The original text of Lao Whiz Tzu's "Tao Tan Ching" is lost in the mists of time. It is thought to have been written during the Han dynasty, around 200 BC. Various translations still exist that indicate it was primarily concerned with portraying a model of a simple life lived by the Tao, focused primarily on charcoal as a fuel for cooking. Later writers stressed more mystical and magical aspects. But Lao Whiz Tzu was, like Confucius, Mo Tzu, and Mencius, also concerned with the essential nature of charcoal; he believed unquestioningly in the idea that charcoal could also exist in accordance with the Tao. What would such charcoal look like? It would not spark, it would not be hard to light, it would not smoke, it would not impart foul flavor to food, and, ideally, it would be inactive, serving mainly as a source of heat rather than smoke or light. There were people who tried to translate Lao Whiz Tzu using other visions of charcoal during the Han dynasty; these were, as you might imagine, spectacular failures.

So, with all the types of charcoal available to novices, with all the debate about which is best, and with questions about which is better, charcoal or gas, there exists a great void. Novices aimlessly wander the universe, seeking the Tao, but no closer to enlightenment than the day they bought their first bag of charcoal or cylinder of propane. Here, therefore, is a modern translation of Lao Whiz Tsu's "Tao Tan Ching", literally "The Classic Book of The Way of Charcoal", or the shorter "The Way of Charcoal" . Its thirty-seven epigrams in twelve book will aid those novices who truly seek the Tao to find enlightenment and truly find "The Way."


The Chinese character "tao" is actually made up of two characters, "go forward" and "head". Hence, your head chooses a path to go forward. For this reason it is used to denote the path or way to clarity. However, remember that the word or character is merely used as a way of expressing the inexpressable. "The Tao is without form or quality, But expresses all forms and qualities."

Common dictionary translations of Tao include: road, path, way, means or doctrine. Literally, the way humans should follow. In the "Tao Tan Ching" of Lao Whiz Tzu, Tao becomes the source from which all appearance derives, the unproduced Producer of all that is, and the guarantor of its stability and regularity. It is generally used to indicate the unseen, underlying law of the universe from which all other principles and phenomena proceed. It is described as unnameable, unfathomable and inexhaustible. Taoists attempt to be one with this principle.

Taoism is based on the idea that behind all material things and all the change in the world lies one fundamental, universal principle: the Way or Tao. This principle gives rise to all existence and governs everything, all change and all life. Behind the bewildering multiplicity and contradictions of the world lies a single unity, the Tao.

The purpose of human life, then, is to live life according to the Tao, which requires passivity, calm, non-striving (wu wei ), humility, and lack of planning, for to plan is to go against the Tao.

Seeking the Tao also requires an understanding of the concept of Yin and Yang. Ying and Yang are not the Tao. However, they are the dynamic force of the Tao, constantly interacting with one another.



T'ai-chi T'u In Chinese philosophy, the rhythm of life, which pulsates through the universe, is the action of complementary principles, Yin and Yang. The T'ai-chi T'u diagram (left) illustrates this principle. The symmetrical disposition of the dark Yin and the light Yang suggests cyclical changes. When Yin reached its climax, it recedes in favor of Yang, then after Yang reached its climax it recedes in favor of Yin. This is the eternal cycle. The dots inside the white and black halves indicate that within each is the seed of the other. Yin cannot exist without Yang and vice versa. The ideal state of things in the physical universe, as well as in the world of humans is a state of harmony represented by the balance of Yin and Yang in body and mind.

Yang is the strong, male, creative, giving force, which is associated with heaven. The heaven above us is always in motion and brings about change. Yang is associated with the following ideas and things:

- Day, Light
- Sunshine, Fire, Heat
- Summer, Spring
- Even Numbers
- The Sun
- South, East
- Left, Up
- Intellect
- Active, Dynamic
- Expansion, Increasing
- Innovative, Reformative
- Mountain
- Desert
- Straight Line
- Hard
- Dissolving
- Physical (Observable) World
- Tiger
- Bladder, Intestines, Skin

Yin is the quiet, female, intuitive, receiving force, which is associated with earth. The earth is the source of life, it provides us with what we need to survive. Yin is associated with the following ideas and things:

- Night, Dark
- Rain, Water, Cold
- Winter, Autumn
- Odd Numbers
- The Moon
- North, West
- Right, Down
- Intuition
- Passive, Static
- Contraction, Decreasing
- Conservative, Traditional
- Valley
- River
- Curve
- Soft
- Solidifying
- Psychological (Astral) World
- Dragon
- Kidneys, Heart, Liver, Lungs



And now presumably you, the novice, are ready to follow the path to enlightenment and seek the Tao. The "Tao Tan Ching", "The Classic Book of The Way of Charoal", exists to indicate the path to clarity in understanding the Tao, but it is not the Tao itself. Read the "Tao Tan Ching" and follow the path. It will not take you within the Tao. You will be filled with Tao only once you have reached enlightenment. And then you will know it is time for you to leave....

"The Tao is so vast that when you use it, something is always left. How deep it is!"
from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu

Table Of Contents


Disclaimer: "The Tao of Charcoal" is not a religion nor a form of brainwashing or mind control, although you may find the mind-numbing soporific and repetitious background music highly disturbing after a period of time. However, reading "The Tao of Charcoal" will not require professional deprogramming when you have finished. It is not a religion nor a solicitation for funds. Send no money. If anywhere in the Tao of Charcoal a suggestion is made to do something dangerous or irresponsible, don't do it. There is no novice, nor is there a master, grand master, or supreme master. There is no shark that turns into a bird that belches fire. There is no warlord of Wu, Prince Wang, or Magician of the Ivory Tower. I made it all up. Well, Geoffrey James did with a little help from me after the fact. As did I make up the concept of enlightenment. As far as I know, there is no such thing and if somehow, after reading "The Tao Of Charcoal" you do find enlightenment or the Tao, it is pure coincidence. There is not nor was there ever, any such person as Lao Whiz Tzu. But you already knew that, didn't you? We have no knowledge of Chinese and don't claim to know what the heck we are talking about when we conjured up "Tao Tan Ching". And, oh yeah. Kingsford! Oi! This is a joke. If you don't like people writing web pages about what you put in your charcoal, don't put that stuff in your charcoal!

Acknowledgemnts: This rendering of the Tao of Charcoal is loosely based upon "The Tao of Programming," a book written by Geoffrey James after having studied I Ching for four years. Whereas I only had about four minutes to study I Ching, I sought my Tao in Mr. James' book. I also have modified short passages from a version of the original Tao Te Ching produced by Peter A. Merel when it seemed useful.

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