Best Book on Taoism – The Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell

There are two books that I treasure above all others in my life. I have already written about the first, it is the Ptanjali Yoga Sutras by Swami Satchidananda, this book is the images (1)second.

I have flipped through many different versions and translations of the Tao Te Ching, but this one always strikes me as the best and clearest of them all. The author has had years of experience as a Zen practitioner and meditator. I believe that this background and experience has helped him understand the deeper meaning behind the paradoxical language found in the Toa Te Ching. Stephen Mitchell himself says, “I have often been fairly literal – as as literal as one ca be with such a subtle, kaleidoscopic book… If I haven’t always translated Lao Tzu’s words, my intention has always been to translate his mind.”

I have had this little book for many years and it never ceases to amaze me just how much insight and perspective I can gain from re-reading just a few passages. Sometimes, I just open it at random to a page and read it, like a horoscope for that day. Other times, I search greedily for the passage that moves me and re-read it over and over again until it is burned into my memory. Like a soft whisper in my mind, the lines come back to me when I most need them to remind me to stay present and embody the Tao in my life.

The word “kaleidoscopic” seems very fitting for such a book because there are are hundreds of lessons or paths that you can take to understanding. There are 81 stanzas in total, and yet there is mainly one bold and central idea that underlies all passages. Lao Tzu wants to make sure that the reader really gets it. Even though he then laughs at the idea because it is not a matter of “getting it” but rather using it.

To quote another passage, “The Tao is like a bellows: it is empty yet infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces; the more you talk of it, the less you understand.”

I frequently think of this book as a spiritual instruction manual. Its not philosophy, its not psychology, rather, its like an Ikea manual for assembling a lamp or table. Of course the Ikea manual will give only enough instructions on how to assemble the object, while the Tao Te Ching gives 81 instructions – often referencing “The Master” or one who is in alignment with the Tao. Thus, this is a unique spiritual book unlike any other simply because it was written to confuse the intellectual mind. A rational and reasonable person will find this book frustrating, certainly illogical, and quite possibly even useless. It is a brilliant way to filter readers and pass down wisdom without having the original message garbled up. This book is a gem of wisdom, its no wonder that it has survived all this time and continues to inspire new generations of readers.

A few final words from master Lao Tzu.

“In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. images (7)
In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.” (Stanza 48).

Visit his website at to discover articles about meditation, mindfulness, stress reduction, cultivation of emotional balance, and mental awareness. You will also find concise and specific techniques, practices, and tools that can change your mind. And when you change your mind-you change your life!

Vlad Moskovski has spent almost half his life studying with Yoga, Zen Buddhist, Taoist, Qiqong, and Tai Chi practitioners. A recent graduate of the NLP Center of NY, he has recently begun writing and teaching about meditation in order to spread the benefits and share his knowledge of this ancient and profound tradition.

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