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Newsletter - May 2021

Tao Te Ching, I Ching: what’s the difference?


Let’s start with the similarities. Both the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching are ancient Chinese texts. They both end in “Ching” which means great book or classic. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The former is a philosophical text which became one of the foundations of Taoism. The latter is a divination manual used for interpreting symbols to answer questions about the present and the future. Both have been around for a very long time.


The Tao Te Ching is roughly translated as The Book of the Way. It consists of 81 brief chapters, written by a man named Lao Tzu, and contains a series of general observations and insights about living a human life. It is a book of timeless wisdom which has been a source of inspiration for centuries.


The I Ching is roughly translated as The Book of Changes. It’s a look-up manual for interpreting hexagrams which are symbols formed from six horizontal lines. It is intended to provide guidance in specific situations. First you obtain a hexagram. Then you go to the I Ching to look up what it means. There are only 64 possible hexagrams. The I Ching names them, arranges them in specific order, and provides a description which you can use to guide you in decision-making.


How do you use the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching?


As I see it, there are no particular steps for using the Tao Te Ching. Bring an open mind and be prepared to be inspired, or at least challenged with respect to how you often let your decisions and actions be driven by your thoughts and desires. For me, what you take away is a greater awareness of the big picture in which you appear to be a small temporary part. In the big picture, all the separate things we think we see are illusions. Unity is the only timeless reality. It is so far beyond anything we can grasp with words that Lao Tzu says “For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao” (Chapter 25). If we live our lives centered in the Tao, then we experience peace and serenity. If we see ourselves as separate, then driven by thought and desire we tend to experience confusion and sorrow. The wisdom is at a general level.


The I Ching is for use when seeking guidance in specific situations. You need to bring a mind which is open to being guided by interpretations attached to apparently random events. There is a sequence of steps. The first is to identify some particular dilemma or subject on which you’re seeking guidance. The next step is to get your hexagram. The easiest method is to toss three coins at once. (You can also toss 50 stem stalks from the yarrow plant but that’s a much more laborious process.) Each coin is given a value of 2 or 3 depending on whether it lands heads or tails. So, for one toss, you’ll get a number between 6 and 9. Six such tosses make the hexagram. The third step is to look up what your hexagram means. The I Ching contains the 64 descriptions. The fourth step is to interpret its meaning for your dilemma or the subject on which you’re seeking guidance. This last step is up to you.


As you can see, the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching have more differences than similarities. Both of them have been translated into many languages many times. Both have been studied intensively over the centuries. Both of them attract positive and negative comments and opinions. Some people find the Tao Te Ching highly inspirational; others find it dense, cryptic, full of ambiguities and apparent contradictions. Some people find the I Ching a source of practical guidance; others see it as to be trusted no more than reading your daily horoscope in the newspaper.


Needless to say, both topics are much larger than the scope of this newsletter. All I have done is look at the tips of two icebergs. What I’ve tried to provide is simply a brief answer to the question: What’s the difference between the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching?


Have you had a chance to read either, or both, of these two books? What drew you to read them? What was your experience?


In other news… In Harmony with the Tao: A Guided Journey into the Tao Te Ching is now available as an e-book. (The paperback is also available from your nearest independent bookstore, from White Cloud Press, from, or from


If you have any thoughts you'd like to share, you can get in touch with me by:


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 (In Harmony with the Tao: A Guided Journey into the Tao Te Ching is available from your nearest independent bookstore, from White Cloud Press, from, or from

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