Taoism Overview Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs and worldview. Taoism is also referred to as Daoism Taoism is about the Tao. This is usually translated as the Way. But it's hard to say exactly what this means. The Tao is the ultimate creative principle of the universe. All things are unified and connected in the Tao.
The Tao • Is the force that exists before all things • The way • The way of nature • The way to understand how to achieve balance • “ By giving birth to one , Tao gave the world a mechanism for balance. The birth of two means the birth of opposites. The birth of three refers to the heaven, earth and humanity. Thus creation can be related back to the Tao” • The Tao is not God and is not worshipped.
The Tao includes several concepts in one word: • 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
Origins • Taoism originated in China 2000 years ago • It is a religion of unity and opposites; Yin and Yang. The principle of Yin Yang sees the world as filled with complementary forces - action and non-action, light and dark, hot and cold, and so on • Taoism has no founder and no founding date.
It grew out of various religious and philosophical traditions in ancient China, including shamanism and nature religion. • Early religious Taoism was rooted in the ideas of the Taoist thinkers, to which were added local religious rituals and beliefs. • Taoism was first recognised as a religious system during the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE.
The publication of the Tao Te Ching and other works provided a focus for Taoist thinking. • Taoism became a semi-official Chinese religion during the Tang dynasty and continued during the Song dynasty. As Confucianism gained popularity Taoism gradually fell from favour, and changed from an official religion to a popular religious tradition. • After the communist takeover of China, Taoism was banned and its followers re-educated, with the result that the number of practicing Taoists fell by 99% in 10 years. • At this time Taoism began to flourish in the greater freedom on offer in Taiwan.
After the end of the Cultural Revolution the Chinese government began to allow a small measure of religious freedom. Taoism began to revive in China, and Taoist temples and practitioners can now be found throughout the country. • Taoism is an Eastern religion/philosophy with perhaps 225 million followers. • The 2001 census recorded 3,500 Taoists in England and Wales.
Taoism Promotes: • achieving harmony or union with nature • the pursuit of spiritual immortality • being 'virtuous' (but not ostentatiously so) • self-development
Taoist pantheon • Taoism does not have a God in the way that the Abrahamic religions do. (Christianity, Judaism, Islam). • There is no omnipotent being beyond the cosmos, who created and controls the universe. • In Taoism the universe springs from the Tao, and the Tao impersonally guides things on their way. • But the Tao itself is not God, nor is it a god, nor is it worshipped by Taoists. • Nonetheless, Taoism has many gods, most of them borrowed from other cultures. • These deities are within this universe and are themselves subject to the Tao.
Relating to the Tao • Many Taoist ideas come from other Chinese schools of thought. • It's not always easy to draw accurate distinctions between ideas that are fundamentally Taoist and those that Taoism took in from elsewhere, especially Buddhism. • The Tao cannot be described in words. • The Tao is not a thing or a substance in the conventional sense.
It cannot be perceived but it can be observed in the things of the world. • Although it gives rise to all being, it does not itself have being. • It might be more helpful to regard Tao as a system of guidance. • The Tao is not God and is not worshipped.
Lao Tzu - one man or many? • Lao Tzu (Laozi) is traditionally described as the founder of Taoism. • But modern writers think he is a legendary figure, and that the book attributed to him - the Tao Te Ching - is actually a collection of writings by many different wise people. • The term Lao Tzu may not be the name of a person, but a reference to 'the old master', meaning the accumulated wisdom of the elders. • Over the centuries the legend of Lao Tzu developed. • Later mythological developments cast Lao Tzu in three roles - the original pure manifestation of the Tao as a God, the human philosopher who wrote the Tao Te Ching, and the Buddha. • Chuang Tzu • The other main figure of Taoism is Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), 3rd century BCE. Chuang Tzu has a book attributed to him, called the Chuang-Tzu after the practice of referring to Chinese texts by the names of their authors.
Terms to know: • The One • The One is the essence of Tao, the essential energy of life, the possession of which enables things and beings to be truly themselves and in accord with the Tao. • Taoist texts sometimes refer to the Tao as the mother and the One as the son. • Wu and Yu • Wu and Yu are non-being and being, or not-having and having. Wu also implies inexhaustibility or limitlessness. • Te • Te is usually translated as virtue, the capabilities that enable a person to follow the Tao. • Tzu Jan • Tzu Jan is usually translated naturalness or spontaneity, but means 'that which is naturally so' • The Taoist ideal is to fulfil that which is naturally so, and the way to do this is Wu Wei.
Wu Wei • The method of following the Tao • It means living by or going along with the true nature of the world - or at least without obstructing the Tao - letting things take their natural course. • So Taoists live lives of balance and harmony.
Yin Yang • Yin Yang is the principle of natural and complementary forces, patterns and things that depend on one another and do not make sense on their own. • These may be masculine and feminine, • These are opposites that fit together seamlessly and work in perfect harmony. • This can be seen very clearly in the symbol: the dark area contains a spot of light, and vice versa, and the two opposites are intertwined and bound together within the unifying circle.
Ch'i • Ch'i is the cosmic vital energy that enables beings to survive and links them to the universe as a whole. Immortality • Immortality doesn't mean living forever in the present physical body. • The idea is that as the Taoist draws closer and closer to nature throughout their life, death is just the final step in achieving complete unity with the universe.
Rites and Rituals Order and harmony • At the heart of Taoist ritual is the concept of bringing order and harmony to many layers of the cosmos: the cosmos as a whole (the world of nature), the world or human society, and the inner world of human individuals. • Taoist rituals involve purification, meditation and offerings to deities. Temple rituals • Temple rituals can be used to regulate ch'i and balance the flow of yin and yang both for individuals and the wider community. • Other rituals involve prayers to various Taoist deities, meditations on talismans, and reciting and chanting prayers and texts.
Taoist Practices Alchemy • Taoist physical practices, such as breath exercises, massage, martial arts, yoga and meditation are designed to transform a person both mentally and physically and so bring them into closer harmony with the Tao. • Alchemists are people who want to transform things into something more valuable, such as converting lead into gold. • Taoist alchemy is concerned with transforming human beings so as to give them longer life and bring them closer to the Tao.
Physical Practices Purity: • Taoist texts teach the importance of keeping the body pure in order to ensure spiritual health. • To remain pure a person should avoid certain activities and foods. • Greed, lust, pride and dishonesty are examples of things that should be avoided. Meditation: • Complex meditation rituals are practiced in various temples. • A vital use of meditation is to create mental stillness and enhance mindfulness. • This can give a person the mental space to know the Tao directly. Breathing: • Breath is the most easily perceived form of ch'i, and there are many Taoist breathing exercises. • Taoist breathing exercises are called Qui Gong
Recitation • Reciting passages from the Tao Te Ching has been a spiritual practice for over 2000 years. • the words of the Tao Te Ching were thought to have the power to cure sickness, banish evil spirits, and bring good luck. Talismans • Talismans are objects thought to have the power to bring good luck. • They can also be used to remove or keep away evil spirits
Energy flow: • The flow of life energy - ch'i - within the body can be enhanced, regulated and harmonised by various forms of exercise, meditation, and techniques such as acupuncture and moxibustion. Martial arts: • Tai Chi (taiji) originally derived from Taoist exercises created by Chang San-Feng (Zhang Sanfeng) (1127-1279 CE). Modern forms of Tai Chi are more likely to be secular exercises than Taoist practices. Diet: Classical Taoist teaching recommends abstaining from alcohol, meat, beans and grains
Body and spirit • Taoism doesn't make a rigid division between body and spirit and regards physical activities, such as yoga, meditation and martial arts, as an important way to spiritual growth and a long life.
Knowledge and relativity • Human knowledge is always partial and affected by the standpoint of the person claiming that knowledge. There can never be a single true knowledge, merely the aggregate of uncountable different viewpoints. • Because the universe is always changing, so knowledge is always changing. • The closest a human being can get to this is knowledge that is consistent with the Tao. But this is a trap because the Tao that can be known is not the Tao. True knowledge cannot be known - but perhaps it can be understood or lived.
Religious and philosophical Taoism • The word Taoism is used to refer to a philosophy and a set of spiritual doctrines as well as an extensive ritual hierarchy and monastic institution. Although textbooks often distinguish between 'religious' and 'philosophical' Taoism, this is an artificial distinction, and is no more than the difference found in all religions between the practices of the faith, and the theological and philosophical ideas behind them.
Religious Taoism Traditions • Two traditions • Religious Taoism follows two main traditions. Each has a clear hierarchical and well-organised structure with special headquarters, rules, guidelines, ordination rites and registration procedures. • The celestial masters (Tianshi or Zhengyi) - Temple Daoism are centred in Taiwan. The monastic branch of the Complete Perfection School (Quanzhen) has its headquarters in Beijing. • The Complete Perfection School ordains people and provides monastic communities as a focus for Taoist practice and rituals.
Taoist priests • Taoist priests undergo long and intense training to acquire the necessary skills. • They must study music, liturgy and ritual, as well as meditation and other physical practices • They must learn Taoist theology and the spiritual hierarchy of the Taoist deities. • During this training they are required to live highly disciplined lives.
Religious Texts Tao Te Ching • The key book of Taoism was compiled around the 3rd century BCE. It's called the Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing or Daode Jing) - The Way and Its Power, and is also known as the Lao-tzu. • This short book of around 5,000 Chinese characters is divided into 81 brief chapters filled with short, enigmatic paragraphs of advice on life, and poetic descriptions of the nature of the universe. • Taoists regard the Tao Te Ching as the essential guide to living a full spiritual and ethical life. • No one person wrote the Tao Te Ching. Although elementary textbooks usually say it was written by Lao Tzu (Laozi) this is untrue. The book is probably a collection of the proverbs and sayings of many anonymous people over a long period of time.
Chuang-tzu • Another important book is the Chuang-tzu. Although this was published after the Tao Te Ching, its compilation began earlier. Like the Tao Te Ching, although it is attributed to a man named Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), it is a collection of the wisdom of many different people. • The thinking that led to the Tao Te Ching was probably influenced by an older book called the Neiyeh. This includes early writings on some key Taoist ideas, particularly ch'i, although some of the ideas differ from their later Taoist form.