Tai'Chi pose of the Adepts.
The Thunder God of religious Taoism
Kuan, female Goddess of mercy
*Two above images-http://www.taorestore.org/worship.html
The Yellow Emperor of China: Supported the Yin and Yang
Doctrine of Taoist belief.
Eastern Philosophy is becoming more and more a part of the mainstream
in the United States. Like most Americans I
have come across various significant aspects of the Chinese
philosophy; Taoism. Among these are Yin and Yang, T’ai-Chi and
Feng-Shui. Feng-Shui is a balancing of energy by arranging
your living space a certain way, it is found in the pop-culture
of young teen stores to books on ‘how you can Feng-Shui your home
to change your life.’ The art of T’ai Chi has become
more popular in the west. Recently, I have seen people in
a local park exercising the balancing of their energy by using
the Chinese art. Most Americans have also heard of, or seen
the symbol of Yin and Yang. As a child I remember it being
used as the icon for a popular clothing brand, Ocean Pacific (OP.)
It wasn’t until the latter part of my adolescence when I learned
its generic meaning and where it came from. China is the
source of this symbol and the religious philosophy it is derived
Taoism originated in China and though many people do not know
this they often have an idea of its various elements. The Yin
and Yang symbol, also referred to as the Tai Chi disk,
is expressed as everything consisting of a balance, it constitutes
reality. This is the main theme of Taoism. The root
of Tao is defined as the way of the universe, nature, balance,
it is a reality that can not be grasped in language, or thought.
The goal of life is to conform human lives in the way of the universe,
“being itself is a state of being” (Ni). Taoism is
also known as the nameless philosophy. Its main themes are
intuition, simplicity, spontaneity, and the way of nature.
The Tao-Te Ching or The Way and its Power, is the doctrine
of Taoism that is thought to be written by Lao-Tzu.
The key concepts of Taoism are: Wu Wei- action-less action,
Te the flowing power, living simply, Ch’i, cosmic energy, and
finally, Feng-Shui, winds and waters (Sprunger).
Taoism is one of the most important “strains” of Chinese thought
through time. Taoism, unlike other religious traditions
has no single origin, like Christianity or Islam. There
are two distinct sources for Taoism: One, the philosophers of
the Civil War period (403-221 BCE) who followed a Tao or way of
nature instead of following the Tao of society. Second,
The shamans and magicians who, since the Shang Dynasty (1700-1100
BCE) played a significant role in the life of the ordinary Chinese
population (Hubbard 25).
There are two main philosophers associated with the creation of
Taoism. The first is Lao Tzu, who is thought to have lived
between the sixth and third century BCE. He is regarded
as the creator for the foundation of the Taoist philosophy.
According to a Chinese legend Lao Tzu was immaculately conceived
by a shooting star and born as an eighty-two year old man.
He lived as a scholar of the Yin-Yang school of philosophy (Rosenthal).
It is believed that after his retirement he wanted to live the
rest of his days living out a simple life in the mountains, but
was forced by a guard to write down his life’s wisdom. After
two days he returned to the gaurd with a short manuscript; the
Tao Te Ching (Sprunger). In the Tao Te Ching
Lao Tzu stated that “people should return to the original
condition of nature…complete personal tranquillity” (Chang).
Unfortunately, there is not much known of his life or if he was
actually responsible for writing the Tao Te Ching. It is
believed that he was not the only writer of the book, but rather
several teachers wrote it together. However, it remains
to this day as the basic text of Taoist thought and credit is
generally given to him. The second philosopher is Chuang Tzu who
lived from 369-286 BCE. He wrote a self titled book that
reflects the same teaching of the Tao Te Ching, however it is
more mystical and complex in its outlook (Hubbard 24).
Shamanism is another important root of Taoism. It has many
unknown contributors, but is important non-the less.
Shamans are religious persons who perform a number of different
services. The Taoist Shaman was associated with the spiritual
world, they were healers and destroyers of evil spirits.
Both men and women were shamans. Women were more dominantly
shamans, they performed exorcisms at certain times of the year,
usually in times of trouble, like drought for example. The
association of women is significant because the Taoist’s ideal
society is deeply connected with matriarchy and femininity,
this is obvious as women represent the yin element of nature.
It was the Shamans that made Taoism more of a religious thought
than a philosophical one (Hubbard 24-26)
In China there are three variations of Taoism that center around
the Te or power. The first is philosophical Taoism, also known
as schooled Taoism. They take a reflective and active approach
in their quest to conserve the allotment of the Te they have.
Self-help is the foundation of their work. There are teachers
but, they act more like coaches, by training the students,
more over they work primarily on themselves. They tried
to conserve their Te by expending it efficiently which is the
essential attitude toward life. They sought the knowledge
that empowered life. They called it wisdom, and argued that
in order to live wisely is to live in a way that conserves life’s
vitality by not expending it in useless ways like friction and
conflict. The main way they avoided such uselessness was
through the concept we wei, which to Taoists means pure effectiveness
The second of the sects is the Taoist Adepts who are all engaged
in training programs. Their main goal is to increase the
allotment of Te. Ch’i is the foundation of their training.
Ch’i literally means breath, but to the Taoist Adepts it means
vital energy. Taoists used it to refer to the power of the
Tao, which they experienced flowing through them. The main
objective was to remove any obstacle that prevented the energy
to flow freely. To accomplish ch’i maximization they worked
with three things: matter, movement, and their minds. To
maximize these things they used various actions. With matter
they tried eating things to get ch’i nutritionally. Then
produced medicinal herbs. The idea to get ch’i from matter
was supplemented by programs of bodily movement. It was
this movement that the martial art T’ai-chi was introduced.
The purpose for T’ai-chi is to invite ch’i from the cosmos and
remove any blockage of its internal flow. The mind is where
Taoist meditation was developed. This meditation allowed
the Taoist to be in direct view of the sources of their awareness.
It allowed them to see “the self as it was meant to be.”
Entering the inner self allowed new exploration. Many consider
Taoist yoga to be the basic perspective from which the Tao Te
Ching was written (Smith 130-31).
The final sect is religious Taoism, the vicarious power.
Religious Taoism was created in the second century CE when it
became institutionalized and brought together the actions of the
psychics, shamans, faith healers and soothers. The establishment
of the Church allowed “the Taoist priesthood to make cosmic life-power
available for ordinary villagers.” The church is very ritualistic
and has gods and deities but they are not purely worshipped.
Magic is the key to religious Taoism. The church, by bringing
together the mystics devised ways to harness higher powers for
human ends (Smith 132-33).
When the three branches are looked at and compared the differences
are not that great. The important thing to realize is that
they are all centered around the concept of maximizing Te.
The philosophical Taoists interest is how to conserve their Te.
Taoist Adepts attempt to increase their Te. Finally the
religious Taoists try to gather the cosmic energy and give it
to those who could not get it for themselves (Smith 1994:134.)
Senses of Tao
The Tao Te Ching is more or less the “bible” of Taoism.
The basis for following the Tao or “way” is given in three
senses of the Tao. The first is the way of ultimate reality.
Tao in this sense can not be defined, perceived, or clearly conceived.
Tao is the root of all things, but all things are not Tao.
To be Tao is to be unlimited, undefined or unformed. Tao
is all the same, the ground of everything that follows.
The Tao is also transcendent and immanent. In the second
sense it is the way of the universe; the norm, the rhythm, and
the force behind and in all of nature. It is spirit not
matter. It is inexhaustible energy that flows stronger the
more it is drawn upon. It is good and gives life to all
things, it is the “Mother of the World.” Finally,
in the third sense, Tao is the way of human life as it meshes
with the Tao of the universe (Smith 126).
The goal of Taoists is to attain harmony with the Tao. This
attainment of harmony with the Tao is also seen as living in accord
with nature. Taoism is profound in its naturalism.
Nature is something that should not be exploited and abused, it
should be befriended not conquered (Smith 138). The
ideal man in Taoism is one who through the naturalness of his
existence became self-sufficient and not dependent upon wealth
or social realms. It was this way that true happiness could
be found (Smart 158-59). To achieve mental discipline,
all thoughts must respond only to Tao, the openness of the universe.
The method behind achieving lasting peace and harmony in life
is waking with persistence to reach the spiritual level.
Tao is the potency of the universe, it includes all gods, deities,
divine beings, spirits and souls. The deep root of all things
has Tao. To embrace Tao is to become Tao. Tao is the
source of everything, but everything is not Tao. Spontaneity
is the way of living things and rigidity is the way of death.
The yin-yang doctrine is based on the concept that there are continuous
transformations within the Tao, the principle that embraces nature.
The yin-yang had always been a foundation of Chinese thought and
cosmology (Smart 160). Yin-yang is based on the essential
that the universe is run by a single principle, the Tao, or Great
Ultimate. This principle is divided into two opposites,
or two principles that oppose one another in their actions, yin
and yang. The yin and yang represent all the opposite principles
one finds in the universe. The principles of yang are light,
heat, Heaven, male, sun, etc. The principles of the yin
are darkness, cool, earth, female, moon, etc. Everything
consists of this balance, it is what constitutes reality.
Each of these opposites produce the other: Heaven creates the
ideas of things under yang, the earth produces their material
forms under yin, and vice versa. This production of yin
from yang and yang from yin occurs in a cyclical motion and is
continuous. This constant balancing happens so that at no
time one principle dominates the other (Ebrey). There is no factor
of life to which the activities of yin and yang do not apply.
Yin and Yang express the contrasting aspects and interrelationships
of everything that exists in the universe. They have no
fixed definition, which makes the terms virtually untranslatable
For a Taoist, the objective of their human existence is to reach
and maintain harmony with the Tao (Chang). When this harmony is
reached enlightenment has been achieved. Enlightenment
is when they accept the plainness of their life. It can
not be found in a doctrine, rather it is found when one’s energy
is balanced and one’s mind is clear. When spirit is the
directing energy in life, then the desires and impulses are balanced
and harmonious and fulfill their natural function as expressions
of the positive, creative, and constructive nature of the universe
(Ni 20-43). Taoism is the romantic philosophy of China.
It praises spontaneity and naturalness and connects the human
to what transcends it. Taoism in its purest definition
promotes simplicity, openness, and wisdom (Smith 143).
One who has reached the enlightenment of the Tao is referred to
as a sage. A sage is said to have the following characteristics:
an openness to life, tranquillity, simplicity, geniuses and reserve.
They lack arrogance, do not discriminate between opposites and
are indifferent to worldly affairs (Chang).
Taoism has spread throughout the globe, currently there are over
thirty-one million followers (Sprunger). In Taiwan it remains
a prominent philosophy and has recently moved west into the United
States where we see the symbol of yin and yang, the mainstreaming
of Feng-Shui, and the ever growing art of T’ai-chi.
Like many eastern religions Taoism is seen as a mystical religion.
As more and more people open their minds to a more peaceful harmonious
relationship with nature in the crazy world we live in today,
these philosophies become more popular. Taoism is a complex
and intriguing philosophy that has many branches and colors that
define what has been accumulating for centuries. Taoism
is much like the history and culture of China. There is
so much to it because it has endured the changes that come with
time. Yet it remains strong and pertinent to the world today.
Without the existence of Taoism, Chinese history would have been
altered significantly and in turn so would have the history of
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