LilliesThe Tao Te Ching

An Esoteric Commentary

There are many translations of the Tao Te Ching. And probably many commentaries too. As far as I know, most commentators regard the Tao Te Ching as a collection of sayings. Some of these sayings are pithy, some profound, and some downright cryptic. It's the intention of this work to indicate that the Tao Te Ching is actually a consistent expression of a unified perspective. Rather than a loosely connected collection of exotic aphorisms it exhibits a highly directed, purposeful intention. This intention cannot be understood by a reshuffling of one's intellectual furniture. It is not written for the intellect. It can only be understood by a radical shift in perspective. It is this perspective that the Tao Te Ching is written from and its purpose is to direct us to this perspective. It is only from this perspective that the Tao Te Ching can be fully appreciated and hence the description of this commentary as 'esoteric'.

This shift in perspective can happen at any time in any place. This shift occurred for me as I was reading the beginning of Douglas Harding's On Having No Head. Douglas Harding devoted himself over many years to helping others direct themselves to this perspective in an idiosyncratic but practical manner. The interested reader might want to refer immediately to for more information.

It seems to me that Lao Tzu's book has only been picked at over the centuries, the precise intent of his work hardly appreciated if at all. There are some lines in the Tao Te Ching which are quoted again and again but as far as I know, for some reason, nobody has ever tried to plumb the depths of this book from a 'headless' perspective. I sent an initial draft of the introduction and the first three chapters to Douglas Harding and he kindly sent me a note saying that he thought I "was on to a good thing, all right" though he made no comments on my text. He also enclosed a reference to page 258 of his book 'Head off Stress' where he states that the Chinese seal-character for the Tao consists of the characters for HEAD and GOING. I'd come across this elsewhere. It was the initial inspiration for this undertaking and I took Douglas Harding's note as an encouraging validation.

The commentary has been completed in draft form and I hope some day to have all of it presented online.

In the meantime here is my introduction and the commentary to the first six chapters.


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Please note that apart from the verses quoted in italics all text on this website is copyright William Gillies © 2008.