Daoism (Taoism)

The notion of dao (tao), in as far as it indicates a path, a way, or a set of principles, may have importance for considering the kind of pathway or passage that occurs in a narrative environment. Also, reference to the dao is important in highlighting that a narrative environment is always, to some extent, a learning environment, because, as the Xueji (On Teaching and Learning) asserts, “A person will never come to understand the Dao without learning”. Similarly, engagement with or participation in a narrative environment involves learning.

As Di (2016: 45) explains, the character dao literally means the road one travels, but it also signifies the journey one takes in life. Furthermore, dao signifies a holistic conception of man and nature, a humanistic worldview that forms the basis of ancient Chinese thought. The term dao (tao) is very widely used in ancient Chinese philosophical texts. From its literal meaning of ‘way’ or ‘path’, it is a short step to its use to mean ‘way of doing something’ and hence to mean ‘principle’ or ‘set of principles’. (Wilkinson, 1997: viii)

It is in the sense of ‘set of principles’ that it is used in the Analects of Confucius. To follow the dao in Confucian terms is to follow the set of moral principles expounded in that text. (Wilkinson, 1997: viii) For Confucius, the essence of education is to study, pursue, and live the dao, and to teach and learn holistically (Di, 2016: 45).

In order to effect a translation of the principles of the dao into human daily learning, experience, and existence, Xueji, like many Chinese classic writings, advocates the cultivation of character and moral development (Di, 2016: 47).

While, in Daoism, the term ‘Dao’ is used to mean way, path and set of principles, it also has another sense. The fundamental assertion of Daoist philosophy is that there is an ultimate reality, and this is referred to as the Dao, as something formless yet complete, something that is real, ultimate and in some way the basis of all there is.

Dao in narrative environments, while it exploits the senses of path and set of principles and implies learning, does not necessarily imply a belief in an ultimate ground or an ultimate reality; unless that ultimate ground is understood not as a prior grounding but as a simultaneous modality of ‘chaos’ or ‘spontaneity’.


Di, X. (2016). The Teaching and learning principles of Xueji in the educational practice of the world today. In: Chinese philosophy on teaching and learning: Xueji in the twenty-first century. New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 39–59.

Wilkinson, R. (1997). Introduction. In: Tao te ching by Lao Tzu, translated by Arthur Waley. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, vii–xix.

edited 23 January, 2017 by Allan Parsons

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