REVIEW: The Secret Teachings Of The Tao Te Ching

The Secret Teachings Of The Tao Te Ching
By Mantak Chia & Tao Huang

256 pages, paperback

Published by Inner Traditions 

The Tao Te Ching is arguably the world’s most profound and empowering spiritual classic. It has played a critical role in defining the unique character of East Asian spirituality.

It has also contributed to an ethos that has seen authorities in China protect their spiritual traditions from the institutional interests that have advanced political interests by imposing faith, dogma and false prophets on the legacy of Jesus Christ.

The Tao Te Ching has nurtured a sensitive, intuitive, practical and resilient partnership between humankind and nature. Except for the past 200 years, this spirit has generally led the West in innovation while it has disdained the type of Western scientific ambition that has sought the conquest of nature.

It would be hard to find a better qualified interpreter of this classic than Mantak Chia. He deserves to be recognised as one the great figures in 20th and 21st century communication across health, spiritual and cultural boundaries.

The author of over twenty books published in numerous languages and available in printed, eBook, DVD and other forms, he has made accessible a wide range of ancient Daoist physical and spiritual wisdom.

This latest work, The Secret Teachings of the Tao Te Ching, is written jointly with Tao Huang, the author of Laoism: The Complete Teachings of Lao Zi. It offers meditations, interpretations and energy cultivation practices that give immediate practical application to many of the words of the Tao Te Ching.

Perhaps, initially it is important to explain the only serious criticism that this reviewer has of the book. This is a tendency to blur the unique and distinctive character of Taoist spirituality. This directs reverence to the nourishing quality of riddles, contradictions and mysteries in the natural world, whether human or not, and instils a liberating form of humility.

The problem arises in the authors’ use of words like God and faith, which bring comfort to many Western readers. These words, unfortunately, tend to distort and distract from the essential qualities of the Tao Te Ching and Asian spirituality.

The Tao Te Ching warns in many ways that language, concepts, rational structures and scientific theories are inventions for the convenience of the limited human mind. They cannot be relied upon to reflect accurately the world in which we live. Much of the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, which is a wonderful antidote to both religious and scientific faith and hubris, is simply counterintuitive to the Western intelligence.

For many Westerners this reality seems to have been most easily discovered through the almost silent disciplines of Zen (or Chan) Buddhism, the product of Daoist influence.

Appropriately, Chia and Huang title the first of their ten chapters ‘Wordless Uttering of the Tao’. In typical Chia fashion, it includes a valuable exercise to find, restore and listen to the inner voice. Three means – the inner voice, the mutual connection (empathy and understanding between speaker and listener) and the use of language – are identified to help in bridging the Communicable and the Incommunicable Tao.

Their second chapter, ‘Chi and Taoist Inner Alchemy’, identifies ‘The Three Minds’ or upper, middle and lower Tan Tiens, and offers guidance on using the smile and energy movement to ensure ‘The Flow of the Tao’.

The third chapter, ‘Sensation, the Brain and Taoist Practice’ takes the reader ‘Beyond Ego Conflict’ by exploring the regeneration of the spirit/soul into a physical body, examining perception, emotion and response and considering the way the five senses can dull perception.

The fourth chapter, the longest at almost fifty pages, displays Mantak Chia in his element, as it details a series of physical practices under the heading ‘Walking the Way: Energy Transformation’. The central concern is with ‘our drive to follow our dreams and achieve our goals’.

The chapter also introduces the I Ching as a book of prophecy and wisdom, centred around the ideas of balance (of yin and yang) and acceptance of change. Against this background, the chapter outlines basic internal exercises, energy circulation around the body’s microcosmic orbit, the six healing sounds, exercises based on animal frolics, the five healing colours and the Golden Elixir practice.

This introduction to the pervasive and subtle character of the Tao in both Chinese cerebral and physical activity is only a small portion of the Taoist strengthening and healing therapies found in Chia’s voluminous writings. It should still prompt newcomers to such practices to ask questions about the harsh and often harmful character of much Western exercise.

Chapter five, ‘Embracing Oneness’, concludes with a quotation from Richard Wilhelm’s renowned translation of the I Ching, which emphasises the role of the family in cultivating a sense of both society and the world beyond one’s immediate society.

Chapter six, ‘The Wisdom of the Sage’ is of particular value in its examination of ‘Wu Wei: The Action of the Sage’.

Wu wei can be translated as non action or, as Francois Quesnay did in the late 18th century in French, as laissez faire. Wu wei is a central principal of good government for rulers and administrators in both Confucian and Taoist tradition. It captures a sense of tacit authority, benevolent influence and sage-like guidance that is missing from the contemporary use of laissez faire.

Chapter seven, ‘The Nature of Te’, explores Te, which encompasses action, virtue, beauty and gracious behaviour. It places an emphasis on humility, simplicity and selflessness.

Chapter eight, ‘Governing Self and Nation’, explains how principles already examined, like Wu wei and Te, need to be practiced in the exercise of administrative responsibility.

Chapter nine, ‘Longevity and Immortality’ contrasts with familiar Western attitudes and explains that: “…sex is a means of building up the energies that the body needs. Sexual desire is not really a search for release, but often it is a search for new sources of energy to replenish lost Jing Chi (sexual energy).”

The final chapter, ‘Trust and Faith’, explains faith as “an act of total submission to Oneness and Embrace of Oneness,” separating it from common Western abuses of the word.

The book concludes with a new, complete translation of the Tao Te Ching, much already on display in earlier pages.

This reminds how this Taoist classic energises the more formal and prescriptive character of Confucianism and Chinese ritual and offers a stark contrast with the metaphysical speculations that have consumed so much Western concern about spiritual authority.

– Reviewed by Reg Little in New Dawn No. 101


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