A Long Walk with a Straw Dog

Straw Dogs (image source unknown)

Straw Dogs*

Reflections on Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching:

Heaven and Earth are without bias,
Treating the Ten Thousand Things
As precious meaningless straw dogs.

The sage lives without bias,
Regarding humankind
as precious straw dogs.

The space between Heaven and Earth
is like a bellows…
Empty and yet, providing a never-ending supply
of words and meaning,
exhausting itself.

Better to chose moderation
and pay attention to the Silence within.



One thing interesting about writing my own version of the Tao Te Ching is that there are some phrases that are really not used in our own language.  I am learning the Chinese language as I am writing out these chapters,  so it has been fun to come across these cultural references and read about what they mean. In Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu references “straw dogs”… what is a straw dog, anyways? I will attempt to explain it here.

In Ancient China, they used real dogs at one time to make ceremonial sacrifices. (This was a long time ago, people. A far more barbaric time than today…) One day, someone brilliantly decided to substitute straw dogs for real ones. (Yeah! Progress!) So, apparently, these straw dogs were ritualized and honored. If you have ever really looked closely at sacrificial rights, the item being sacrificed, if done properly, is extremely respected for giving its life for the sake of the people. (Does this sound familiar?) Staying on that vein, I think that is why Jesus accepted his fate so willingly. He knew he was really a straw dog. It was all cool to him. He knew that the form of his body was not what it was really all about. He knew that it was his spirit that meant something and he was willing to sacrifice his form to prove it.

If you read Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching, you will see that Lao Tzu was referencing the straw dogs to explain how our form is really just a superficial (and therefore meaningless) form of who we really are. After the ritual, the straw dogs are tossed in the dirt. Does this mean that we do not appreciate what those dogs represented? No. It means that we truly understand that what those dogs represented has nothing to do with form, so we toss the form.

Wikipedia definition of “straw dogs”
Canines in Metaphor’s definition of “straw dogs”

*Image source: I contacted the owner of the website where I found this image and he tried to track down the contributor with no luck. He said that a woman sent it in and he sent an email to her to see where it came from and I never heard back. If you own this image, I would love to ask for your permission to use it!



  1. Very interesting. I had never heard of the straw dogs before and had to check it out! It’s really cool that you are doing this blog!
    Michele Bergh recently posted…The Heart of Your Brand eCourse: Introduction and Welcome!My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Michele! Yeah, I had not heard of straw dogs either but there certainly is a lot that can be learned by observing ourselves.

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  4. Hi Amy,

    Slowly figuring out how to navigate this web of words. I’ve added reading your commentaries to my Tao Tuesdays. Two things you speak of resonate strongly here.

    The phrase “…who we really are.” Yes. A Course in Miracles by any chance? It has much to say about that. A good thing to remember in any event, and it was like meeting a friend to see it here.

    Also, you said, “It means that we truly understand that what those dogs represented has nothing to do with form, so we toss the form.” Yes.

    Thank you, Amy.

    Bob G recently posted…Welcome to The Cascadian WandererMy Profile

    • Ah, Bob. Thanks. I am sorry that I did not tell you ahead of time that I posted your guest article! lol.. It was a moment of unconsciousness. Apologies. I am glad that you are adding reading my essays to your Tao Tuesdays. How fun. I don’t add myself to the list because I prefer the focus of each week to be on you and the others who have taken the time and care of responding. Thank you so much for being part of the community.

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    • Thanks, Ronda. Such a treat to have your participation in this quest. I am hoping that soon there will be more joining us!

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  10. This clarifies greatly my reading of that profound work, the Tao Te Ching.

    But what was a ‘Stalking horse’.


    • LOL… I have no idea, Gordon. Are you reading my website from a translation or something? We had a “straw dog”, which is a cryptic phrase about these dogs that were used ceremoniously in Ancient China. Perhaps the translator was confused by that. I know I was!

    • Or, perhaps they meant “stocking horse” as opposed to “rocking horse”, which a great toy for youngsters at Christmastime. LOL…

    • Thanks for sharing this! I was looking for this when I wrote the chapter on the straw dog, so I appreciate your letting me know.

    • I removed the photo. The photos on that site are too expensive, but I really appreciate your letting me know that it was there. I don’t want to use photos illegally. 🙂

  11. The word is RITES, not rights, as used here.

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