The Wisdom of the Tao: Ancient Stories that Delight, Inform, and Inspire

The Wisdom of the Tao: Ancient Stories that Delight, Inform, and Inspire

by Deng Ming-Dao


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Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy that emphasizes living in harmony with the universe. It is a tradition that has become widely popular in Europe and North America over the past fifty years--largely through its core text, the Tao Te Ching.

The Wisdom of the Tao is filled with over 140 ancient stories express great truth by fusing anecdotes with philosophy. The stories are frequently humorous, ribald, irreverent, or sarcastic--but they always speak to great and universal truths.

Here are stories that lead people to:

  • Flow with life
  • Live from the heart
  • Develop an openness to possibilities
  • Live in balance
  • Drop expectations
  • Embrace acceptance

The wisdom here fills a universal need. We need stories. They help us make sense of who we are and how we got here. They keep us sane as we try to absorb our experiences, our aging, and our emotions. Stories help us visualize the future by taking the messages of yesterday and helping us get tomorrow right.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571748379
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 03/01/2018
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 476,375
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Deng Ming-Dao is an artist, philosopher, teacher, and martial artist. He is the author of eight books, including 365 Tao, Everyday Tao, Scholar Warrior, and Chronicles of Tao. He is an award-winning graphic designer and fine artist whose work is shown in several collections, including those of the Brooklyn Museum. Visit him at

Read an Excerpt


Fishing for Something Big

Prince Ren got a huge iron hook, a thick black silk line, a bamboo pole, and fifty steers for bait. He squatted on Kuaiji Mountain and cast his line into the far-off East Ocean. The prince fished every morning for an entire year, but didn't catch anything.

Finally, a monstrous fish gobbled the bait. It dived, dragging hook and line behind it. Then it burst to the surface, beating its fins, frothing the waters, and raising mountainous white waves. The whole sea shook and the noise was like demons fighting gods. People were terrified for a thousand kilometers around.

The prince finally landed the fish, cut the body into pieces, and dried them. Crowds came from far away in the east and north to eat their fill.

For generations since, roaming storytellers have repeated this tale as they tried to outdo one another. They never mention this: what if Prince Ren had held his rod and line over ditches and had just tried to catch minnows? Would he have caught such a big fish?

Likewise, those who dress up small fables to get a position for themselves are not of wide intelligence — just as anyone who doesn't know the story of Prince Ren really isn't able to lead the world. (Z)


The Superlative Horse

Duke Mu of Qin said to Bo Le, his best judge of horses: "You are growing old. Could I ask your sons to find horses for me in your place?"

Bo Le replied: "Anyone can find an excellent horse by looking at its build, its color, its muscles, and its bone structure. But only a rare few can find a superlative horse that raises no dust and leaves no tracks. Although my sons have the talent to find excellent horses, they cannot see a superlative horse. However, I do have a friend named Gao who is a firewood and vegetable hawker. His ability to choose horses is as good as mine. Please talk to him."

So Duke Mu summoned Gao and hired him to look for horses. Gao returned after three months and reported that he had found a horse in Shaqiu.

The duke asked him eagerly: "What kind of horse is it?"

Gao replied, "It is a brown mare."

Duke Mu sent for the horse with great excitement. But he was disappointed weeks later when the grooms brought him a black stallion.

The duke was speechless with anger and summoned Bo Le. "This is terrible. The man you recommended doesn't know the difference between colors or whether a horse is a stallion or a mare! How can he possibly judge horses?"

Bo Le sighed deeply. "Has he progressed that far? Then he's worth a million of me and there is no comparing us. His vision is superior! He sees the divine workings and the subtle essence instead of coarse appearances. He sees what's inside and is not fooled by what's outside. He sees what ought to be seen and ignores what ought to be ignored. Gao can truly judge horses!"

Bo Le asked to see the steed. When it was led in, he saw right away that it was a superlative horse. (L)


Between Small and Large

King Tang (c. 1675–1646 BCE) said to Minister Ji: "A vast dark ocean in the barren north is called the Pool of Heaven. A fish several hundred kilometers wide and of a-length-no-one-has-ever-seen lives there.

"Similarly, a bird named the peng has a back as large as the sacred mountain Tai and wings that spread through the sky like clouds. When it soars into the heavens, its path of flight spirals like the whorls of a goat's horn. After rising some twenty kilometers through the cloudy air and looking as if it could lift the whole blue sky, it then sets its course for the distant south."

Overhearing this, a quail on the bank of a marsh laughed and said, "Where could such a bird be going? I can spring up and land in just a few yards. I can dart between raspberry bushes and mugwort and I'm done with my flight. Where could such a creature possibly need to go?"

Such are the differences between the small and large. In the same way, some people might know enough to hold office, or to be the head of a village, or to serve a ruler and help guide a state — but they are as shortsighted as that quail. (Z)


The Sage Has No Thought of Fame

There was once a great person named Song Rongzi. He was like this: If the whole world had praised him, he would not have been flattered. If the whole world had condemned him, he would not have been discouraged.

He clearly knew the difference between inner and outer and the difference between glory and disgrace. However, that was as far as he went. He could account for everything, but he couldn't fully find his own place in the world.

Or take Liezi as another example. He could ride the wind skillfully and smoothly, but he couldn't stay up in the sky forever. He had to come down after fifteen days. Liezi was not a scheming person. He didn't grab for what everybody else calls happiness, and he didn't even need to travel like other people — but there were still times when he had to wait for the right conditions so that he could fly again.

However, what if you could mount the truth of heaven and earth and ride on the variations of the Six Energies? You could roam without limits!

Therefore, it is said: A realized person gives no thought to self. A spiritual person gives no thought to their own merit. A sage gives no thought to fame. (Z)


Failing to Distinguish What's Real

There was once a man from the eastern territories who was named Yuan Jingmu. He was on a journey and one day collapsed from hunger while he was walking. A robber named Qiu saw him lying by the side of the road and brought him a bowl of food.

After swallowing three mouthfuls, Yuan Jingmu feebly opened his eyes and asked: "Who are you?"

"I am a native of Hu Fu. My name is Qiu."

Yuan Jingmu screamed. "Aren't you the wicked robber of Hu Fu? Why are you feeding me? I am a good man and will not eat your food!"

He dug his hands into the ground and tried to throw up. Nothing came out. He tried again several more times, crawled into a ditch, and died.

Now, the robber from Hu Fu might have been a bad man, but there was nothing wrong with his food. If you won't eat his food because you think it's sinful, then you have lost all reason. (L)


Reason for Song

Confucius was traveling through a big mountain range when he came across an old man sitting alone in the wilderness. He was clothed in deerskin, had a rope for a belt, and strummed a zither as he sang.

Confucius said: "Sir, you play such heartfelt music!"

"My music is great and varied," replied the man, "because heaven birthed the ten thousand things and gave us great riches. Heaven gives me all the benefits of life. That's the first reason I sing.

"Man and woman are distinct and different. A man must be respectful and a woman modest, and this adds to my wealth. I have both done and received what a man should. That's the second reason I sing.

"Some newborns will never see the sun or moon, and others will never grow out of their swaddling clothes. But I have already walked the earth for ninety years. That's the third reason I sing.

"Poverty is the lot of the scholar, death is everyone's end. I dwell in the absolute and am pleased overall. Why should I worry?"

"Excellent!" Confucius said. "Here's someone who is wise in his own lot." (L)


Covering Eyes with a Leaf

A poor man once read that praying mantises hid behind certain leaves to catch cicadas and that if human beings could find these leaves it would make them invisible. So he decided to find these marvelous leaves.

He went out and swept up a bunch of leaves and brought them home to test. One by one, he held a leaf in front of his face and asked his wife whether she could see him.

"Yes I can," she said each time. This went on for days, until she grew tired of being pestered and said, "I can't see you anymore."

Overjoyed, the man went to the marketplace, held the leaf in front of himself, and proceeded to steal whatever he could. Naturally, he was arrested right away.

The magistrate asked him: "Weren't you afraid of being caught?"

"No," said the man. "Once I held the leaf in front of my eyes, I couldn't see anything." (FL)


Plowing for a Dog

There was once a man who loved hunting so much that he wasted all his days chasing animals. But he wasn't a good hunter and usually didn't catch anything. He grew ashamed to face his family, friends, and fellow villagers. He was sure that the reason he was a bad hunter was because he had a bad hunting dog. Although he wanted to buy a good dog, his family was too poor to afford one.

Eventually, he went back home and he threw himself into plowing. He worked so hard that his family became wealthy and he was finally able to afford a good dog. After that he was able to hunt and bring back more animals than anyone else.

From ancient times to now, no one has ever become a ruler without first plowing. This separates the worthy from the unworthy. When worthy leaders see an improper course, they won't follow it. When they see a proper course, they will pursue it. They follow the Tao and avoid harm. (LBW)


The Foolish Old Man

Two mountains named Taixing and Wangwu together covered some 350 square kilometers and were each 20,000 meters high. They originally stood in southern Jizhou, north of the Yang River. The Foolish Old Man of North Mountain, who was already ninety years old, was annoyed because the two mountains blocked travelers from reaching the sea.

He called his family together to discuss the situation. They said: "We could use all our strength, level the mountains, and reach the ocean. What do you say?"

Everyone agreed except his wife, who was doubtful. "My dear husband, you don't even have the strength to sweep away a pile of dirt. How could you possibly move Taixing and Wangwu? Where would you even put the dirt and rock?"

The others broke in, "We will take all the earth and dump it off the shore of Bohai."

So the Foolish Old Man, his son, and his grandson went out with picks and began hewing away the rock, shoveling the soil, carrying dirt away in baskets, and dumping the debris at the shore. The son of a widow who lived nearby was so young he still had his milk teeth, but he got excited and jumped to help them. Together, they kept working and only went home once at the turn of each season.

The Wise Old Man of Riverbend laughed at them and told them to give up. "With the poor remaining strength of your advanced years, you will not succeed in moving even a hair's breadth of the mountains. How will you possibly move all that soil and rock?"

The Foolish Old Man let out a long sigh and said, "Your mind is so closed that I can hardly get through to you. You're not even a match for the widow's son with his slight strength. I may die, but my son will survive me. My son will raise grandchildren, and those grandchildren will have children of their own. My family will never end but the mountains cannot grow any taller. What difficulty, then, should it be to level them?" The Wise Old Man of Riverbend was speechless.

However, a nearby snake spirit was startled to hear their exchange. He rushed to report to the heavenly ruler who was moved by the old man's sincerity. He commanded two sons of the divine Kua'e Clan to carry the mountains away to the four directions. (L)


The Jingwei Bird Tries to Fill the Sea

Far to the southeast stands Departing Doves Mountain. Mulberry trees cover its slopes.

A bird that looks like a crow with a decorated head, and that has a white beak and red feet, lives in those trees. It is called the Jingwei and it makes a sound like its name.

One day, the younger daughter of Nuwa was swimming in the Eastern Sea. She could not get back to shore and she drowned.

Her spirit turned into the Jingwei birds. For centuries since, these birds regularly carry twigs and stones from the Western Mountains to drop into the waters — trying to fill the Eastern Sea. (CMS)


In the Great Beginning

In the great beginning was nothing. All was without name or form.

Then came a movement within formlessness, and that led to the birth of things that we could properly call real. What was formless separated and we can say that those distinctions led to order.

All things came from this process of melding and movement. Once everything became fully evident, there were patterns. Then we can finally say that all was present.

Form embodies a spirit — each thing has its attributes that we call its nature. Once its nature is refined, it returns to its proper character, a character that, once fully realized, is the same as the great beginning. It's identical to the void — a great and utter emptiness!

Heaven and earth join like a bird beak fitting closed. They are drawn together as if linked by a cord. It might seem hard to understand or it might seem confusing, but it is this profound mystery that we must obey and with which we must remain in accord. (Z)


Excerpted from "The Wisdom of the Tao"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Deng Ming-Dao.
Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

1 Fishing for Something Big 1

2 The Superlative Horse 2

3 Between Small and Large 4

4 The Sage Has No Thought of Fame 5

5 Failing to Distinguish What's Real 6

6 Reason for Song 7

7 Covering Eyes with a Leaf 8

8 Plowing for a Dog 9

9 The Foolish Old Man 10

10 The Jingwei Bird Tries to Fill the Sea 12

11 In the Great Beginning 13

12 The Wind in the Hollows 14

13 The Right View 16

14 The Banquet 17

15 The Lost Horse 18

16 You'll Know in Time 19

17 How the World Began 20

18 The Duke Who Saw Yin and Yang 22

19 Nothing It Doesn't Do 23

20 How the World Arrives at Order 24

21 How the Universe Started 25

22 All Things and I Are One 26

23 There Is No Limit to Knowledge 27

24 The Wisdom of the Cook 28

25 The Realized Person 30

26 The Sage 32

27 Look Up, Look Down 33

28 Life Comes from the Birthless 34

29 The Master Carpenter 36

30 The Disabled Man 38

31 The Usefulness of Being Useless 39

32 Covering One's Ears 40

33 The Truthful Ministers 41

34 The Power of an Ugly Man 42

35 What the Wise See 45

36 Forgetting Ugliness for Virtue 46

37 The Philosophy of Hui Shi 48

38 Can People Be Without Desire? 50

39 Roaming Free and Easy 51

40 White Dog, Black Dog 52

41 The True Person 53

42 The True Person of the Past 54

43 Serving Others 55

44 Breathing to the Heels 57

45 The Disciples Outwit Their Master 58

46 I Heard of Tao 59

47 Afraid of the World's Collapse 60

48 Hide the World in the World 62

49 I'm Improving 63

50 Learning Takes Perseverance 64

51 Remembering What Made You 66

52 The House of Peace 67

53 People Flourish in Tao 68

54 Lamenting Dire Need 69

55 The Way of the Thief 70

56 Nonaction 72

57 Seagulls 73

58 The Yellow Emperor Finds the Tao 74

59 The Island of the Immortals 77

60 The First Emperor 78

61 Death and Life 79

62 Peach Blossom Spring 80

63 Rest 82

64 The Four Friends 83

65 The Four Stages of a Person's Life 86

66 How the Ancients Viewed Death 87

67 Self-Possessed

68 The Power of Complete Belief 89

69 Concentrating Aims 93

70 Taming Tigers 94

71 The Clever Daughter-In-Law 96

72 Do Not Oppress Hearts 99

73 Vulgar People 100

74 The Death of Primal Chaos 101

75 Finding the Right Spot 102

76 The Speech of King Kang 103

77 Dedicating Everyone to Love 104

78 Emperor Yao 106

79 No Use Trying to Rule the World 108

80 Those Who Possess Land 109

81 Making Use of a Fake Eunuch 110

82 Once There Is Pervasiveness 112

83 The Tao Spreads Over All 114

84 The Brilliant Tao 116

85 The Teaching of the Great Person 118

86 Seizing Opportunity 119

87 The Loyal Assassin 120

88 Fire Mountain 123

89 The Wise Judge 124

90 Confucius and the Weeping Woman 125

91 The Tao of Swimming 126

92 King Mu and the Magician 128

93 Mr. Yin's Illness 132

94 The Gardener 134

95 The Water Pulley 135

96 Going to the Ocean 136

97 The Deer 138

98 Forgetfulness 140

99 The Men Who Switched Hearts 142

100 A Jester's Wisdom 143

101 The Robot 144

102 The Right Use 146

103 What Is Called Tao? 148

104 Diversity and Unity 149

105 Three in the Morning 150

106 What Is Death, Really? 151

107 Penumbra and the Shadow 152

108 The Butterfly Dream 153

109 Why Mourn? 154

110 Do Not Assist Heaven 155

111 Following Heaven and Earth 156

112 Losing Proper Nature 157

113 Going Beyond Books 158

114 The Wheelwright 159

115 The Frog in the Well 160

116 Dragging My Tail in the Mud 161

117 The Phoenix and the Rat 162

118 The Enjoyment of Fishes 163

119 Happiness 164

120 What the World Honors 165

121 When Zhuangzi's Wife Died 166

122 When Heaven Initiates 167

123 Conversation with a Skull 168

124 The Tumors 170

125 The Drunk 171

126 Confucius and the Hunchback 172

127 The Ferryman 173

128 The Fighting Cocks 174

129 The Wood carver 175

130 How to Nurture a Bird 176

131 True Benevolence 177

132 An Ugly Woman Imitates a Beauty 178

133 Only Seeing Gold 179

134 Suspicion 180

135 Clever Writing 181

136 Spear and Shield 182

137 On Usefulness and Uselessness 183

138 Waiting for a Hare to Appear 184

139 Knowledge and Nonaction 185

140 Talking at the Right Level 186

141 You Can't Possess Tao 187

142 Where Is Tao? 188

143 Fame 189

144 On Tao 190

Sources 191

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