Summary of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:October 11, 2023

Summary: 3 min

Book reading time: 1h23

Score: 9/10

Book published in: 4th century BC (-400 – -301)

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  • The way to enlightenment is total detachment from the conscious mind and giving up control to the subconscious.
  • It’s by not trying to do that we achieve.
  • It’s by not trying to control that we control.

What the Tao Te Ching Talks About

The Tao Te Ching is a book written by Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher. The name means “the book of the way”. It presents a philosophy of life structured around compassion, simplicity, and patience. It explains how different types of thinking can help or harm us. It advises both individuals for their lives, and rulers for their country.

We know nothing about Lao Tzu. He may have existed at the time of Confucius (-551- -479) in China, and they may have met. That’s about it.

The only thing he left us with was his book.

So, what is the way? The way is enlightenment. If you’re familiar with Buddhism, enlightenment is that feeling of boundless joy you feel when you dissolve the ego and let go of all desires.

This state is possible to reach for a few moments. The best book for that is The Inner Game of Tennis.

The Tao explains what is “the way” with analogies. The main idea is that you reach your desired result by not trying to reach it.

For example: the best way to control people is not to control them. The best way to be trusted is not to seek trust.

The yin and yang is a Chinese philosophical concept that describes how obviously opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.


The lesson of the book is that it is when you are not trying to achieve that you achieve the most.

If you understand that, you understand the Tao.

I could speak about this for hours but I don’t want to make this intro too long.

As a result, you can find more afterthoughts at the end of the article.


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Summary of Tao Te Ching Written by Lao Tzu

When you have desires and fulfill them, you only have those desires. When you don’t want anything, you can see further than your desires. This is the road to enlightenment.

The beautiful highlights the ugly, the big shows the small, etc. This means that you often get the opposite of what you actively seek. “Masters” have stuff, but they’re not attached to them. They accept what comes, and accept what goes.

If you highly value possessions, you will compel people to steal. This is why the best way to lead isn’t to give people what they want, but to make them want nothing.

The more you talk about the Tao, the less you understand. It is empty but everything comes from it. The more you use it, the more it produces.

The master is completely detached from all things, which is why he is fulfilled. He stays behind, which is why he is ahead.

The best way to do things is not to try to do them, that is, doing them without being attached to the final result and fully remaining yourself.

Keep it small, easy, and simple.

When you are content to be simply yourself, everybody will respect you.

Whatever you do too much of will eventually hurt you.

The supreme virtue is to lead without imposing, deal with life by letting it take its course, acting with no expectations.

We make glasses with clay, but it’s not the clay we use: it’s the inside of the glass.

We work with being, but non-being is what we use.

Sounds deafen the ear. Flavors numb the taste.

Let things come and go. Trust your inner vision.

Success and failure are dangerous as they upset your position. If you stay in one place, this won’t happen.

Hope and fear are ghosts that come from thinking with your ego. When you dissolve your ego, you lose your fear.

Accept the world how it is.

Don’t seek the opportunity. Wait, and seize it when it presents itself.

We all come from somewhere. We go back to this place when we die. When we understand that, we can deal with everything in life.

The best master governs without anyone realizing it.

Throw away holiness and wisdom, and people will be a hundred times happier. Throw away morality and justice, and people will do the right thing. Throw away industry and profit, and there won’t be any thieves.

If you want to become straight, let yourself be crooked. If you want to become full, let yourself be empty.

People will see you if you’re not trying to be seen, and will trust you if you’re not trying to prove anything.

Whether do something, or don’t do it. But don’t do it halfway. Do your job, then let it go. Don’t expect a specific result out of it. If you rush ahead, you won’t go far. If you get power over others, you won’t empower yourself.

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.

Things cannot be changed. Leave them as they are, or you will ruin them.

For every force, there is a counterforce. If you use violence, it will bounce back. The master understands this. By not controlling, he has control.

Knowing yourself > knowing others.

Mastering yourself > mastering others.

The master doesn’t seek power, so he is powerful.

That which has no substance enters where there is no space. This shows the value of non-action. Teaching without words, performing without actions: that is the Master’s way.

When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.

When the country is well-governed, people are happy. When it is repressed, people are depressed. Get rid of economics, and people will be prosperous. Get rid of weapons, and they will feel safe.

The ancient Masters didn’t try to educate the people, but kindly taught them to not-know.

When you teach people they don’t know, you encourage them to learn by themselves. This is the way of the Tao. Don’t do things directly. Do things that will enable what you want to flourish.

The best things in life are simplicity, patience, compassion.

Simple in the way you think and do. Patient with people. Compassionate towards yourself.


So, what exactly is the Tao?

It’s letting go, but it’s not letting go the way you think it is.

The best way to explain is with the theory of The Inner Game of Tennis.

There are two “people” inside you. The conscious, and the subconscious. When you play a sport (or a video game, or whatever) and make a mistake, it may happen that you get angry at “yourself”.

But who is that “self”? It is your subconscious.

Your subconscious handles the huge majority of what you do when you’re achieving something. Think about it. When you’re playing a video game, you’re not consciously thinking about contracting your finger to shoot the enemy.

You may be consciously looking for them on the screen, but the subconscious is doing the rest.

How do you let the subconscious take over? This is where the Tao intervenes.

You cannot consciously choose to give up control to the subconscious. When you are in flow, you get out of the state as soon as you realize that you’re in it.

So the way to get into flow is not to consciously try, but to let “it” go. When you let your desires to be in flow go, you relax, and the subconscious eventually takes over.

This is what Lao Tzu means when he says “the master does not do, so he succeeds”. Anyone who is trying to enter flow will fail.

Anyone who isn’t, will succeed.

The Tao explains you to give up your conscious mind, give up your ego, and live in the boundless state of joy that flow is.

The conscious is the part of the mind that is always “watching over you”, hence the term “self-conscious”.

It prevents you from being “one with yourself” and fully being “subconscious”. When you get rid of the ego, you enter flow.

That state is enlightenment. It happens when the conscious is silenced and your body becomes one with your mind. They become whole.

It’s the way to achievement, happiness, peace, and all the good things in life.

It’s the way of the Tao.

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