posted on Jan, 18 2003 @ 02:59 PM
"Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." Lao Tse
"We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance,
and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in the Tao, that we may
live in peace and balance with the Universe, both in this mortal life and beyond." Creed of the Western Reform Taoist Congregation 1
History of Taoism:
Tao (pronounced "Dow") can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way. It is basically indefinable. It has to be experienced. It
"refers to a power which envelops, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes
balance in the Universe. It embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without
The founder of Taoism is believed by many to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius. (Alternate spellings: Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu,
Laozi, Laotze, etc.). He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his
lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching (a.k.a. Daodejing). Others believe that he is a mythical character.
Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religious faith in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At
that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became one of the three great religions of
China. With the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next period
of warlordism. After the Communist victory in 1949, religious freedom was severely restricted. "The new government put monks to manual labor,
confiscated temples, and plundered treasures. Several million monks were reduced to fewer than 50,000" by 1960. 3 During the cultural revolution in
China from 1966 to 1976, much of the remaining Taoist heritage was destroyed. Some religious tolerance has been restored under Deng Xiao-ping from
1982 to the present time.
Taoism currently has about 20 million followers, and is primarily centered in Taiwan. About 30,000 Taoists live in North America; 1,720 in Canada
(1991 census). Taoism has had a significant impact on North American culture in areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and
martial arts..." 3
Taoist Beliefs and Practices:
Taoism has provided an alternative to the Confucian tradition in China. The two traditions have coexisted in the country, region and generally within
the same individual.
Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
Each believer's goal is to become one with the Tao.
The priesthood views the many gods as manifestations of the one Dao, "which could not be represented as an image or a particular thing." The
concept of a personified deity is foreign to them, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there
is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.
In contrast with the beliefs and practices of the priesthood, most of the laity have "believed that spirits pervaded nature...The gods in heaven
acted like and were treated like the officials in the world of men; worshipping the gods was a kind of rehearsal of attitudes toward secular
authorities. On the other hand, the demons and ghosts of hell acted like and were treated like the bullies, outlaws, and threatening strangers in the
real world; they were bribed by the people and were ritually arrested by the martial forces of the spirit officials." 3
Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
Yin (dark side) is the breath that formed the earth. Yang (light side) is the breath that formed the heavens. They symbolize pairs of opposites which
are seen throughout the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. Intervention by human civilization upsets the balances of
Yin and Yang. The symbol of Taoism, seen at the top of this page, represents Yin and Yang in balance.
"The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment." 4
Taoists generally have an interest in promoting health and vitality.
Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
Each person must nurture the Ch'i (air, breath) that has been given to them.
Development of virtue is one's chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.
Taoists follow the art of "wu wei," which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea
unimpeded; do not erect a dam which would interfere with its natural flow.
One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.
A Taoists is kind to other individuals, largely because such an action tends to be reciprocated.
Taoists believe that "people are compassionate by
nature...left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward." 5
There is a long history of involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. 5,6 Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the
body. It "stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances
digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi's rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their
functionality." Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body's "chi" (intrinsic
energy). Tai Chi is believed to balance this energy flow.
Tao-te-Ching ("The Way of Power," or "The Book of the Way") is believed to have been written by Lao-Tse. It describes the nature of life, the way
to peace and how a ruler should lead his life.
Chuang-tzu (named after its author) contains additional teachings.