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Know your religion: Taoism

Taoism (or Daoism) is a philosophical, ethical or religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (also romanized as Dao). The term Tao means "way", "path" or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source of, and the force behind, everything that exists. The "way" becomes clear when one is in constant meditation with all thoughts being subconsciously regulated outside the state of mental stillness, although emotions will drive thoughts they remain an absolute choice.

Taoism is practiced as a religion in various Asian communities, but its theology is not dependent on the existence of an anthropomorphic godlike figurehead (even though some communities do worship Laozi as the attributed founder of the philosophical doctrine), and has more affinities with pantheistic traditions given its philosophical emphasis on the formlessness of the Tao. Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the tenets of the School of Yin Yang, and is heavily influenced and informed by the acknowledged oldest text of ancient Chinese classics, the I Ching, which prescribes a system of philosophical thought on the ethics of human behaviours based on articulating cycles of change in the natural and social worlds by means of gua or hexagrams, and includes instructions for divination practice still adhered to by modern-day religious Taoists. The Tao Te Ching, a compact and ambiguous book containing teachings attributed to Laozi (Chinese: 老子; pinyin: Lǎozǐ; Wade–Giles: Lao Tzu), is widely considered the keystone work of this philosophy. Together with the writings of Zhuangzi, which interprets and adds to the teaching of Laozi, these classic texts provide the philosophical foundation of Taoism deriving from the 8 trigrams (bagua) of Fu Xi in the 2700s BCE in China, the various combinations of which creates the 64 hexagrams as documented in the I Ching.


Today, Taoism is one of five religions officially recognized in China, and although it does not travel readily from its Asian roots, claims adherents in a number of societies. Taoism also has sizable communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and in Southeast Asia.

A Chinese philosopher defines Taoism thus: "early forms come from understanding and experience of the Tao. Experience of the Tao is an irreducible element of the formation and transformation of Chinese experience of the ultimate".


Origins and Development

Laozi is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism and is closely associated in this context with "original" or "primordial" Taoism. Whether he actually existed is disputed; however, the work attributed to him – the Tao Te Ching – is dated to the late 4th century BCE.

Taoism draws its cosmological foundations from the School of Naturalists (in form of its main elements – yin and yang and the Five Phases), which developed during the Warring States period (4th to 3rd centuries BC).

Robinet identifies four components in the emergence of Taoism:

  1. Philosophical Taoism, i.e. the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi
  2. techniques for achieving ecstasy
  3. practices for achieving longevity or immortality
  4. exorcism.

Some elements of Taoism may be traced to prehistoric folk religions in China that later coalesced into a Taoist tradition. In particular, many Taoist practices drew from the Warring-States-era phenomena of the wu (connected to the shamanic culture of northern China) and the fangshi (which probably derived from the "archivist-soothsayers of antiquity, one of whom supposedly was Laozi himself"), even though later Taoists insisted that this was not the case. Both terms were used to designate individuals dedicated to "... magic, medicine, divination,... methods of longevity and to ecstatic wanderings" as well as exorcism; in the case of the wu, "shamans" or "sorcerers" is often used as a translation. The fangshi were philosophically close to the School of Naturalists, and relied much on astrological and calendrical speculations in their divinatory activities.




Taoism tends to emphasize various themes of the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, such as naturalness, spontaneity, simplicity, detachment from desires, and most important of all, wu wei. However, the concepts of those keystone texts cannot be equated with Taoism as a whole.


Tao and Te
Tao (Chinese: 道; pinyin: dào) literally means "way", but can also be interpreted as road, channel, path, doctrine, or line. In Taoism, it is "the One, which is natural, spontaneous, eternal, nameless, and indescribable. It is at once the beginning of all things and the way in which all things pursue their course." It has variously been denoted as the "flow of the universe", a "conceptually necessary ontological ground", or a demonstration of nature. The Tao also is something that individuals can find immanent in themselves.

The active expression of Tao is called Te (also spelled – and pronounced – De, or even Teh; often translated with Virtue or Power; Chinese: 德; pinyin: dé), in a sense that Te results from an individual living and cultivating the Tao.


The ambiguous term wu-wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無爲; pinyin: wú wéi) constitutes the leading ethical concept in Taoism. Wei refers to any intentional or deliberated action, while wu carries the meaning of "there is no ..." or "lacking, without". Common translations are "nonaction", "effortless action" or "action without intent". The meaning is sometimes emphasized by using the paradoxical expression "wei wu wei": "action without action"


Naturalness (Chinese: 自然; pinyin: zìrán; Wade–Giles: tzu-jan; lit. "self-such") is regarded as a central value in Taoism. It describes the "primordial state" of all things as well as a basic character of the Tao, and is usually associated with spontaneity and creativity. To attain naturalness, one has to identify with the Tao; this involves freeing oneself from selfishness and desire, and appreciating simplicity.

An often cited metaphor for naturalness is pu (simplified Chinese: 朴; traditional Chinese: 樸; pinyin: pǔ, pú; Wade–Giles: p'u; lit. "uncut wood"), the "uncarved block", which represents the "original nature... prior to the imprint of culture" of an individual. It is usually referred to as a state one returns to.


Three Treasures
The Taoist Three Treasures or Three Jewels (simplified Chinese: 三宝; traditional Chinese: 三寶; pinyin: sānbǎo) comprise the basic virtues of ci (Chinese: 慈; pinyin: cí, usually translated as compassion), jian (Chinese: 俭; pinyin: jiǎn, usually translated as moderation), and bugan wei tianxia xian (Chinese: 不敢为天下先; pinyin: bùgǎn wéi tiānxià xiān, literally "not daring to act as first under the heavens", but usually translated as humility).

As the "practical, political side" of Taoist philosophy, Arthur Waley translated them as "abstention from aggressive war and capital punishment", "absolute simplicity of living", and "refusal to assert active authority".

The Three Treasures can also refer to jing, qi and shen (Chinese: 精氣神; pinyin: jīng-qì-shén; jing is usually translated with "essence" and shen with "spirit"). These terms are elements of the traditional Chinese concept of the human body, which shares its cosmological foundation - Yinyangism - with Taoism. Within this framework, they play an important role in neidan ("Taoist Inner Alchemy").


Taoist cosmology is based on the School of Yin Yang which was headed by Zou Yan (305 BCE – 240 BCE). The school's tenets harmonized the concepts of the Wu Xing (Five Phases) and yin and yang. In this spirit, the universe is seen as being in a constant process of re-creating itself, as everything that exists is a mere aspect of qi, which, "condensed, becomes life; diluted, it is indefinite potential". Qi is in a perpetual transformation between its condensed and diluted state. These two different states of qi, on the other hand, are embodiments of the abstract entities of yin and yang, two complementary extremes that constantly play against and with each other and cannot exist without the other.


Taoism is practiced as a religion in various Asian communities, but its theology is not foundationally dependent on the existence of an anthropomorphic godlike figurehead (even though some communities do worship Laozi as the attributed founder of the philosophical doctrine, as well as other deities from ancient Chinese folklore); on a theological basis, the Taoist religion has more affinities with pantheistic traditions around the world, given its philosophical emphasis on the formlessness of the Tao and the primacy of the "Way" rather than anthropomorphic concepts of "God".




At certain dates, food may be set out as a sacrifice to the spirits of the deceased or the gods, such as during the Qingming Festival. This may include slaughtered animals, such as pigs and ducks, or fruit. Another form of sacrifice involves the burning of Joss paper, or Hell Bank Notes, on the assumption that images thus consumed by the fire will reappear—not as a mere image, but as the actual item—in the spirit world, making them available for revered ancestors and departed loved ones. At other points, a vegan diet or full fast may be observed.


Physical Cultivation
A recurrent and important element of Taoism are rituals, exercises and substances aiming at aligning oneself spiritually with cosmic forces, at undertaking ecstatic spiritual journeys, or at improving physical health and thereby extending one's life, ideally to the point of immortality. Enlightened and immortal beings are referred to as xian.

A characteristic method aiming for longevity is Taoist alchemy. Already in very early Taoist scriptures - like the Taiping Jing and the Baopuzi - alchemical formulas for achieving immortality were outlined.

A number of martial arts traditions, particularly the ones falling under the category of Neijia (like T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Bagua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan) embody Taoist principles to a significant extent, and some practitioners consider their art a means of practicing Taoism.


Information Source: https://en.wikipedia.org



 Online Resources to Know More About Taoism: 


Taoism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Taoism (or Daoism) is a philosophical, ethical or religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (also romanized as Dao). The term Tao means "way", "path" or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism.

Taoism Origins, Taoism History, Taoism Beliefs - Patheos: Taoism, also known as Daoism, is an indigenous Chinese religion often associated with the Daode jing (Tao Te Ching), a philosophical and political text ...


Taoism - ReligionFacts: Taoism (also spelled Daoism) is based on the teachings of the Tao Te Ching, a short tract written in the 6th century BC in China. Taoism emphasizes spiritual ...


Taoist Texts: These are principal texts of Taoism. Taoism, along with Confucianism and Buddhism was one of the principal religions of feudal China. Tao-te Ching translated ...


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