Curriculum Lectionary


GilgameshGenesisBiblical prophetsGospelsQur'anRumi and Kabir
Bhagavad GitaUpanishadsDhammapadaHeart and Lotus SutrasTao Te ChingAnalects


Session 1
Darkness within Darkness: The Mystery of the Tao
Session 2
Daring Not to Be Ahead: The Tao and Ethical Leadership
Session 3
A Fit Person: The Tao and Happiness

Leader Notes

The Tao has a great deal to say about the best way to govern and rule, and the characteristics of the leader. While its emphasis is on national leadership, the vision that emerges can be applied to other realms as well, including business, churches, and families.

We will be using the Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation (Vintage Books, 1972.) The complete text of this translation is available online at http://www.thebigview.com/download.

  • To engage with the Tao’s perspective on ethics and leadership
  • To apply this perspective to the governance of the nation, the church, and the self
  • Print copies of the readings for this session from Leader Resource 2, if necessary.
  • Obtain a copy of your church’s bylaws and familiarize yourself with them.
  • Write the questions from Leader Resource 4: Questions to Consider on the whiteboard or easel pad in your classroom.
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 2: Readings -
Leader Resource 4: Questions to consider -
  • Chalice with candle and matches
  • Tingshas or a bell
  • A collection of light and dark objects (such as black and white scraps of paper, chess pieces, or marbles) and something (such as a box, a bag, or a hat) to contain them
  • A large writing surface like a whiteboard or easel pad, and something to write with
If You Only Have One Hour
  • Limit activity 1 to 25 minutes by skipping some discussion questions. You may want to eliminate the reading and discussion of chapter 58 altogether.
  • Do not break into two groups for Activity 3. Simply have the entire group consider how church governance would be different if it were built on a Taoist model. Limit this activity to 15 minutes.

Chalice lighting and opening meditation (5 minutes)

Activity 1: Reading and discussion (45 minutes)

Activity 2: Discussion of democracy in light of the Tao (10 minutes)

Activity 3: Church governance in light of the Tao (25 minutes)

Chalice extinguishing and closing meditation (5 minutes)

Chalice Lighting

Ask a participant to light the chalice as you read the chapter below. Set the purpose for this class session by inviting participants to spend a few moments in silent meditation on their own vision of leadership.


A great country is like low land.
It is the meeting ground of the universe,
The mother of the universe.
The female overcomes the male with stillness,
Lying low in stillness.

Therefore if a great country gives way to a smaller country,
It will conquer the smaller country.
And if a small country submits to a great country,
It can conquer the great country.
Therefore those who would conquer must yield,
And those who conquer do so because they yield.

A great nation needs more people;
A small country needs to serve.
Each gets what it wants.
It is fitting for a great nation to yield.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 61


After a few moments have passed, ring the tingshas to signal the end of the meditation.

Activity One

Reading and Discussion

Using Leader Resource 2, have participants read aloud the following chapters from the Tao that describe the characteristics of leadership: 3, 57, 58, 68, 75. Encourage discussion of each chapter to help people understand the text and to see where they find themselves in agreement or disagreement with the Taoist perspective. Utilize the following questions along the way.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 3

  • Do you think that ambition and good leadership can coexist?

Chapter 57

  • The Tao implies that taking away rules and restrictions leads to greater contentment and more harmonious action. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Chapter 58

  • Does leading mean encouraging, controlling, influencing, or modeling?
  • What is the picture of leadership that emerges from the Tao? Can you name any leaders, in any capacity, who you think embody this picture?

Chapter 68

  • Think about your experiences as an employee and/or an employer. What role does humility play? What about in other areas of leadership, such as within the family, the community, and the church?
  • How could you incorporate thinking from the Tao into your own leadership style?

Chapter 75

  • What are the political implications of this chapter? Do you agree with them?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 2: Readings -
Activity Two

Discussion of Democracy in Light of the Tao

The vision of leadership presented by the Tao is clearly meant to apply to a monarchial style of governance, a governmental model that has been replaced by some form of democracy in much of the world. Encourage participants to explore the following questions:

  • How does the Tao’s description of ethical leadership translate to a democratic model of leaders who must seek election by the people? Does the necessity of election change what is useful? Does it change what is necessary?
  • The 5th and 6th UU Principles call for “the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large” and “the goal of world community”. Are these principles in keeping with a Taoist perspective? Why or why not?
Activity Three

Church Governance in Light of the Tao

Introduction: 5 minutes
Small group work: 10 minutes
Large group work: 10 minutes

Introduce the activity by giving participants the following information:

In general, the rules and regulations governing individual UU churches are included in their bylaws. According to the UUA,

Bylaws provide the formal structure of your congregation and allow for maintaining and changing that structure. They guide your membership by defining the way things are done, and they are a means of relating your congregation to the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) and to the law governing church institutions within your jurisdiction.

By providing a foundational understanding of how the church works internally and relates to the both the UUA structure and to society at large, the bylaws function as the church’s model for ethical relationships.

Small group work
Using a method such as drawing light and dark scraps of paper out of a bag (or black and white chess pieces out of a hat, etc.), divide participants into two groups. Explain that the questions (from Leader Resource 4) you have written on the board or easel pad are questions that the Unitarian Universalist Association suggests that churches consider when constructing bylaws. Ask one group of participants to attempt to answer the questions from a Taoist perspective. Ask the other group to use their own church structure as a model for answering them. Members of the second group should try to answer the questions according to their own understanding of how their church works, but if they get stuck, you may share specifics of the church’s bylaws with them.

Large group work
Have participants return to the large group. Take each question in turn, noting where the church’s model and the Taoist model are similar or are different. Examine these questions:

  • Which model do you believe is best for a religious or spiritual institution?
  • Is it possible to blend the two approaches? What would be the consequences of doing so?
  • Would your idea of which approach is best differ if the institution were a business or a political entity?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 4: Questions to consider -
Chalice Extinguishing

Ask a participant to extinguish the chalice as you read the following:

Everyone under heaven says that my Tao is great and beyond compare.
Because it is great, it seems different.
If it were not different, it would have vanished long ago.
I have three treasures which I hold and keep.
The first is mercy; the second is economy;
The third is daring not to be ahead of others.
From mercy comes courage; from economy comes generosity;
From humility comes leadership.

Nowadays men shun mercy, but try to be brave;

They abandon economy, but try to be generous;
They do not believe in humility, but always try to be first.
This is certain death.

Mercy brings victory in battle and strength in defense.

It is the means by which heaven saves and guards.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 67

Before Session 3
Tell participants that in session 3, they will be considering the Tao and the modern quest for happiness. To prepare, they should read the booklet “The Psychology of Happiness: A Brief Version of the Fourteen Fundamentals” by Dr. Michael W. Fordyce, available online at http://www.gethappy.net/booklet-intro.htm.