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Taoism (a.k.a. Daoism)

Quotations, history, historical texts


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The Taoist Yin Yang symbol:


Quotations:

bullet"Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." Lao Tse.

bullet"Without going out of your door, You can know the ways of the world. Without peeping through your window, you can see the Way of Heaven. The farther you go, The less you know. Thus, the Sage knows without traveling, Sees without looking, And achieves without struggle." Lao Tse.

bullet"Different Chinese philosophers, writing probably in 5-4 centuries B.C., presented some major ideas and a way of life that are nowadays known under the name of Taoism, the way of correspondence between man and the tendency or the course of natural world." Alan Watts, from his book: "Tao: The Watercourse Way."

bullet"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 Reform Taoist Congregation 1

bullet"For more than two thousand years, Daoism has evolved in close interaction with the other major traditions of China--Confucianism, Buddhism, ethnic creeds, and popular religion--and adapted many of their features. To the present day, Daoism consists of a multiplicity of beliefs and practices, and continues to develop, as it has for the past millennia, through the interaction between differentiation and integration--the move to change in accordance with political, cultural, and economic developments versus the urge to create stability through belief systems, lineage lines, rituals, and myths." From the Amazon.com review of the book "Daoist Identity: History, lineage and ritual.

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 female.)" 2

The founder of Taoism is believed by a few religious historians to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), whose life overlapped that of Confucius (551-479 BCE). (Alternative spellings: Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, Laozi, Laotze, etc.). However most historians suggest that he is a synthesis of a number of historical figures. or that he is a mythical figure. Still others suggest that he lived in the 4th century BCE.

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.

"Alyosha77" wrote on the "Zen and Taoism: A connection" thread on Beliefnet's Taoism Community:

"Daoism and Buddhism in China were influenced by each other as they developed.  Buddhism was in fact mistaken by some early Daoists as a new form of Daoism.  Some early translations of Buddhist texts used Daoist terms to interpret Buddhist concepts, so the Chinese probably first understood Buddhism in a very Daoist way.  During the 3rd and 4th century [CE], there was a Neo-Daoist movement called Xuan Xue, and many Buddhists entered into Xuan Xue discourses, and it was by way of Xuan Xue discourses that Buddhism became integrated into the intellectual mainstream of Chinese thought.  On the more popular level, the turbulent times from the beginning of 3rd to the beginning of the 7th century in China caused many to look for hope in immortality and salvation, so Daoism and Buddhism both became increasingly influential on the popular level.  Throughout Chinese history, there had been some hostilities between them, but I believe their mutual influence and in mutual inclusivity are more significant. 3

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. 4 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. 

The number of followers of Taoism is impossible to estimate with any accuracy. There are about 225 million followers of Chinese traditional religions of which Taoism appears to be the main influence. About 20 million followers live in Taiwan, about 30,000 North America and 1,720 in Canada. (Canadian data from the 1991 census; this is the most recent census to include religious data). Taoism has had a significant impact on North American culture in areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and martial arts..." 4

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Historical Taoist texts:

These include:

  • 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.

  • The Taoism Virtual Library has copies of the above books and others, at: http://www.vl-site.org/

  • MoreLight.net publishes a number of books from the Taoist canon, including The Primordial Breath, Volumes 1 & 2, and Oneirocritica (The Interpretation of Dreams). See: http://morelight.net/

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Our Creed," at: http://www.reformtaoism.org/ 
  2. "Our Beliefs," Reform Taoist Congregation at: http://www.reformtaoism.org/
  3. Meng Tzu, posting to "Zen and Taoism: A connection?, 2009-MAR-01, at: http://community.beliefnet.com
  4. Arthur P. Wolf, "Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors," Pages 131-182; as quoted in Judith A. Berling, "Taoism, or the Way," at: http://www.askasia.org/

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Copyright © 1995 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original publishing date: 1995-JUN-3
Latest update on: 2010-JUN-30
Author. B.A. Robinson

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