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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 184-188

The taoism philosophy within traditional chinese medicine: The Relation between Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic) and Dao De Jing (《道德经》 Tao Te Jing)

1 School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Xiamen University Malaysia, Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia
2 Department of Control System, SPIN AU Pty Ltd, Perth, Australia

Date of Submission09-Nov-2019
Date of Acceptance09-Dec-2019
Date of Web Publication24-Dec-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Yun Jin Kim
School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Xiamen University Malaysia, Sepang, Selangor
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_45_19

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Taoism refers to an indigenous Chinese philosophical and religious tradition. For more than two and a half millennia, it has had a profound social and intellectual influence on Eastern Asia and since the 19th century has deeply influenced Western countries. Dao De Jing(《道德经》 Tao Te Jing is still considered to be the primary text of Taoism. The Tao Te Jing is attributed to Laozi, the classical Chinese Philosopher, and describes the major doctrines of Taoism. It is most relevant to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This article offers a brief introduction to the Taoism within TCM – the relation between Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic) and Dao De Jing 《道德经》 Tao Te Jing.

Keywords: Dao De Jing (《道德经》 Tao Te Jing), Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 The Yellow Emperorss Inner Classic), Taoism Philosophy

How to cite this article:
Lim CH, Lim SK, Wong GL, Qian L, Kim YJ. The taoism philosophy within traditional chinese medicine: The Relation between Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic) and Dao De Jing (《道德经》 Tao Te Jing). Chin Med Cult 2019;2:184-8

How to cite this URL:
Lim CH, Lim SK, Wong GL, Qian L, Kim YJ. The taoism philosophy within traditional chinese medicine: The Relation between Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic) and Dao De Jing (《道德经》 Tao Te Jing). Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Apr 13];2:184-8. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/4/184/273899

  Introduction Top

Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic) [Figure 1], sometimes briefly called Inner Classic, is in existence the most ancient scripture of Chinese Medicine Theory in China. It was first published between the era of ChunQiu and ZhanGuo (春秋战国 BCE 403 – BCE 221), and there was a continuous editorial effort on the scripture. Regarding the authorship of the book, Inner Classic as the foundation scripture of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is difficult to be attributed to the specific figure, place, and time. It is believed that the scripture is the compilation based on experiences of medical practitioners for many generations. Inner Classic consists of two parts, respectively, Su Wen (《素问》 Plain Questions and Ling Shu 《灵枢》 Miraculous Pivot, containing a total of 162 chapters. It has explained the methodology and thought of TCM, provided a theoretical framework for the medical practitioners. TCM has been developed on this theory framework foundation since then.
Figure 1: Selected readings from Huang Di Nei Jing

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Dao De Jing (《道德经》 Tao Te Jing)[Figure 2] is the essential scripture of Taoist, also known as Lao Zi(《老子》), or Five Thousand Words from Lao Zi. It was poetic and full of philosophical insights. In general, it was believed that the scripture was written by Laozi during the era of ChunQiu (BCE 770 – BCE 476). It also consists of two parts, Dao Jing(《道经》 Tao Jing)and De Jing(《德经》 Te Jing), comprising a total of 81 chapters, with approximately 5000 words. It was also the earliest philosophical workpiece in Chinese history. The passage from the book is simple and yet full of insights and dialectic. As the masterpiece of Taoism, discussion topics can be found within Tao Te Jing including the origins of the Universe due to changes, the appropriate way of country administration, as well as life and death.[1]
Figure 2: Annotation of Lao Zi Dao De Jing

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Tao Te Jing, as the masterpiece of Taoism, and its writing, though earlier, was not far from the date when The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic was written. Hence, the Inner Classic can be influenced by the thought of Tao Te Jing. As claimed by Zheng's, “The emphasis on nature, and epistemology from Taoist has heavily influenced the theoretical framework of Chinese Medicine along with its development, the TCM scripture Inner Classic has displayed a good proof of this.”

  The Relation Between Inner Classic Of Chinese Medicine Practitioner And Tao Te Jing Of Taoism Top

The Harmony Between of Yin and Yang (阴阳调和)

In the opinion of Taoism, everything in the universe can be found in the harmonious state, which consists of binary opposition and restriction, and yet it also can be the sequential root cause of each other. Yin and Yang are not merely about Qi; they are the common attribution in everything.

“The created universe carries the yin at its back and the yang in front; through the union of pervading principles it reaches harmony.”

Tao Te Jing Chapter 42.

“Yin and Yang is the way of Universe, the principle of everything, the root of Change, the beginning of Life and Death, the home of Spirits, and hence to cure, (we have to) look for its root.”

Inner Classic, the Manifestation of Yin and Yang.

By comparing both texts, Inner Classic resonates with Tao Te Jing in the aspect of the harmony of Yin and Yang. Therefore, Xu pointed out that Yin and Yang is the key idea to master Inner Classic.

Besides the dialectical thought in other philosophical schools, Inner Classic also emphasizes the aspect of Unity. Inner Classic claims that Yin and Yang are inseparable and can be useful to each other. “Yin is at internal, and Yang as its guardian. Yang is at external, Yin as its mover.” The Separation and Unity of Yin and Yang have well explained the idea of harmony between of Yin and Yang, and it resonates with “the union of pervading principles” mentioned in Tao Te Jing.

The way (Tao) models the nature

“Dao models the Nature” is an essential concept in Taoism.

There are the Great Four in the universe, and the King is one of them.

Man models himself after the Earth;

The Earth models itself after Heaven;

The Heaven models itself after Tao;

Tao models itself after nature.

Tao Te Jing, Chapter 25.

The Great Four are related through the modeling of the lower hierarchy after the higher hierarchy, from the Man the lowest hierarchy toward Tao the highest hierarchy. This reveals the objective recognition of the nature of everything in the universe; everything should be existing in the form “just as it is.” Consequently, every existence is harmonious to each other, as Liu pointed out, “the natural existence is a state without competition and struggling.”

“Natural simplistic” was derived from the concept “models after Nature.”

Let them enjoy their food,

Beautify their clothing,

Be satisfied with their homes,

Delight in their customs.

Tao Te Jing, Chapter 80.

The natural simplistic viewpoint has imposed its influence on Inner Classic relating to its health care concept, as being discussed in Plain Questions,

“Being of less desire, the spirits will flow smoothly, with being mindfulness and less desire, sickness is avoided. Thus, with moderate desire, the peaceful heart is fearless, the body tiredness is far from being exhausted. The smooth flowing spirits, the moderate desire is being satisfied, they enjoy their food, beautify their clothing, and be delighted in their customs, the people from different hierarchies are not jealous of each other, this is the simplicity.”

Chapter of the universal truth

By comparing the texts, both Tao Te Jing and Inner Classic are emphasizing the viewpoint of natural health care, which both promote the simple and desireless life to achieve harmonious emotion.

“Therefore, the saint was inaction, content by fulfilling his desire with the simplicity, and hence he could live longer, as being eternal with the Universe. This is the way of he saint himself.”

-Inner Classic, The Manifestation of Yin and Yang.

Obviously, the above-mentioned concept of “simplicity,” “inaction,” and “desire less” in natural health care has its root in Taoism.

The Unity between the Universe and Man (天人合一)

The concept of “the Unity between the Universe and Man” is a very classical concept in Chinese traditional. Taoism is actively promoting this concept in discussing the relations between the Man and the Universe.

Out of Tao, One is born;(道生一)

Out of One, Two;(一生二)

Out of Two, Three;(二生三)

Out of Three, the created universe.(三生万物)

Tao Te Jing, Chapter 42

The Way (Dao) is a formless state of spirits, the most primitive form of existence, and hence “One is born.” Following that, “Out of One, Two” is the binary state of mutual influencing of Yin and Yang. The form begins to exist, due to the differences, the existences oppose each other, like the Sky is the opposite to the Earth. From the mutual influencing action of this binary state, the three is born. The three mentioned here is referring to the Man. Man, as well as everything, is the product of the Sky and Earth, the Universe. However, Man, as the third party apart from the Sky and Earth, is also the active participant/manipulator in the middle of the relationships among the Universe and Everything.

The theory above emphasizes the concept that the as the product of the Universe should always comply with his own natural attributes and keep harmonious with the Universe. “Among everything, there is humankind. Humankind and Nature as a whole, which is indestructible and inseparable.”, says Chen. This is the rationale of Taoism concept of Unity between Universe and Man.

The Taoism concept of Unity between Universe and Man was frequently discovered in Inner Classic.

“Everything is covered by the Sky and supported by the Earth. Among it, the Man is the noblest being. The Man is born with the spirits of Sky and Earth, compliance with the principles of Four Seasons.”

Inner Classic, The Preservation of Health.

“The Man is born at Earth, owing to his destiny from the Sky. Man is formed from the Unity of Sky and Earth (Universe)”

Inner Classic, The Preservation of Health.

Inner Classic emphasizes the compliance of Man to the Universe, as stated in Miraculous Pivot, The Effects from the Season, “Man is modelled with the Sky and Earth, in compliance with the motion of the Sun and Moon.”

Inner Classic claims that the seasons have its influence and effect on the health and sickness of humankind; both human and seasons are synchronized. “Man is synchronized with the seasons, parenting with the Sky and Earth.” (Inner Classic, The Preservation of Health). Inner Classic claimed that rhythm of the human body resembles to four seasons and the cycle of born, developing, harvesting, and reaping. Inner Classic suggests that humankind should adapt himself to this rhythmic change of change to preserve health. The emphasize of Inner Classic that, humans are in adaptive conformity with the natural environment, it is one of the basic concepts in the correspondence between nature and human, and it resonates with the Taoism's concept of Unity between Man and Universe.

Way of balance

Preserving equivalence, maintaining balance, is another essence in Taoism.

The Tao (way) of Heaven,

Is it not like the bending of a bow?

The top comes down and the bottom-end goes up,

The extra (length) is shortened, the insufficient (width) is expanded.

It is the way of Heaven to take away from those that have too much

And give to those that have not enough.

Not so with man's way:

He takes from those that have not

And gives it as a tribute to those that have too much.

Who can have enough and to spare to give to the entire world?

Only the man of Tao.

Tao Te Jing, Chapter 77.

The verse “take away from those have too much, and give to those that have not enough” implies the importance of the social impartiality and the balance in ecosystem; meanwhile, the verse “takes from those that have not, and gives it to those that have too much” is human behavior in common that leads to devastating due to imbalance or being unjust. In essence, the way of Tao, its principle, is to maintain and preserve the balance, which can be applied in the effort of the perseverance of the ecosystem. Taoism avoids both extreme cases which are overpossessing and underpossessing.[2]

Tao Te Jing applied the analogy of archery, “the top comes down and the bottom-end goes up” to imply the idea of balancing. This idea of balancing was absorbed by Nei Jing, and from it, the principle of treatment was derived.

“Suppress the high, lift the low;

Deduct from the too much, supply the insufficient;

Benefit it with the advantage, and harmonize it with the appropriate, let the Host and Guest suit to their position;

Adapt to its coldness or heat, reverse it in the case of similarity, comply it in the case of difference.”

Plain Questions, Essentials on Disease and Therapy.

By comparing the verses in both Tao Te Jing and Inner Classic, the high degree of similarities in wording is displayed, for instance, the verses read “The top comes down and the bottom-end goes up,” “take away from those that have too much and give to those that have not enough.” It proves that both the scriptures share the same source, as claimed by Fang, “the view of balancing in Inner Classic has its source from Tao Te Jing.”

The Taoism way of balancing imposes its influence on Inner Classic and has derived dialectical principles of treatment for TCM. Guided by this dialectical principle, TCM summarizes its own concept of pathology and methodology in treatment, for example,

Yin versus Yang

” From Yin, it leads Yang; from Yang, it derives Yin.”

-Plain Questions, The Manifestation of Yin and Yang.

Void versus Solid

“Shall the voidness and solidness of the spirits be determined, which the solid should be vented, and the void should be supplemented.”

Inner Classic, Determining the Life and Death

“To heal those sicknesses, the over-solid should be vented, and the over-void should be supplemented.”

Miraculous Pivot, Meridian Pathology

Cold versus Heat

“To heal the cold with heat, to vent the heat with cold.”

-Plain Questions, Essentials on Disease and Therapy.

Top versus Bottom

“If the disease spotted on top, tackle it from the bottom; if it was spotted at the bottom, tackle it from the top.”

Plain Questions, Rules of Phase Energetics

Supplement versus Vent

“Drain/vent those that have too much, and supplement those that have too little.”

Plain Questions, Channels Constituents and acupuncture techniques.

Surface versus Beneath

“Observing the meridian channel at the foot, Tai-yang and Shao-Yin as a pair of Surface versus Beneath, Shao-Yang and Jue-Yin as a pair of Surface versus Beneath, Yang-Ming and Tai-Yin form a pair of Surface versus Beneath.”

Plain Questions, Channels Constituents and acupuncture techniques.

Those dialectical concepts mentioned above have proved that Taoism way of balancing imposes heavy influence on Inner Classic, forming its essential dialectical therapy method.

  Discussion Top

Taoism is the foundation for the theory of TCM. The purpose of this paper is to reveal the similarity of wordings in both Tao Te Jing and Inner Classic and to elaborate through the aspects of “The Harmonious of Yin and Yang,” “The Way (Dao) models to Nature,” “The Unity between Universe and Man,” “Way of Balance” on how Taoism imposes its influence on TCM, and how those concepts are applied by TCM.[3]

The Harmonious of Yin and Yang explained that Yin and Yang as the root of the Universe, as a pair of opposition yet mutual influencing, and hence achieving the state of harmony. The Way models to Nature and this reveals the meaning of simplicity and the principle of no excessive effort in health care. The Unity between the Universe and Man emphasizes the synchronization between humankind and the natural environment around. Man is inseparable from nature and hence required to act according to the law of Nature. The way of balance stresses the perseverance of equilibrium state as the therapy methodology to avoid the extreme case of overpossessing and underpossessing.[4]

In summary, Tao Te Jing of Taoism and Inner Classic of TCM relate closely to each other, as Jiang claimed, “Taoism is the foundation of TCM. It was proven with the Inner Classic displaying the heavy influence from Tao Te Jing, even some of the wording is directly excerpted from Tao Te Jing, and some ideas of TCM inherits and is derived from the idea of Taoism.” The relation between Taoism and TCM is undeniable; this paper has merely proved this by comparing both texts of Tao Te Jing and Inner Classic in some content. There should be further investigation and studies in this aspect of relating both Taoism and TCM.[5]


This work is supported by the Office of Research and Innovation, Xiamen University, Malaysia.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Low KC. Confusianism versus Taoism. Conflict Resolut Negot J 2012;2011:111-27.  Back to cited text no. 1
Zhai SQ, Wang HT. Relationship between Taoism and TCM on the concept that the Brain governs mental activity. Chin J Basic Med Tradit Chin Med 2001;7:13-5.  Back to cited text no. 2
Zhong JH. On Characteristics of TCM health promotion from the <ll>Static to keep spirit<ll> relation between Neijing and in Taoism. Chin Arch Tradit Chin Med 2009;27:1143-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Xiao S. The concept of body-mind relationship in the context of Chinese culture. In: Leigh H, editor. Global Psychosomatic Medicine and Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. Cham: Springer; 2019.  Back to cited text no. 4
Unschuld PU, Wen HD. Nature, knowledge, imagery in an ancient Chinese medical text. The J Alternat Complement Med 2004;10:191-2.  Back to cited text no. 5


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]


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