Daoism or Taoism is the other Chinese belief that played a significant role in the rule of China in the older days. It is one of the main philosophies that’s stood the test of time and remains an important part of Chinese culture and societal systems to date.
Taoism or Daoism can be defined as a religion, a philosophy, and also a way of life that arose centuries ago in the 6th Century BCE, in what’s now known as the Eastern Chinese province of Henan. Taoism has, over the years, had a significant influence on the religious and cultural lives of the China and Chinese societies and the rest of East Asian countries.
Regarded as both a philosophy and a religion from ancient China, the Taoist beliefs have shaped China for over 2,000 years, and in the broadest sense, the Taoist attitudes towards life have been seen in the yielding, accepting, and also the joyful and carefree side that most Chinese people exude. Their Taoist-influenced character not only offsets but also complements the duty consciousness, the sense, and elements of morality, as well as the austere and the purposeful characters from the Confucian ways and beliefs. Essentially, Taoism is characterized by an overall positive and also active attitude that is towards the occult and also the metaphysical elements that have to do with the nature of reality. This is unlike the Confucian beliefs, which are pragmatic and agnostic, which consider the Taoist beliefs to be the kind of issues that are of marginal importance. Even so, the Taoist issues on reality aren’t denied by the Confucians.
So, what is the Taoist belief exactly about? Well, Taoism holds on to the belief that humans and also animals must live in a state of balance with their Tao. The Tao is the universe, and the Taoists believe in the aspect of spiritual immortality, in which the spirit goes and joins with the universe after death.
Taoism emphasizes leading a life that is in harmony with the Tao. Although the Tao is rather hard to define, it is essentially regarded as the Way of the Universe. And through Taoism, the followers of this school of thought are taught and reminded that they all must live in a state of harmony with not just the universe but also the energy found in the universe. This energy is referred to as the Chi or Qi, and it is the energy that is believed to be present in the universe, guiding pretty much everything in the universe. There are many Taoist books that cover this subject, but they also offer guides on the kinds of behaviors and also the spiritual ways that people need to have or lead to be in harmony with this kind of energy. That said, the Taoists don’t believe that this energy that centers the universe is a god. Instead, there are Taoist gods, which are part of the Taoist beliefs, and these gods have been introduced in many cultures, and they have found most of the religions in most of China. These Taoist gods are considered part of the Tao, just like the rest of the living things.
And like the Confucians, there are Taoist temples all across China, as are priests and monasteries. The priests, for instance, are in charge of making offerings, performing rituals, and meditating for the Taoist communities. It teaches about different disciples that help to achieve perfection through becoming one with The Way of the unplanned rhythms of the universe. But there are many Taoist ethics, which tend to vary depending on the Taoist school. Even so, Taoism mainly emphasizes something called Wu Wei, which is defined as action with no intention, spontaneity, naturalness, simplicity, and most importantly, the Three Treasures – Compassion, Humility, and Frugality.
Categorization of Taoism
The Tao religion – this is all about the Tao teachings, and it is all about the liturgical aspects of the Taoist philosophy and beliefs.
Taoist Philosophy – this, on the other hand, is the Taoist school of thought, also called Taology, and it’s about learning and understanding the Tao. Most of the texts on Taoism are based on the philosophical aspects of Taoism.
It’s worth noting that the main Taoism ideas are based on the belief in the balancing forces or the Yin and Yang, which represent the matching of pairs like the light and dark or action and inaction, which both work together to create the universe as a whole. The Yin and Yang, for example, point to the fact that everything is connected in the universe and that nothing would make sense without the other.
In Taoism, it is believed that all human beings are innately good, which means that humans are only to be reminded of their inner nature for the pursuit of virtue. This also means that Taoism holds the belief that there are no bad people, really, and that people only behave badly. And with the proper guidance and education in understanding the workings of the universe, any person can be good.
Taoist beliefs also note that the way of the Tao is essentially in accordance with how nature is intended to be, meaning that trying to resist Tao is not only unnatural but also results in friction. In this regard, the best way for people to live is to be flexible and to submit to whatever life throws their way. Adapting to changes makes you happy, while resisting change only leads to unhappiness. And that the ultimate goal of life is living in peace with The Tao Way while recognizing that everything that happens in life is part of the actions of the eternal force binding humans and nature, and it should be accepted. In many ways, therefore, Taoist beliefs correspond very closely with works such as the Logos by the Roman Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. According to this Roman belief, Logos was the force of reason, and nothing meant to happen, according to Logos, would be considered a bad thing. Taoism holds similar beliefs that nothing is inherently bad.
The belief of Taoism is believed to have gained a significant level of popularity in the 8th century CE, and it is considered the religion of the Tang Dynasty. In the next centuries, after it became popular, Taoism successfully co-existed with the other big religions and beliefs like Confucianism and Buddhism. That said, the Communist takeover of China of 1959 banned Taoism, alongside the other beliefs like Confucianism and many other religions that had existed for centuries.
Despite the popularity of Taoism in the 8th century CE, the Taoist roots go as far back as the 4th century BCE. It is believed that Taoism and its beliefs in things like cosmological came from the Naturalists, which is also known as the School of YinYang, and it was also influenced deeply by some of the oldest Chinese texts or the I Ching. The texts give a detailed description of a philosophical system that is all about keeping human behavior in line with alternating states or cycles of nature. Taoism was also influenced by Shen Buhai’s legalist beliefs of 400 – c.337BCE. However, more of the stronger Taoist beliefs that are held onto to date are detailed in the Tao Te Ching, which is a book with great teachings from the Chinese philosopher called Lao Tzu. The Writings of Zhuangzi have also influenced Taoism greatly.
The cosmological foundation that Taoism is based on is the School of Naturalists, which covers elements like the Yin and Yang and also the 5 Phases. These elements and beliefs were also developed during the 4th and the 3rd centuries BCE, which coincided with the Warring States Period. During this time, the 4 elements that stood out with the emergence of Taoism include the Taoism philosophies, techniques used to achieve ecstasy, exorcism, as well as the practice that would lead to the attainment of immortality or longevity.
That said, some of the basic elements of Taoism date back to the prehistoric folk religions from China, which would later coalesce to form the Taoist traditions. One of the Taoist practices that were drawn from the Warring States Period was the phenomena called the Wu and Fangshi, from the shamanic culture and archivist soothsayers, supposedly Lao Tzu, respectively. These elements of the Tao address things like medicine and divination, as well as the methods used to enhance longevity and also for ecstatic wanderings.
The very first form of organized Taoism was called The Way of the Celestial Masters’ School, which was later renamed the Zhengyi School. This school was a development of The Five Pecks o Rice Movement from the end of the 2nd Century CE. It was later on founded by the philosopher, Zhang Taoling who noted that in 142, Lao Tzu appeared to him.
While the philosophical school of thought grew, it gained recognition and was officially recognized by the Han Dynasty between 206BCE and 220CE. By this time, many of the Taoist beliefs had coalesced into more realistic traditions that would be used and followed by religious organizations. Ritualistic orders were also introduced.
As the religion and belief systems got more refined, Taoism’s influence was exerted firmly between 618 and 907CE, during the reign of the Tang Dynasty. This was later followed by decrees from Emperor Xuanzong between 712-756CE. In his decree, the emperor mandated that all people must keep in their homes Taoist writings.
Unfortunately, Taoism later fell out of favor with the people, as the Tang Dynasty’s rule declined. So, Taoism was, by the end of the Tang Dynasty’s reign, replaced by Buddhism and Confucianism. It didn’t die off, though, and it’s still practiced in most parts of China today.
When Was Taoism Founded?
Taoism, the religion, started in 142CE, after Tao’s revelation to Chang Tao-Ling or Zhang Daoling by the Tao’s personified god. The ideals of the religion and the Taoist beliefs were developed and taught by Lao Tzu or Taishang Laojun, who is known as the Highest Venerable Lord by the Taoists. After its formation, Zhang Daoling would be the first Celestial Master, and he was also the founder of the very first organized Taoist School of Thought.
But despite the associations of Taoism with Lao-Tzu and other names, there is no specific date or time or founder pointing to when Taoism actually came into existence.
How Did Taoism Begin?
Lao-Tzu held on to the belief that harmony of all things was possible and that it was also possible for people to live together easily. However, harmonious and peaceful coexistence was only possible if people considered the feelings of others and recognized that in most cases, their self-interest was not always in other people’s interests. Holding onto these beliefs, Lao-Tzu grew rather impatient, and not just with the people but also with the rampant corruption in the government, especially because these caused a lot of pain and misery to the people. He was also frustrated with his inability to influence and change the behavior of the people and decided to go to exile.
On his way out of China, he used the western pass where the gatekeeper called Yin Hsi stopped him because he’d recognized the philosopher. The gatekeeper then asked Lao-Tzu to write a book for him (with his teachings) before leaving civilization forever, as he intended. And Lao-Tzu obliged. The great philosopher sat on a rock next to the gatekeeper, then wrote what is now known as The Book of the Way of Tao-Te-Ching. He only stopped writing the book when he felt he’d finished writing, and then he handed over the book to Yin Hsi before walking away through the same pass and vanishing in the mist beyond.
Unfortunately, evidence such as the fact that Lao-Tzu was born into a peasant class in the Shang Dynasty era of between 1600 and 1046BCE or how the only form of writing then was the oracle bones that weren’t all that easy to decipher show that this tale might not be the most accurate one. So, the idea that Taoist religion started in 142CE, as is noted by the revelations of the Tao to Chang Tao-ling or Zhang Dao-ling, may be more plausible. Also, it’s believed that the works in the Tao-Te-Ching weren’t compiled until later during the reign of the Ming Dynasty.
Where Did Taoism Originate from?
It’s possible that the earliest Taoist beliefs were ideas that were created by Taoist thinkers, but then, local beliefs and religious rituals and ideas were integrated to create a whole belief system that would be used to guide all the Chinese people.
However, it wasn’t until the 4th and the 3rd centuries BCE that Taoism would be recognized as a religious system. The publication of the sayings in the Tao-Te-Ching and other works all developed and emphasized the Taoist belief systems. During the reign of the Tang Dynasty, Taoism became one of the semi-official Chinese religions, and it continued to be used during the reign of the Song Dynasty. But Confucianism was becoming more popular, and after some time, Taoism fell from the top position and was replaced by Confucianism.
Who Founded Taoism?
According to the renowned historian called Sima Qian, who lived between 145 and 86 BCE, Taoism was founded by Lao-Tzu, who was not only the curator in the state of Chu at the Royal Library but also a natural philosopher.
His beliefs may have inspired the likes of Zhang Dao-ling, who became the founder of the Taoist school of thought and was the very first Celestial Master.
Famous Taoist Stories
The Story of Chuang Tzu
Lao-Tzu is regarded as the biggest name in all Taoist beliefs, and the Tao-Te-Ching is regarded as the classic text for Taoist beliefs, but one of the most delightful stories or verses on Taoism is the story of Chuang Tzu, whose very gentle shadow of irony brings out and points to the true Taoism wisdom.
In this story, there was a man who was very terrified by his shadow and also lived in great fear of the sound of his footsteps. One day when he was walking alone, he panicked and tried to flee his footsteps at top speed. But the shadow and his footsteps only caught up with him the faster he ran, and he only ran faster and eventually died of exhaustion. In this tale, it’s obvious that he wouldn’t have died if he sat down to rest under a shade. In Taoism, this is all about the concept of non-action, but it points to the belief and reminder that everything should be left to nature and that nature can and will do as much of the work as possible if you let it.
The Story of the Butcher
The story of the butcher is all about the butcher who carried a joint of meat to his customer for many years. One time, his customer complained about the butcher using the same knife he’d used the previous year and asked him if he sharpened the knife often. The butcher answered that it was the same knife that he’d had for over 17 years and that he’s never sharpened it once because whenever he cut the meat, he allowed the knife to find its way through the meat/ flesh with no stress or effort. He added that the trickier part was him cutting through the cartilage, but here, he had to slow down to allow the mystery to solve itself, and in no time, the meat would fall off the blade.
This story is meant to reach about the Taoist belief that although it might be hard to grasp or to tend towards a state of Zen and its abstrusity, patience is crucial.
Lieh Tzu’s Story
This tale is that of a lord who wished for a new horse and asked his advisor for guidance on where he may find a fine specimen. After studying his Lord for a while, thinking, his advisor declared that he had an old friend who was an expert in all things horses and that he would send him the best horse he had at once. He then sent a letter to his friend out in the country announcing that he’d need a black stallion to gift the lord. The horse that arrived was, however, a brown mare. The Lord complained, mentioning how he thought that the advisor’s friend was an expert, so how did he not know about the color or the sex of the horses. The advisor answered that his friend was very much versed in all matters horses, and what mattered to him and what his sight focused on was not the outer characteristics of the horse but its inner and most important qualities.
This story also pointed to the fact that an individual’s inner qualities were the most important.
These are just some of the stories that point to the Taoist beliefs about The Way and letting nature do its thing.
- Laozi, between 601BCE and 531BCE, was also regarded as the traditional founder of the belief of Taoism.
- Wenzi from the 5th century BCE
- Lie Yukou or Lieze from 400BCE
- Zhuang Zu or Chuang Tzu of the 4TH Century BCE
- Guiguzi from the 2nd century BCE
- Yang Xiong, who lived between 53BCE and 18
- Wei Boyang from c142
- Zhang Jiao of d 184
- Zhang Daoling, also called Zhang Ling 2nd Century
- Zhongli Quan, a legendary figure from the 2nd century
- Wang Bi 226-249
- Wei Huacun from 252-334
Others include Ge Hong, Pao Ching-yen, Guo Xiang, Kou Qianzhi, Sun Simiao, Lu Dongbin, Chen Tuan, Wang Chongyang, Liu Yiming, Qiu Chuji, and Zhang Sanfeng.
- Yin and Yang (Taijitu) – the symbol of Yin and Yang is ubiquitous with Taoism or Daoism, and the symbol holds its roots in Chinese philosophy and religion. The Yin or the dark swirl is associated with feminine energies, shadows, while the trough of the wave or the Yang is the light swirl that represents masculine energy, growth, passion, and brightness. In Chinese cosmology, the universe creates itself through the primary chaos of material energy that is organized into the cycles of Yin and Yang.
- Triangular or Square Flags – the flags are often seen flying on the Taoist temples. These flags often capture mystical writings or even diagrams meant to fulfill the functions of Taoism, and they offer guidance to the spirits of the dead and the ancestors while also bringing good fortune and wealth and increasing the lifespan of the Taoist believers.
- Zigzags with 7 stars represent the Big Dipper (Bushel). The Big Dipper was considered a deity during the Shang Dynasty’s reign from the 2nd Millennium BCE and also during the reign of the Han Dynasty. This deity was regarded as a qi path for the circumpolar god, who is called Taiyi.
Like Confucianism, Taoism has no god. However, the Taoist belief holds the belief that there is no actual omnipotent that exists beyond the cosmos or one that created or controls the entire universe. The Taoism belief is that the universe sprung from the Tao, who impersonally offers guidance in the way of the Tao.
What Is Taoist Temple?
The Taoist temple refers to the place of worship of the Tao. It’s a place where Taoism is cultivated and observed. But the function and the structure of the temples tend to vary from the Taoist schools.
Famous Taoist Temples
- Mount Heming – This is considered the birthplace of Taoism, and it’s located in Dayi County.
- Mount Qingcheng – This temple is based at one of the top 4 Chinese Taoism mountains
- Qingyang Palace – This temple is considered to be the No.1 Taoist temple located in West China. It was first built during the reign of the Zhou Dynasty, but today’s temple architecture is from the Qing Dynasty.
- Erwang Palace – it’s also known as the Two Kings Temple and is based at the base of the Yulei Mountain and is one of the World Heritage Sites.
- Erxian Temple – Also known as the Two Immortals Temple, the Erxian Temple is located East of the Qingyang Palace, on Baihuatan Park’s northern bank.
Famous Taoist Celebrities
Famous Taoist Quotes
“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
“Silence is a source of Great Strength.”
“The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.”
- Tao Te Ching
Taoist meditation is also known as Xiu Dao, and it can be defined as the traditional meditative practice that associates with the Chinese philosophy and the Taoist religion for concentration, contemplation, mindfulness, and visualization.
This meditation style also focuses on harmonious living, and most importantly, living in harmony with one’s surroundings. It also guides on how to focus on the right way or the right path to be able to maintain the perfect state of harmony and for the right kind of balance in the Yin and Yang. Taoist meditation also focuses on how one should act and how one can adapt to the changes in the cycles in nature.
Why is Taoism Important?
The Taoist beliefs put forth by Lao Tzu is important because it points to the belief that both human beings and animals are able to live in perfect balance with the universe or the Tao.
The Taoists also believe in immortality (spiritual) and the fact that the human body joins back with the universe or the universal energy after death.
But most importantly, this belief and religion focuses on and reminds the human race of the importance of letting things flow naturally, and being good, because all humans are inherently good.
How Many Followers Does Taoism Have?
There is an estimated 20 million followers of Taoism in the world today.
How Many Types Of Taoism（What Are The Sects Of Taoism）
There are two main sects in Taoism:
What Is Taoist Alchemy?
Taoist alchemy represents the ancient Chinese technological and scientific approach that is based on the body-spirit cultivation that was used to develop and create an understanding of the tenets of traditional Chinese medicine and the body.
This practice focuses on the understanding of healing methods that would ensure the reestablishment of the original state of balance and wholeness of both society and also human nature.
Taoist clothing is primarily the traditional costume of the ancient Chinese. The clothing falls into 5 main categories, like the hats, the crown, robe, ornaments, and shoes.
Taoism Vs. Confucianism
Confucianism focuses on the social matters of morality and ethics, while Taoism has to do with the search for meaning in the universe and the fact that Taoism eventually developed into a highly organized doctrine, along with cultic practices, as well as the institution of leadership. However, both belief systems have intersecting beliefs about society, the universe, and mankind.
Taoism Vs. Buddhism
Buddhism has to do with the overall belief that the goal and the way to overcome suffering and to experience rebirth is through enlightenment or Nirvana. Taoism, on the other hand, has to do with the worship of the deities and is more about The Way and the natural order of the universe that guides everything, albeit in an impersonal way.