Lao Tzu > Watercourse-Way

The Watercourse Way (as a Model of Taoist Conduct)

The watercourse-way is, without any doubt, the expression which perfectly alludes to the appropriate behavior of a Taoist sage (I am not talking here about the Taoist priests because I am not dealing with religious Taoism).

Niagara Falls
Water, which takes the form of the objects it touches in its course, provides a valuable model for Taoist conduct.
This "way" is wonderfully described in the I Ching (Book of Changes), where from we have excerpted  a short commentary of Richard Wilhelm on the Hexagram 19 - Lin / Approach:

    The water endlessly flows and fills, up to a certain limit, the corners it is flowing through; the water is not "afraid" of any dangerous place, of any "falling" and there is nothing making it lose its essence. Under all circumstances, it remains equal to its nature.

Being attentive to the characteristics of water, the Taoist disciple has created a similar model of human behavior which may be formulated as follows:

    Under all circumstances one should behave like the water, one should adjust to the requirements of the outer world, keeping safe his/her unchangeable essence in the meantime (here "essence" points to his/her inner self, or true nature).

In his day to day life the Taoist disciple follows the model of water in that he/she follows the life trends without changing his/her direction.

The water sumbolism was cherished by Lao Tzu in his Tao Te Ching when he said:

    The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao. (Chaper 8:1, James Legge).

Here water offers an ethical example: to be low rather than hight. To aim at a low profile rather than a high one. This is the way of Lao Tzu described in his Tao Te Ching.


I started by quoting from the I Ching because it is the true guide for the Taoists. It shows the way one may follow, or more precisely the way one may behave, in order to accommodate the life trends. This Book (considered to be a classic, such as The Bible) works just fine together with the Taoist tradition of eternal wisdom.

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