Absolute Tao is a book excerpted from some talks that Osho gave on Taoism. In it, Osho shares his personal interpretation of the ancient Chinese Philosophy.
As you may know, Osho is often considered an unorthodox spiritual guru, so you should not be surprised to find something unexpected or unusual. Nevertheless, his thoughts tend to be insightful and can give you a free perspective to look at the Tao Te Ching.
In the summary below, you’ll find the quotes that resonated the most with me, arranged by macro-topics. Where relevant, I also included a direct quotation from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Tao Te Ching (which is my personal favorite).
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Tao Is A Principle, You Cannot Worship It
Tao simply means the harmony of the whole.
You cannot worship Tao because Tao does not give you the idea of a person. It is simply a principle, not a person. You cannot worship a principle – you cannot pray to Tao. It will look ridiculous; it will be utterly absurd, praying to a principle. You don’t pray to gravitation, you cannot pray to the theory of relativity.
Truth is never expressed in words
From the Tao Te Ching:
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
This is his basic attitude: that truth cannot be told and truth cannot be taught. The moment you say something about truth, it is no longer true, the very saying falsifies it. You cannot teach it. At the most you can indicate it.
Truth is in Silence
Truth cannot be expressed because the very reaching to it is through silence, soundlessness, thoughtlessness.
Through words, you avoid communication
It is not that by saying things you communicate – no. It is by saying things that you unburden yourself. In fact, through words communication is not possible; just the opposite is possible – you can avoid communication. You can talk, and you can create a screen of words around you so that your real situation cannot be known by others. You clothe yourself through words.
Truth is an Experience
The second reason that truth cannot be expressed is because it is an experience. No experience can be communicated – leave truth aside. If you have never known love, when somebody says something about love, you will hear the word, but you will miss the meaning.
We Tend to Divide Everything, but Division is False – Everything is interconnected
In the West schizophrenia has become by and by more and more common because all the Western religions are deep down schizophrenic – they divide. They say God is good. Then where to put all the evil? God is simply good and he cannot be bad, and there is much that is bad in life – where to put that badness? So a Devil is created. The moment you create a God, you immediately create a Devil.
Lao Tzu is saying that opposites are not really opposites but complementaries. Don’t divide them, division is false; they are one, they interdepend. How can love exist without hate? How can compassion exist without anger? How can life exist without death? How can happiness exist without unhappiness? How is heaven possible without hell?
Try to be good and you will feel how bad you are. Try to be loving and you will come across hatred, anger, jealousy, possessiveness. Try to be beautiful and you will become more and more aware of how ugly you are. Drop the dichotomy. Drop the schizophrenic attitude. Be simple.
You always choose: you choose to be beautiful, and ugliness becomes your shadow; you choose to be religious, and irreligiousness becomes your shadow; you choose to be a saint, and sin becomes your shadow. Choose and you will be in difficulty, because the very choice has divided life. Don’t choose, be choiceless. Let life flow. Sometimes it looks like God, sometimes it looks like the Devil – both are beautiful
Don’t choose. Enjoy both. Allow both to be there. Create a harmony between the two; don’t choose. Then your life will become a symphony of the opposites, and that is the greatest life possible. It will be most ordinary in a way, and most extraordinary in another way.
If you understand life, the deeper you go the deeper you will understand that the whole is worth choosing. That means there is no need to choose. Choice will dissect the whole and whatsoever you get will be fragmentary and dead
If you Don’t Choose, The Mind Drops
The mind lives through choice. If you don’t choose the mind drops. This is the way of Lao Tzu. How to drop the mind? – don’t choose! That’s why he never prescribes any meditation, because then there is no need for any meditation. Don’t choose. Live life as it comes – float. Don’t make any effort to reach anywhere. Don’t move towards a goal; enjoy the moment in its totality and don’t be bothered by the future or the past.
Witnessing is not an effort. When you are unconcerned the witness arises. Be indifferent to the mind; in the climate of indifference the witness arises. The very idea that you have to stop it is wrong, that you have to still it is wrong, that you have to do something about this constant ongoing process is wrong. You are not required to do anything. If you do anything it won’t help – it will help the trouble, not you. That’s why when you meditate you feel the mind going more mad; when you don’t meditate it is not so mad. When you are meditating you are too concerned with the mind, trying your hardest to make it still. Who are you? And why should you be worried about the mind? What is wrong with it? Allow the thoughts, let them move like clouds. When you are indifferent, suddenly you are watching. With nothing left to do, what will you do? You can only watch, you can only witness – and in witnessing mind stops
Now, inside, you are not worried whether it goes on or stops, you don’t choose. You say to the mind, “If you want to go, you go on; if you want to stop, you can stop. It is none of my concern.” This unconcern is needed. In this climate of unconcern and indifference the witness arises. Suddenly you see that the mind never belonged to you; it is a computer, it is a mechanism. You are absolutely separate from it
Tao is Totality – Acceptance of the Whole
Tao is totality. Totality is not perfect, it is always imperfect because it is always alive. Perfection is always dead – anything that becomes perfect is dead. How can it live? How can it live when it has become perfect? – it has no need to live. It has denied the other part. Life exists through the tension of the opposites, the meeting of the opposites.
With perfection evolution stops. Perfection is death; imperfection is life. Life loves imperfection.
Live Totally – Don’t Repress Emotions
The real trouble is that when you are angry and you don’t show it, by and by this mechanism of suppression becomes so deep-rooted that everything becomes false. You will not feel love and you will show it, you will not feel compassion and you will show it – then your life is not authentic, not honest. An honest life is river-like: it changes, it moves.
Stop Seeking Enlightenment
Be Ordinary – The Ego wants to be Extraordinary
So you will have to understand my concept of enlightenment. It is just to be ordinary, healthy, aware, whole, total. Every mind is seeking some extraordinariness. That is what the ego is: always trying to be somebody in particular, always afraid of being nobody, always afraid of emptiness, always trying to fill the inner void with everything and anything. Every human being is seeking extraordinariness and that creates misery. It is not possible. Nobodiness is your very nature, nonbeing is the very stuff you are made of.
The ego is very wise – wise in its cunningness. Lao Tzu does not give the ego any foothold, any ground to stand on, so he does not talk about enlightenment. So if you meet Lao Tzu don’t ask him, “Do you believe in sudden enlightenment or in gradual enlightenment?” He will not answer you. He will laugh at you: “What foolishness!” There is no need for any enlightenment.
Say Yes To Reality – Accept Yourself As You Are
Accept yourself. That is the only reality there is, that is the only possibility there is. Accept yourself as you are, and suddenly everything is transformed. Acceptance is the word for Lao Tzu, not enlightenment – total acceptance, whatsoever the case is. Nothing else is possible. This is how things are. This is how you have happened into this vast universe. This vast universe wanted you to be like this – now you accept.
Ego exists through rejection: whenever you reject something, ego exists. Whenever you say no, ego is strengthened. But whenever you say yes, a total yes to existence, that is the greatest meditation you can enter into. In all other meditations you can enter but you will have to come out. This is the only meditation in which you enter and you cannot come out, because once you enter you are no more. Nobody can come out of it.
An Ambitious Mind Cannot Love – Love is in the Present
An ambitious mind cannot love. It is impossible, because he has first to fulfill his ambition. He has to sacrifice everything for it. He will go on sacrificing his love. Love is a relaxation and they are running after something to achieve – a goal. Maybe it is money, maybe it is power, prestige, politics. How can they love now? They cannot be here and now and love is a phenomenon of here and now. Love exists only in the present, ambition exists in the future. Love and ambition never meet.
Love is a forgetfulness of the past and the future and a remembrance of this moment, this throbbing moment, this alive moment. Love is the truth of the moment. The ambitious mind is never here, it is always on the go. How can you love a running man? He is always in a race, in a competition; he has no time. Or he thinks that somewhere in the future, when the goal is achieved, when he has attained the power he seeks, the riches he desires, then he will relax and love. This is not going to happen, because the goal will never be achieved.
Life is to be enjoyed in the present
Life is to enjoy and celebrate, life is not to become a utility. Life is more like poetry than like a commodity in the market. It should be like poetry; a song, a dance, a flower by the side of the road, flowering for nobody in particular, sending its fragrance to the winds, without any address, being nobody in particular, just enjoying itself, being itself.
Look at existence not as a struggle, but as an enjoyment. Look at existence not as a war, conflict, but as a celebration. And infinite is the celebration.
No hurry, no worries about past or future
Everything seems to be perfect at this moment. The trees are not worried about the future, the birds are not worried about the future, the rivers are simply moving so lazily, so silently – as if they are not moving at all. Nothing seems to be in a hurry.
You are planning for the future, not knowing that death will destroy all future. Remain in the moment – be wise. Live it as totally as possible and then you will know no death. Because a man who is not worried about tomorrow knows no death – he becomes deathless. Because death is tomorrow – life is today.
Do Your Work, Then Retire
Retire when your work is done… When you see that a work has given you balance, that you have attained happiness, don’t ask for more; when you feel good don’t ask for more; when you are surrounded by a well-being don’t ask for more. Retire, enjoy it. Revel in it. Dance with it. Don’t ask for more. The mind is always asking for more. The mind says, “Okay, this is good, that I am feeling a certain well-being, but more is possible. So first I should attain the more.”
You have not to retire at the end of life; retire every day, retire every moment.
Retire means rest: the work is done, now retire, enjoy it. Don’t postpone enjoyment, that is the meaning of the word retire. Enjoy here and now. Retire when your work is done, such is heaven’s way.
From The Tao Te Ching:
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being, but non-being is what we use.
Why this emphasis on hollowness? It is not a philosophical doctrine, remember, it is simply an analogy – Lao Tzu is trying to show you something. He is trying to show you that unless you become hollow you will suffer, because hollowness is your reality. With unreality you will suffer. And that is the meaning of meditation: to become hollow, to be empty inside. Not even a thought flutters – no content, just space. Suddenly all misery has disappeared because misery exists in thoughts. Death has disappeared because death exists in thoughts. The past has disappeared because the whole burden is carried through thoughts. Ambition disappears because how can you be ambitious without thoughts?
From where have you come? Nothingness. Where are you moving, where are you going? Nothingness. From nothingness to nothingness, and just in between two nothingnesses arises being. The river of being flows between two banks of nothingnesses. Being is beautiful, but non-being is also beautiful. Life is good, but death is also good, because life cannot exist without death
Sit with Emptiness
Hindus say, “I am the God himself.” This saying comes from those who have reached the innermost point, who have passed the non-being part and who have come to the shrine where godliness is and you are not. But you are trying to escape from it, you don’t know how to use it. If you are empty and you have nothing to do you start doing something, anything. You put on the radio or the TV, you study the newspaper, you read a novel, you go to a hotel or you go to the club – you do many things. You can do anything whatsoever, but you cannot just do nothing. People have the idea that if you can’t do something relevant, then do something irrelevant, but don’t sit idle. Sit empty. Just sitting empty one comes to the greatest encounter of life – one encounters one’s own death. If you can pass that, if you can pass that dancing, happy, enjoying it, if you can be nourished even by emptiness, then nothing can destroy you – you have attained to the eternal, the non-destructible, the deathless.