Tao or Dao is a Chinese word signifying ‘way’, ‘path’, ‘route’, ‘key’ or sometimes more loosely ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’. Within the context of traditional Chinese philosophy and religion, the Tao is the intuitive knowing of “life” that cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept but is known nonetheless through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.
Taoists ‘believe’ in the supreme universal being or ultimate reality which is beyond words or any conceptual understanding. When asked to name it, it is referred to as the Tao or the Way. Although the ideas about the ultimate reality in Taoism are similar to the ideas about God, Taoists seldom use those terms since they consider it erroneous to try and define it in any way.
Aside from the conceptual differences Taoism is also very similar to Buddhism when it comes to the idea of the ultimate reality or truth, in that both consider it incorrect to assign concepts or characteristics to the absolute. Since by doing so one is likely to fall into inaccurate conclusions about its nature and the nature of existence.
There is a saying in Taoism that every teaching is like a ‘finger pointing at the moon’, and that one should not focus too much on the finger and lose sight of the moon. A concept that is very similar to “the map is not the territory” in Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics. Taoism states that these different words and concepts are just signs or approximations that point to that non-conceptual ultimate reality. And that it is pointless to obsess over these conceptual pointers, because we end up missing the bigger picture and what is truly being conveyed.