a position to share the Tao. It is a position of great honor, and there is nothing more satisfying than to offer a helping hand when someone needs it the most. It dawns on you that the Tao isn’t just about making a difference in your life. It is also about making a difference in the world. The Tao is the path of service, and therein lies its true value.

The above are six finite ways to see the infinite value of something beyond all limits. They offer only a suggestion, a fleeting glimpse, a rough outline. To see more of the grand vision, you need to explore on your own. Just as the Tao transcends all limits, so are the ways to experience its value. What makes the Tao so special? What makes it so valuable to you? The answers are out there, waiting for your discovery.

Derek Lin