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Taoism, at its core, teaches ways of living as one with nature, though this is an oversimplification of the philosophy. The concept of Tao itself is complicated in its simplicity, so much so that Taoists consider it unexplainable with words. Even the Tao Te Ching, the most important book within the belief, opens the topic with “the Way that can be explained in words is not the true Way”.
Many lessons can be gained from Taoism, but the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, the main books of Taoism, can seem daunting for beginners.
When you begin learning about a new topic, it’s often beneficial to read less intimidating material.
Table of Contents
5 Books You Can Start With
The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life by Lü Dongbin
The Secret of the Golden Flower is a meditation guide linked to the Chinese immortal Lü Dongbin, and was originally passed as an oral tradition before being penned and translated. Its most famous iterations are those by Thomas Cleary and Cary F. Baynes, with Baynes’ version containing commentary from famed psychologist Carl Jung.
Criticisms for Baynes’ book are largely due to it being a translation of a translation, while Cleary’s readers dislike how he devoted energy to criticizing Baynes’ version.
Regardless, the core lessons from either translation remain largely the same, but it is widely accepted that Cleary’s book is more concise and accurate. Dividing the texts in poetic prose, Cleary shares his thoughts about each section, providing readers with a shared experience.
Awakening to the Tao by Liu Yiming
Many Taoists, beginners and veterans alike, love to use this book as a supplement after consuming writings in the Tao Te Ching. The contemplations within this serve as a meditative exercise, stimulating the readers’ minds and encouraging people to come to their own enlightenment rather than simply dictating what one should think.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taoism by Brandon Toropov and Chad Hansen
This “idiot’s guide” makes a lot of outdated references to the pop culture of its time, but it still makes for great reading for Taoism beginners.
In this book, the authors dictate the history and impacts of the belief, making it a relevant source of general Taoism info.
But, as the book itself proclaims, “You can’t really learn about the Tao from a book. You just have to experience it for yourself.”
Do Nothing and Do Everything: An Illustrated New Taoism by Zhao Qiguang
This book is a pragmatic and humorous retelling of Taoist beliefs, a method rarely seen in this usually metaphoric philosophy. It revolves around the ideas of Wu Wei and Wu Bu Wei, literally meaning “do nothing” and “do everything”.
Zhao relays this through a modern Chinese-American lens, making sure to highlight the complementary nature of doing nothing and doing everything. Multiple times, the book reiterates the importance of balancing these opposing concepts, and teaches readers how to incorporate Taoist wisdom into their life in easily-digestible words.
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
Through this narrative, Hoff brings the seemingly distant teachings of Taoism closer to the West by relating it to a beloved character: Winnie the Pooh. This makes the content more palatable and appealing to those unfamiliar with Taoism, especially when the author equates deep Taoist concepts to Pooh bear’s simple ways of living.
However, there are some criticisms to be said of this piece, particularly the lack of balance where Hoff tends to lean towards a more individualistic perspective. This book is a good introduction to Taoism, but is best supplemented with deeper materials.
The Tao is a complex idea that even seasoned Taoists struggle to define.
These books are gateways into understanding this philosophy, but are mere tools to assist in the big picture. They cannot provide the answers that Taoists seek.
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