Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained

Except from the Introduction

Some time ago, Amazon.com asked author Michael Crichton the following question: "If you were stranded on a desert island with only one book, which book would it be?"

His answer: the Tao Te Ching.

Why? With millions of books from which to choose, including the greatest literature human civilization has ever produced, why the Tao Te Ching?

Crichton is not the only famous author with such a high regard for this ancient classic. Eckhart Tolle calls it one of the most profound spiritual books ever written. What is it about the Tao Te Ching that captures such great minds? What accounts for its appeal?

The Tao Te Ching ranks with the Bible as one of the most translated books of all time. This is all the more amazing when you consider that it achieves this status without the active promotion of religious institutions. Its widespread popularity throughout history is due to its own merits.

At first glance, the Tao Te Ching may not seem very remarkable. It is a thin book; its eighty-one chapters are so concise that most of them do not fill an entire page. Somehow, its succinct words manage to contain a universe of wisdom and insight. Of all the great works of spirituality in human history, the Tao Te Ching may be the one that says the most with the least.

The richness of the Tao Te Ching invites—even demands—lifelong exploration. Its layers of meaning reveal themselves gradually. No matter how many times we study it, we discover something new with each reading. People who return to the Tao Te Ching after a hiatus often find that it seems like a completely different book. Even though its words remain the same, people change, and their additional life experience allows them to see new lessons that have always been present, but hidden in plain view.

The Tao Te Ching presents its teachings without fanfare. Its author, Lao Tzu, does not claim divine inspiration, infallibility, or indeed any basis of authority. He is a mere philosopher, not a prophet or messiah. He does not ask us to accept anything on blind faith, trusting that we will discover on our own that his lessons endure the test of time.

These lessons are eminently practical. The Tao Te Ching is more than a commentary on spirituality; it is also a useful and down-to-earth guide to living life with grace, peace, and joy. Perhaps this, more than any other reason, is why the Tao Te Ching has cast its spell on generation after generation ever since its writing 2,500 years ago...