Esoteric Tao Teh Ching

by Taoist Master Hua-Ching Ni, Los Angeles: College of Tao and Traditional Chinese Healing, 1992.

About this Book

The Tao Teh Ching represents the core of Taoist philosophy as written by Lao Tzu around 500 B.C. Although Lao Tzu was the first great Master to write down his understanding of the subtle truth, the teaching of Tao existed many thousands of years before Lao Tzu was born.

Lao Tzu wrote simply and profoundly, yet after the passing of time the Tao Teh Ching could not be totally understood without elucidation or explanation.

Hundreds of years later, the true esoteric meaning of the Tao Teh Ching was revealed to the virtuous leader of the Han Dynasty, Emperor Wen, by an unusual old man called ‘The Old Gentleman on the River.’ He had achieved the mastery described in the Tao Teh Ching and when asked about it by the Emperor, he presented a book with instructions to study it. This precious version, written by the old man, is the first book that gave the esoteric meaning of the Tao Teh Ching.

In 1979, Hua-Ching Ni wrote The Complete Works of Lao Tzu, the only work of Lao Tzu written by a Taoist Master in the English language. This popular book is in its sixth printing.

He has now produced Esoteric Tao Teh Ching, an elucidated version of Lao Tzu’s teaching. This book will help you attain a deeper understanding of this ancient wisdom. It is presented as received from the direct teachings which have been passed down for many generations. With the publication of Esoteric Tao Teh Ching, Hua-Ching Ni provides future generations with a precious bridge to the subtle truth.

— From: Backcover


The Subtle Essence conveyed by the teaching of the Integral Way is the deep truth of all religions, yet it leaves all religions behind to be the clothing of different seasons or worn in different places. The teaching of the Subtle Essence includes all things of religious importance, yet it is not on the same level as religion. It serves people’s lives directly as all religions wish to do, but it surpasses the boundary of all religions and extracts the essence of al religions.

The Subtle Essence as conveyed by the teaching of the Integral Way is also the goal of all serious science, but it leaves all sciences behind as partial and temporal descriptions of this Integral Truth. Unlike any of the partial sciences, it goes beyond the level of any single scientific search.

The Subtle Essence is the master teaching. However, it does not rely on any authority. It is like a master key which can unlock all doors leading to the inner room of the ultimate truth directly. It is not frozen at the emotional surface of life and does not remain locked at the level of thought or belief with the struggling which extends to skepticism and endless searching.

The teaching of the Subtle Essence presents the core of the Integral Truth and helps you reach it yourself.


Thirteen years ago, I published my first book in English: The Complete Works of Lao Tzu. Since that time, I have been busy responding to people’s needs for spiritual guidance by teaching. In doing so, I have published a total of 36 books. Because I started with the Tao Teh Ching, I consider that my direct teaching and writing service should also pause with the same important book, but this time written as the Esoteric Teachings of Lao Tzu, and the other book at my hand, Immortal Wisdom.

Originally, I wished to do the teaching that would emphasize the doctrine of nothingness, purity, innocence or freedom, neutrality and flexibility and its application in spiritual cultivation. Although this concept has a positive contribution as an important discipline of mind, I have already presented it in my version of the book of Chuang Tzu, which I call Attaining Unlimited Life, as well as in my other books. Thus, in this new version of the Tao Teh Ching, I focus upon the principle that learning to follow spiritual reality is similar to learning to shoot a bow: you focus on the bull’s eye of the target. If the arrow strikes the circle of the target too high or too low, too left or too right, you have missed your goal of the bull’s eye. To learn spiritually means to learn to be spiritually centered, exactly and correctly. In the midst of our daily life activity, sometimes our projection of mind is too high or too low, too left or too right from our spiritual center.

A traditional symbol which also describes this principle is the Chinese character chung. Chung means to hit the bulls eye. From the standard of always reaching the center of our target, we learn to rectify our thoughts and activities.

Any spiritual teaching which over-emphasizes the doctrine of nothingness is a partial teaching. The important guidance of the ancient achieved ones is that when there is nothing for you to be nervous about, you had better consider that there is something, in order to avoid future trouble. In other words, nothingness will not last. Also, when something is making you nervous, annoyed or troubled, act as though there is nothing bothering you. By doing that, you keep yourself open and ready to find an appropriate way out of the problem or at least minimize your suffering.

For example, when you drive on a city freeway or highway where there are lots of cars, surely you need to be careful, but you do not need to be nervous. Nervousness will not help you: you will drive better if you are calm. Therefore, when you there is something, act as though there is nothing. In contrast, when you drive on a narrow, winding country road, you encounter few cars. Yet, when you are driving on a blind curve, it is best to drive as though another car is driving toward you on the other side of the road. In that way, you will not be startled if you are driving in the center of the road and another car suddenly appears. You avoid any chance of collision because of your caution. Therefore, when there is nothing, act as though there is something.

To repeat, the spiritual guidance given by the ancient achieved ones is when there is nothing happening, think there is something or stay alert. If there is something, act as though it is nothing. Be above the trouble and handle it with objectivity. Always adjust your mind to apply the spiritual guidance as given above.

The teaching of spirituality has its depth. If I teach too deeply, it will leave most people behind, and would be of service to very few. When I teach or write a book, I consider it important. I would rather give people something useful, not fanciful. This is the spirit of Tao. Unless you receive another type of inspiration before you reach the center, I believe my verbal teaching in English given here and with one other publication, Immortal Wisdom, is complete for human life in this stage of growth.



In governing one’s life,
there is the subtle path.
This path is ageless.

The subtle path has been recognized as Tao, the Integral Way.
Tao is also called the universal subtle energy.
At the same time, it is the universal subtle law.

The subtle path can be traced,
yet it is not an ordinary path.

A definition can be given of it;
yet it cannot be presented
by an ordinary definition with words.

There are no accurate words to describe it;
the subtle path cannot be limited
by the definition of words.

The word ‘indefinable’ describes
the mother of all,
who gives birth to all things and all lives.

Because Tao is subtle energy
and at the same time subtle law,
it looks like nothing.
It as nothing before the universe was born from it.

This subtle energy gives birth to everything;
thus it is the motherly substance of the universe.
It is the mother of all things.
A mind with no intention
contains the original essence.

A mind with intention
contains the subtle activity of life.
Intention and non-intention present the same reality
although they are differently expressed.

Learning Tao or spiritual truth
is different from learning other things,
because it always presents itself as nothing.

You need to look deeply
to find the wonder of nothingness.
At the same time that everything is present in front of you,
look to the place where everything returns.
The same origin is shared by all differences.

In the depth of nature
exists the subtle reality.

In the subtle reality
exists the most subtle reality.

In the most subtle reality
exists the gate to the source of all.

Therefore, ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ are different terms,
but both come from the same origin.

Being and non-being are indescribable,
yet in the depth of their indestructible reality
one can find the gate
to the source of all.

Therefore, you cannot hold the reality of the world
as something you can see or feel.
It is much deeper than that.


All people under Heaven know what beauty is,
but they do not know
that beauty is not absolute.

All people under heaven know what good is,
but they do not know
that good is also not absolute.

In the universe,
everything is integrated and interdependent.

Being and non-being give birth to each other.
Difficulty and ease
accomplish each other.

Long and short
create each other.
High and low
form each other.
Voice and sound
accompany each other.
Front and rear follow each other.

From this reality, the wise one chooses
to live a life with the subtle path,
giving support and teaching people
by one’s living example.

The wise one allows all other lives
the freedom to grow.

The wise one holds nothing against anyone or anything.
The wise one learns from the subtle path
to bring all good things to life,

but does not hold onto those things.

The wise one helps others
without expecting anything in return.

The wise one does not take credit
for accomplishing good for other people.

When a person does not think of one’s accomplishments,
one remains fresh in life.


The wise one does not exalt especially good people,
and in so doing, does not pull down the bad ones.

This means the wise one treats all people equally,
and does not discriminate with prejudice.

The wise one does not value goods which are hard to attain,
and in so doing, gives no opportunity for theft.

The wise one does not look at things of stimulation,
and by so doing, nothing can stir up one’s desire
and make one restless.

In governing one’s life,
simple things bring the best result:

By emptying the mind
one embraces the internal essence.

By weakening one’s ambition for external things
one strengthens the body.

By maintaining one’s life in a natural condition,
one has no particular desire or interest.

In governing one’s life,
maintaining balance brings the best result:

By not extending oneself to risk one’s life,
and by doing what needs to be done to live
an ordinary, standard life,
nothing is left unfulfilled.