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Taoism (pronounced Daoism) refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao (道), which is the mechanism of everything that exists. The word “Tao” (or “Dao”, depending on the romanization scheme) is usually translated as “way”, “path” or “principle”, although the word literally means “nature” as in the nature of all things as well as the natural world. Taoism had not only a profound influence on the culture of China, but also on neighboring countries. While the philosophical Taoism is not institutionalized, the religious Taoism is institutionalized and present in multiple countries. Taoist philosophy is deeply rooted in contemporary China, and is an unavoidable part of modern Chinese life.

Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos (天人相应); health and longevity; and wu wei (action through inaction). Harmony with the Universe, or the source thereof (Tao), is the intended result of many Taoist rules and practices.

Reverence for ancestor spirits and immortals is common in popular Taoism. Organized Taoism distinguishes its ritual activity from that of the folk religion, which some professional Taoists (Dàoshi) view as debased. Chinese alchemy (including Neidan), astrology, cuisine, Zen Buddhism, several Chinese martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui, and many styles of qigong have been intertwined with Taoism throughout history.

History

Some forms of Taoism may be traced to prehistoric folk religions in China that later coalesced into a Taoist tradition. Laozi is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism and is closely associated in this context with “original”, or “primordial”, Taoism. He lived around the 6th century BCE. Laozi received imperial recognition as a divinity in the mid-2nd century BCE.Taoism gained official status in China during the Tang Dynasty, whose emperors claimed Laozi as their relative.Several Song emperors, most notably Huizong, were active in promoting Taoism, collecting Taoist texts and publishing editions of the Daozang. Aspects of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were consciously synthesized in the Neo-Confucian school, which eventually became Imperial orthodoxy for state bureaucratic purposes.

The Qing Dynasty, however, much favored Confucian classics over Taoist works. During the 18th century, the imperial library was constituted, but excluded virtually all Taoist books.By the beginning of the 20th century, Taoism had fallen much from favor (for example, only one complete copy of the Daozang still remained, at the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing). Taoism is one of five religions recognized by the People’s Republic of China and regulates its activities through a state bureaucracy (the China Taoist Association).

Beliefs

Taoist beliefs include teachings based on revelations from various sources. Therefore, different branches of Taoism often have differing beliefs, especially concerning nature. Nevertheless, there are certain core beliefs that nearly all the sects share.These relate to the symbology of the Tai-Chi, or Yin Yang symbol, and the notion of wu-wei (action through inaction) which seek to counterbalance Yin with Yang at every opportunity. Generally speaking, Taoists believe in embodiment and pragmatism, engaging practice to actualize the natural order within themselves. Also, they believe that life should be peaceful and filled with joy.