It is difficult to explain what the Dao is. Because already in the first verse of Laozu’s work Dao de jing it says:

The Dao that can be spoken of is not the ever-constant Dao. The name that can be named is not the ever-constant name.

Laotzu, Dao de jing

Daoism is a way of life that means moving with the times. This natural run can be for example in the flowing water, in the flames of fire, the clouds that move in the sky.

Especially today, when man strives more and more to dominate and control everything and thereby does terrible things, Daoism represents a good alternative.

Unfortunately, this teaching remains closed to many people because the texts are almost always difficult to understand and of incredible depth. But it is worth looking into these old works by masters like Laotzu, Chunangtzu, Liehtzu, or other philosophers of that time.

Yin and Yang

At the beginning of understanding, Daoism is the concept of the polarity of yin and yang. This principle is an important part of this teaching. The symbol of duality, with its white and black sides, has long been exploited as a popular commercial item by industry and the media. And many are sure to wear a necklace with this symbol without realizing its true meaning.

Yin and Yang (in and yō)

Yin and Yang

Again and again, misunderstood in the west, this symbol is not a sign for good and evil, for an eternal struggle of the two forces, for the Christian doctrine of heaven and hell. Rather, this symbol is a sign of a duality in which there is no good or bad. One is just the flip side of the other. Without a high there is no low, without brightness there is also no dark. Both are just different aspects of the same system, and the disappearance of one would result in the disappearance of the other.

The western world always tries to create a world where there is joy without sorrow, wealth without poverty and health without disease, due to the Christian teachings. In Western medicine, the cause of an illness is not looked at, but mostly only the symptoms are treated. A Chinese doctor primarily tries to identify the cause of the disease and only then finds a way to restore balance.

All inventions designed to bring us more of one automatically bring more of the other with them. No matter what we invent to make this world better, penicillin, nuclear power, cars, computers, etc., many things create as many or even more problems than they solve. Avoiding one aspect is not the point of Daoism. Both sides of the coin are correct because the universe accepts them. This aspect is difficult to understand at first, especially if you grew up in a Christian world.

This is not to say that we reject technology, just that technology becomes destructive in the hands of humans who do not realize that they are part of the same process as all things in this universe.

A simple example should clarify this. If a wise hunter shoots a monkey in the jungle one day, that’s enough for him and he goes home. A bad hunter would shoot any monkeys in the area enjoying a sumptuous meal. But if sometime later he wants to hunt a monkey again, he has to walk twice as far until he comes across monkeys again.

Whoever sees himself separate from this universe and seeks to make it his own or subdue it is acting against the course of things. But sooner or later he too will fail and his attempt to control everything will fail.

Winds, tides, currents, seasons, show the principle of becoming and passing away, a Daoist uses them and does not fight against them, but goes with the flow.


There is no other way but the way. The Dao is the supreme reality and power of the universe, the reason for being and non-being. The Dao does nothing and yet leaves nothing undone. It cannot be defined in words and is neither an idea nor a term. It is not an energy that pervades the universe, nor is it a god. It may have created the gods or the god, but it is not a god and not a creator.

Out of Itself

Dao is what happens by itself (chin. tzujan), spontaneously and by itself and without compulsion.

One cannot follow or not follow the way of the Dao. Perhaps one can imagine that one is outside the course of events, but this is only an illusion.

So the Dao is the course of nature, the order of the universe. The Dao is self-generating and self-existing and is non-law.

The harmony of the universe comes when all things are allowed to go their own way. In ancient China, there were a few rulers who governed their state according to the principles of the Dao. That means as few laws, penalties, and bureaucracy as possible. It is said that peace in the country was strongest at this time. But actually, every attempt to describe the Dao in words is doomed to fail from the start.

The Structure of the Dao

However, the Dao has a structure and form. This is called li in Chinese and is the asymmetric, non-repeating, non-regulated order. This order can be seen in flowing water, in the structure of tree bark, in ice crystals, pebbles on the beach, the muscle fibers, or in the form of galaxies. Li is beauty that attracts us without being able to explain it. And there are no scientific explanations such as surface tension or mathematical laws that make up this principle.


The principle of Daoism is non-action (chin. wu wei). But it is not to be seen in the sense of inertia, laziness, laissez-faire, or passivity. Wu Wei does not mean going against the natural course of the Dao. Wu Wei is the willow that gives way under the weight of snow, and not like a tall tree that is rigid and whose branches break.

A person who understands the Dao, whose lifestyle is Wu Wei. This principle was also used by the Ninja (in shin tonkei, maximum effect with minimum effort). A Ninja knew the principles of nature and humans so well that he used a minimum of energy in dealing with them.

Text: Stefan Imhoff