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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars,

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.



    six      character


6 Important


to know


  1. The Way 道Tào


     道Tào has the principal meaning of “way.” It may also mean “road” and "speak" The idea throughout Lao Tzu’s writing is that there’s a natural “way” of things and of people and societies. This way is bestowed on each thing by the overarching and universal Way.  (See much more about 道Tào here.)

   2. The Power 德dé

    德dé, "power," is the inner power or vitality of each person and thing. It is the “power” of the Way as the Way operates within and as each person and thing. There are not two here. The Way and its power in each thing are the Same. (See Lessons 10, 21, 23, 28, 38, 49, 51, 54, 55, 60, 63, 65, 68, and 79)

   3. The Sage 聖shèng

    The sage is a man or woman who is in accord with his or her personal 道Tào way.

    Anyone can be a sage. It has nothing to do with age, gender, marital status, intelligence,  job, or anything else that society might deem significant or meaningful. Being a sage has everything to do with wisdom and how a person lives his or her life. Again, that “how” is according to that person's own individual way.

   Note that a sage may be outwardly indistinguishable from others, and yet there’s something different about a 聖shèng sage. He or she is always at home. They are at ease in the world and with themselves. (See Lessons 2, 3, 5, 7, 12,19, 23, 25, 27, 28, 34, 49, 60, 64, 66, 78, 71, 72, 77, 78, 79, & 81.)

  4. Self-so-ness 自zì 然rán

    自zì means “self.”  然rán means “thus” or “so.”  In English, 自zì 然rán may translated as "self-so-ness." 


     "Self-so-ness" is our authentic self. It is very different from the image of "me" which we carry around in our heads. Our image of ourselves, our "me," is just a second-hand self, no more real than our image in the bathroom mirror. so  (See Lessons 17, 23, 25, 51, and 64.  See also Lesson 13 for a contrast of our authentic self and our "me.")

     The sage has let the "me" fall away. What remains is his or her 自zì 然rán.  This authentic self is at ease with itself at at home in the world. No need to posture for others. No need to promote "me."


     When at ease in the world, our actions are natural, even spontaneous. They are a kind of "not doing" in that what needs to be done is accomplished because of that very need itself, and not because our "me" may benefit.

  5. Not Doing  无wú 為wéi

       (also written as 無wú 為wéi).

     无wú 為wéi means “not doing.” But this is very different from doing nothing.  无wú 為wéi is the verb we use to describe the activity of a person who is 自zì 然rán authentically himself or herself.

     The sage does "not do" anything of himself or herself. He or she spies the need of the moment and then spontaneously fulfills it. There is nothing personal about this action. No personal agenda or personal preference is involved.

     On some level we are all familiar with 无wú 為wéi.  For example, we don't have to think about walking naturally. That is, until someone asks us to "just walk naturally."  Suddenly self-conscious, we become uncertain of our steps. And when we speak, we don't need to sort out each word before uttering it. But it is different at a job interview, when our pre-planned words may well fail us.


     We recognize this quality of 无wú 為wéi “not doing” when we encounter an especially good teacher, a fine mechanic or salesperson, even a special and caring spouse. What they “do” is not done self-consciously for some future need or goal which may benefit them. They are not “in it” for the money or power or prestige. It is as if they naturally are what they do. This is to 无wú 為wéi.


   6. Return 復fù, or 歸guī

    復fù return is the returning to ones own natural 道tào way. The person who has 復fù, returned, is 自zì 然rán spontaneous and acts unselfconsciously. He or she is at ease with themselves, and at home in the world.




. . . . . . .


The Sage 聖
The Way 道Tào
The Power 德dé
Self-so-ness 自zì 然rán
Not Doing 无wú 為wéi
Return 復fù
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