If you think you know don’t know anything about Taoism, think again. Ever heard of Tai Chi, the Yin Yang and Feng Shui; these are all elements of an ancient Chinese tradition that is rooted in philosophy and religion, dating back more than 2,000 years. In other words, Taoism, which sometimes appears in America as Daoism, is both a philosophy and a practice. It surrounds around the idea of living harmoniously with the “Tao.”
People often have difficulty with the idea of the Tao because it is not something that can be described in words. The Tao is not a thing that can be perceived, but it exists in all things of the world. “Tao” simply means “the way.” In Taoism, The Tao is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists, however the Tao is not a God is not worshiped. All things are unified and connected in the Tao. The Tao gives rise to all beings, but does not have a being. It guides all things on their way.
In summary, the Tao encompasses several concepts. The Tao is:
- the source of creation
- the ultimate
- the inexpressible and indefinable
- the unnameable
- the natural universe as a whole
- the way of nature as a whole
“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the mother of all things.
There was something undifferentiated and yet complete,
Which existed before Heaven and Earth.
Soundless and formless it depends on nothing and does not change.
It operates everywhere and is free from danger.
It may be considered the mother of the universe.
I do not know its name; I call it Tao.
All things in the world come from being.
And being comes from non-being (form comes from formlessness).”
Tao Te Ching
This passage comes from most important text, the Tao Te Ching, which is filled with the teachings of Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher who is regarded by many as the founder of Taoism (although Taoism does not officially have a founder or a founding date). The true identity of Lao Tzu is unknown. Some historians say he lived during the 6th century BCE, while others argue that Lao Tzu is one name for multiple historical figures. The texts Tao Te Ching and the Zhuangzi create the foundation of Taoism.
Taoism became first recognized as a religious system during the 4th and 3rd century BCE. It was the semi-official Chinese religion during the Tang dynasty. The popularity of Taoism declined during the Song dynasty due to the rise of Confucianism which became the official religion during that time. Taoism took another hit after the communism came to China. Taoists were banned and re-educated which caused the number of Taoists in China to be cut by 99% in ten years.
One major concept of Taoism is Wu Wei – the idea non-action, living instead with the true nature of the world. Wu Wei is sometimes confused with giving up or laziness, but the idea promotes letting life take its natural course.
Another major concept of Taoism is Yin Yang – the idea that natural, complementary forces are dependent on each other and work together to form harmony. Some examples of this idea are masculinity and feminism, dark and light, and action and inaction. Although these things are opposites, they work together.
Taoism stresses the idea of becoming a good person who lives in harmony with the Tao, and therefore, in harmony with all things and people. Every decision a Taoist makes should be in accordance with the Tao and attempting to decide what will for best with the natural order of the world.
Taoist works in accordance with the moral behaviors of other religions. It disapproves of killing, stealing, lying and promiscuity. It promotes purity of body and spirit. To achieve purity Taoists partake in certain activities and follow a diet. Taoists often use meditation and breathing techniques as a way to create mental stillness and mindfulness to allow the person to better follow the Tao. A Taoist diet also abstains from alcohol, meat, beans and grains.
The end of life for a Taoist brings about the idea of immortality, but not in the sense of a physical body. Death is the final step in achieving unity with the universe because when Taoists die, they believe they become part of the Tao.