Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Tao Te Ching and Jesus Christ: Introduction

About a year ago, I felt strongly impressed that I needed to add the Tao Te Ching to my regular scripture study of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I was not expecting this inspiration but I'm glad I trusted it.

For the past week, I've been feeling like it might be a good idea to start a series of LDS commentary on the Tao Te Ching. I find that the work often deeply connects to the ideas contained by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Studying the TTC has added to my understanding of the Gospel.

So today begins my series on the Tao Te Ching. I will be examining the text chapter by chapter from a Christ-centered perspective.


Lao-tzu. Public domain.
The tradition states that a man called Lao-tzu (literally Old Master) wrote the Tao Te Ching about 600 years before Christ. Interestingly,  this makes him a contemporary of Lehi from the Book of Mormon, the Seven Wise Men of Greece from Greek philosophy, and Daniel and Habbukuk from the Bible. The story is that Lao-tzu was so distressed by the wickedness of the world, that he left the company of others, and on his way out of civilization, was asked by the guy who guarded the door out of the town to write some wisdom down before he left. The book he wrote for that guy is the Tao Te Ching.

Of course, some scholars doubt that Lao-tzu even existed, but you can always find a scholar who doubts anything. There is also no recorded text of the Tao Te Ching that is older than a few centuries BC, so we are relying on tradition that the text is truly that old.

However, it seems to me that the pattern here fits other patterns of men inspired by God. The TTC origin story reminds me of what would have happened if the prophet Lehi, on his way out of Jerusalem because of the wickedness of those people, was stopped by the gatekeeper and asked for some wisdom. Or the brother of Jared on his way out of Babylon. Or Samuel the Lamanite on the way out of Zarahemla.

In the Bible, Jesus told His disciples that He had "other sheep" (John 10:16), and Latter-day Saints know some of these sheep to be those who were alive in the Americas at that time. But when Christ came to the Americas to visit those sheep, when He left, He told the people that he had even more "other sheep" (3 Nephi 16:1). I'm just going to quote that scripture here:

Jesus in the Americas
And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.
Jesus in Jerusalem
So at least coming from that perspective, it seems at least possible that there were more inspired people, prophets, if you will, during the history of the world than we have Christian records of. Was Lao-tzu one of those? I have no idea. But reading the Tao Te Ching, I have been so impressed with the wisdom it contains about the nature of the universe.

Make-Up of the Tao Te Ching

Lao-tzu as Daode Tianzun.
Public domain.
The TTC is made up of 81 chapters, and they are all pretty short--often only a dozen lines long or so. The first 37 chapters are the Tao Ching, and chapters 38-81 are the Te Ching. "Ching" means "canon;" "Tao" means "way" or "path;" "Te" means "power" and "personal virtue." So the Tao Ching is about the nature, or way, of the universe, and the Te Ching is the canon explaining personal virtue and power. Some scholars argue that instead of the Tao Te Ching, it should really be the Te Tao Ching, with Chapters 38-81 coming first and 1-37 second. But when you read the first chapter of the Tao Ching, or at least, when I read the first chapter of the Tao Ching, I feel very strongly that it is exactly where it ought to be.

The original Tao Te Ching has no punctuation, so punctuation is added by translators and may not always be correct. So when you read it you need to have your mind and spirit open and ready to understand multiple interpretations of the text, some of which may even contradict each other.

Preferred Interpretation

I've read a number of interpretations of the Tao Te Ching now, and my favored one is the one at, here. It's the one the guys at the Taoism website call "accurate," and it's the one out of all the translations I've read that makes the most sense in the context of the temple and the Bible and revealed scriptures. So I'll mostly use that on this blog. And I'll always link to it.


My study of the Tao Te Ching has been so enlightening and beautiful, and it has strengthened and deepened my understanding of and testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has been enlightening wise men and women all over the world through all time, and while I don't know that Lao-tzu was necessarily a prophet, or even if he actually existed, as some scholars dispute, I do know that reading the work with his name on it helps me comprehend mysteries that the Bible and Book of Mormon bring up. I'm so excited to discuss them here.

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