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Taoism or Daoism (Chinese: 道教, py Dojio, W-G Tao-chiao) is usually described as an Asian philosophy and religion, although it is also said to be neither but rather an aspect of Chinese wisdom. Translated literally, it means "the Teaching of Tao". In Taoist context, Tao can be understood as a space-time path — the order in which things happen. As a descriptive term, it can be taken to refer to the actual world in history — sometimes distinguished as "great Dao" or prescriptively, as an order that should unfold — the moral way of Confucius or Laozi or Christ, etc. A theme in early Chinese thought is Tian-dao or way of nature (also translated as 'heaven' 'sky' and sometimes 'God'). This would correspond roughly to the order of things according to natural law. Both 'nature's way' and 'great way' can inspire the stereotypical Taoist detachment from moral or normative doctrines. Thus, thought of as the course by which everything comes to be what it is (the "Mother of everything") it seems hard to imagine that we have to select among any accounts of its normative content — thus it can be seen as an efficient principle of "emptiness" that reliably underlies the operation of the universe.

diagram, often used to symbolize Taoism.]]

Taoism is a tradition that has, with its traditional foil Confucianism, shaped Chinese life for more than 2,000 years. Taoism places emphasis upon spontaneity or freedom from social-cultural manipulation through institutions, language and cultural practices. Because the Confucian concept of government consists of getting everyone to follow the same moral tao, it manifests as anarchism — essentially championing the idea that we need no such centralized guidance. Natural kinds follow ways appropriate to themselves and humans are a natural kind. We all go through processes of acquiring different norms and guidance from society and yet we can live in peace if we don't seek to unify all these natural ways of being. Thus, Taoism represents in many ways the antithesis to Confucian concern with moral duties, social cohesion, and governmental responsibilities, even if Confucius's thought includes those Taoist values and the reverse, as one can read in the Analects of Confucius.

Table of contents
1 Sources of Taoism
2 The Dao De Jing
3 Taoist philosophy
4 The Taoist religion
5 Taoism outside China
6 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links

Sources of Taoism

Traditionally, Taoism has been attributed to three sources:

The Dao De Jing

Main article:
Dao De Jing

The Dao De Jing (or Tao Te Ching, as it is most commonly rendered in English) was written in a time of seemingly endless feudal warfare and constant conflict. The literal meaning of the title is approximately "Way Virtue Classic" (see Dao De Jing for a more in-depth discussion on translating the book's title into English.)

According to tradition (largely rejected by modern scholars), the book's author, Lao Zi, was a minor court official for an emperor of the Zhou dynasty. He became disgusted with the petty intrigues of court life, and set off alone to travel the vast western wastelands. As he was about to pass through the gate at the last western outpost, a guard, having heard of his wisdom, asked Lao Zi to write down his philosophy, and the Dao De Jing was the result. Lao Zi was reflecting on a way for humanity to follow which would put an end to conflicts and strife. He came up with a few pages of short verses, which became the Dao De Jing. This is the original book of Taoism. The scholarly evidence (buttressed by a cluster of recent archeological finds of versions of the text) was that the text was taking shape over a long period of time in pre-Han China and circulated in many versions and edited collections until standardized shortly after the Han.

Taoist philosophy

Wu Wei

Much of the essence of Tao is in the art of wu wei (action through inaction). However, this does not mean, "sit doing nothing and wait for everything to fall into your lap". It describes a practice of accomplishing things through minimal action. By studying the nature of life, you can affect it in the easiest and least disruptive way (using finesse rather than force). The practice of working with the stream rather than against it is an illustration; one progresses the most not by struggling against the stream and thrashing about, but by remaining still and letting the stream do all the work.

Wu Wei works once we trust our human "design," which is perfectly suited for our place within nature. In other words, by trusting our nature rather than our mental contrivances, we can find contentment without a life of constant striving against forces real and imagined.

The Taoist religion

Though specific religious aspects are not mentioned in the Dao De Jing or Zhuang Zi, as Taoism spread through the population of China it became mixed with other, pre-existing beliefs, such as Five Elements theory, alchemy, ancestor worship, and magic spells. Chinese Chan Buddhism was also directly influenced by Taoist philosophies. Eventually elements of Taoism were combined with elements of Buddhism and Confucianism in the form of Neo-Confucianism. Attempts to procure greater longevity were a frequent theme in Taoist alchemy and magic, with many extant spells and potions for that purpose. Many early versions of Chinese medicine were rooted in Taoist thought, and modern Chinese medicine as well as Chinese martial arts are still in many ways concerned with Taoist concepts such as Tao, Qi, and the balance of Yin and Yang.

In addition, a Taoist church was formed, originally being established in the Eastern Han dynasty by Zhang Daoling. Many sects evolved over the years, but most trace their authority to Zhang Daoling, and most modern Taoist temples belong to one or another of these sects. The Taoist churches incorporated entire pantheons of deities, including Lao Zi, Zhang Daoling, the Yellow Emperor, the Jade Emperor, Lei Gong (The God of Thunder) and others. The two major Taoist churches today are the Zhengyi Sect (evolved from a sect founded by Zhang Daoling) and Quanzhen Taoism (founded by Wang Chongyang).

Taoism outside China

The Taoist philosophy is practiced in various forms, in countries other than China. Kouk Sun Do in Korea is one of such variations.

Taoist philosophy has found a large following throughout the world, and several traditional Taoist lineages have set up teaching centers in countries outside China.

See also

Further reading

External links