“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” (Reform Taoist Congregation).
Taoism (which can also be transliterated Daoism into English) is an ancient Chinese tradition of religion and philosophy. The core of Taoism is the Tao, the Way. The Tao is not a god or to be worshipped. It is also not an object or a metaphysical reality. Rather it is the central cause of the universe and what holds everything together. It is the force that flows through all life. The ultimate goal of the worshipper is to become fully united and harmonized with the Tao.
One of the key beliefs of Taoism is a sense of complementary and opposing forces within the universe: light and dark, cool and hot, still and moving, etc. When these opposing forces are balanced, the universe is in harmony. Imbalance results in chaos and distress. This balance is portrayed within the well-known Taoist Yin Yang symbol.
Taoists seek to follow the art of “wu wei,” in which they allow nature to take its course. They seek balance and harmony with nature by fulfilling “Tzu Jan,” or “what is naturally so.” This can apply to natural orders, such as not damming a river but allowing it to flow naturally. Personally, Taoists seek to align their activities and lifestyle to the natural pattern of the universe. Thus even ethics are not about doing “good things” but about seeking complete harmony and alignment with the Tao.
The body, Taoists believe, is a miniature of the universe, with physical features reflecting counterparts in the universe. The body is filled with Ch’i (vital energy or breath) which must be nurtured. Death is the final step in achieving unity with the universe.
The main texts of Taoism are the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang-tzu, both of which are quite ancient. However, Taoism has no specific founder or founding date. Some popular Taoist practices include meditation, feng shui, reading and chanting of scriptures, and tai chi.
Taoism was one of the strongest religions in China up until the Communist Revolution. Since then, the number of adherents has dropped. The ideas of Taoism have spread throughout the world particularly in the form of its philosophy and martial arts practices. It is challenging to give a definite number of Taoists in the world today.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
After learning briefly about Taoism, what have been places or times you have experienced Taoist beliefs or philosophies lived out? Consider both with individuals and with things you’ve experienced in media.
How do Taoist beliefs and practices align or differ from your own?
Although an ancient Chinese religion, Taoism is present in various forms in the West.
Taoism does not necessarily consider itself a religion but more of a way of life, thus it can be easily paired with other religious beliefs.