Taoism

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About

Taoism (sometimes Daoism) is a philosophical, ethical or religious tradition of Chinese origin, or faith of Chinese exemplification, that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (also romanized as Dao). The term Tao means "way", "path", or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source of, and the force behind, everything that exists. Taoism is practised as a religion in various Asian communities. Its theology is not theist (even though some communities do worship Laozi as the attributed founder of the religious doctrine), and has more affinities with pantheistic traditions given its philosophical emphasis on the formlessness of the Tao.

Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the tenets of the School of Yin Yang, and is heavily influenced and informed by the acknowledged oldest text of ancient Chinese classics, the I Ching, which prescribes a system of philosophical thought on the ethics of human behaviours based on articulating cycles of change in the natural and social worlds by means of hexagrams, and includes instructions for divination practice still adhered to by modern-day religious Taoists. Daoism as Taoism is sometimes referred, diverged sharply from Confucian thoughts by scorning rigid rituals and social classes. The Tao Te Ching, a compact and ambiguous book containing teachings attributed to Laozi (Chinese: 老子; pinyin: Lǎozǐ; Wade–Giles: Lao Tzu), is widely considered the keystone work of this philosophy. Together with the writings of Zhuangzi, which interprets and adds to the teaching of Laozi, these classic texts provide the philosophical foundation of Taoism deriving from the 8 trigrams (bagua) of Fu Xi in the 2700s BCE in China, the various combinations of which creates the 64 hexagrams as documented in the I Ching.

Taoist propriety and ethics may vary depending on the particular school, but in general they tend to emphasize wu-wei (action through non-action), "naturalness", simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: compassion, moderation, and humility.

Origins and development

Laozi is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism and is closely associated in this context with "original" or "primordial" Taoism. Whether he actually existed is disputed; however, the work attributed to him – the Tao Te Ching – is dated to the late 4th century BCE.

Taoism draws its cosmological foundations from the School of Naturalists (in the form of its main elements – yin and yang and the Five Phases), which developed during the Warring States period (4th to 3rd centuries BC)

Robinet identifies four components in the emergence of Taoism:

  • Philosophical Taoism, i.e. the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi
  • techniques for achieving ecstasy
  • practices for achieving longevity or immortality
  • exorcism
Some elements of Taoism may be traced to prehistoric folk religions in China that later coalesced into a Taoist tradition. In particular, many Taoist practices drew from the Warring-States-era phenomena of the wu (connected to the shamanic culture of northern China) and the fangshi (which probably derived from the "archivist-soothsayers of antiquity, one of whom supposedly was Laozi himself"), even though later Taoists insisted that this was not the case. Both terms were used to designate individuals dedicated to "... magic, medicine, divination,... methods of longevity and to ecstatic wanderings" as well as exorcism; in the case of the wu, "shamans" or "sorcerers" is often used as a translation. The fangshi were philosophically close to the School of Naturalists, and relied much on astrological and calendrical speculations in their divinatory activities.

The first organized form of Taoism, the Tianshi (Celestial Masters') school (later known as Zhengyi school), developed from the Five Pecks of Rice movement at the end of the 2nd century CE; the latter had been founded by Zhang Daoling, who claimed that Laozi appeared to him in the year 142. The Tianshi school was officially recognized by ruler Cao Cao in 215, legitimizing Cao Cao's rise to power in return. Laozi received imperial recognition as a divinity in the mid-2nd century BCE.

Taoism, in form of the Shangqing school, gained official status in China again during the Tang dynasty (618–907), whose emperors claimed Laozi as their relative. The Shangqing movement, however, had developed much earlier, in the 4th century, on the basis of a series of revelations by gods and spirits to a certain Yang Xi in the years between 364 to 370.

Between 397 and 402, Ge Chaofu compiled a series of scriptures which later served as the foundation of the Lingbao school, which unfolded its greatest influence during the Song dynasty (960–1279). Several Song emperors, most notably Huizong, were active in promoting Taoism, collecting Taoist texts and publishing editions of the Daozang.

In the 12th century, the Quanzhen School was founded in Shandong. It flourished during the 13th and 14th century and during the Yuan dynasty became the largest and most important Taoist school in Northern China. The school's most revered master, Qiu Chuji, met with Genghis Khan in 1222 and was successful in influencing the Khan towards exerting more restraint during his brutal conquests. By the Khan's decree, the school also was exempt from taxation.

Aspects of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were consciously synthesized in the Neo-Confucian school, which eventually became Imperial orthodoxy for state bureaucratic purposes under the Ming (1368–1644).

The Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), however, much favored Confucian classics over Taoist works.

During the 18th century, the imperial library was constituted, but excluded virtually all Taoist books. By the beginning of the 20th century, Taoism had fallen much from favor (for example, only one complete copy of the Daozang still remained, at the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing).

Today, Taoism is one of five religions recognized by the People's Republic of China. The government regulates its activities through the Chinese Taoist Association.[43] Taoism is freely practiced in Taiwan, where it claims millions of adherents.

Doctrines

Taoism is practiced as a religion in various Asian communities, but its theology is not foundationally dependent on the existence of an anthropomorphic godlike figurehead (even though some communities do worship Laozi as the attributed founder of the philosophical doctrine, as well as other deities from ancient Chinese folklore); on a theological basis, the Taoist religion has more affinities with pantheistic traditions around the world, given its philosophical emphasis on the formlessness of the Tao and the primacy of the "Way" rather than anthropomorphic concepts of "God".

Nevertheless, as Taoist beliefs include teachings based on various sources, and are often intermingled with Chinese folk religious practice, popular Taoist religious sects have co-opted mythical figures from Chinese folklore as well as actual Taoist personages as figures of worship, with the latter better understood as analogous to "saints" in Catholic veneration rather than as divine deities in and of themselves, even though they were also often mythologised to possess superhuman or supernatural powers. Different branches of Taoism often have differing beliefs, especially concerning deities and the proper composition of the pantheon. Nevertheless, there are certain core beliefs that nearly all the sects share. Traditional conceptions of Tao should not be confused with the Western concepts of theism, however. Being one with the Tao does not necessarily indicate a union with an eternal spirit in, for example, the Hindu sense.

Popular Taoism typically presents the Jade Emperor as the official head deity. Intellectual ("elite") Taoists, such as the Celestial Masters sect, usually present Laozi (Laojun, "Lord Lao") and the Three Pure Ones at the top of the pantheon of deities. The pantheon tends to mirror the bureaucracy of Imperial China; deities also may be promoted or demoted for their actions.

While a number of immortals or other mysterious figures appear in the Zhuangzi, and to a lesser extent in the Tao Te Ching, these have generally not become the objects of worship.

Taoism tends to emphasize various themes of the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, such as naturalness, spontaneity, simplicity, detachment from desires, and most important of all, wu wei.[44] However, the concepts of those keystone texts cannot be equated with Taoism as a whole.

Tao and Te

Tao (Chinese: 道; pinyin: dào) literally means "way", but can also be interpreted as road, channel, path, doctrine, or line. In Taoism, it is "the One, which is natural, spontaneous, eternal, nameless, and indescribable. It is at once the beginning of all things and the way in which all things pursue their course." It has variously been denoted as the "flow of the universe", a "conceptually necessary ontological ground",[49] or a demonstration of nature. The Tao also is something that individuals can find immanent in themselves.

The active expression of Tao is called Te (also spelled – and pronounced – De, or even Teh; often translated with Virtue or Power; Chinese: 德; pinyin: dé), in a sense that Te results from an individual living and cultivating the Tao.

Wu-wei

The ambiguous term wu-wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無爲; pinyin: wú wéi) constitutes the leading ethical concept in Taoism. Wei refers to any intentional or deliberated action, while wu carries the meaning of "there is no ..." or "lacking, without". Common translations are "nonaction", "effortless action" or "action without intent". The meaning is sometimes emphasized by using the paradoxical expression "wei wu wei": "action without action".

In ancient Taoist texts, wu-wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Taoist philosophy, in accordance with the I Ching, proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts their will against the world in a manner that is out of rhythm with the cycles of change, they may disrupt that harmony and unintended consequences may more likely result rather than the willed outcome. Taoism does not identify one's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that one must place their will in harmony with the natural universe.[57] Thus, a potentially harmful interference may be avoided, and in this way, goals can be achieved effortlessly. "By wu-wei, the sage seeks to come into harmony with the great Tao, which itself accomplishes by nonaction."

 

Naturalness

Naturalness (Chinese: 自然; pinyin: zìrán; Wade–Giles: tzu-jan; lit. "self-such") is regarded as a central value in Taoism. It describes the "primordial state" of all things as well as a basic character of the Tao, and is usually associated with spontaneity and creativity. To attain naturalness, one has to identify with the Tao; this involves freeing oneself from selfishness and desire, and appreciating simplicity.

An often cited metaphor for naturalness is pu (simplified Chinese: 朴; traditional Chinese: 樸; pinyin: pǔ, pú; Wade–Giles: p'u; lit. "uncut wood"), the "uncarved block", which represents the "original nature... prior to the imprint of culture" of an individual. It is usually referred to as a state one returns to.

Three Treasures

The Taoist Three Treasures or Three Jewels (simplified Chinese: 三宝; traditional Chinese: 三寶; pinyin: sānbǎo) comprise the basic virtues of ci (Chinese: 慈; pinyin: cí, usually translated as compassion), jian (Chinese: 俭; pinyin: jiǎn, usually translated as moderation), and bugan wei tianxia xian (Chinese: 不敢为天下先; pinyin: bùgǎn wéi tiānxià xiān, literally "not daring to act as first under the heavens", but usually translated as humility).

As the "practical, political side" of Taoist philosophy, Arthur Waley translated them as "abstention from aggressive war and capital punishment", "absolute simplicity of living", and "refusal to assert active authority".

The Three Treasures can also refer to jing, qi and shen (Chinese: 精氣神; pinyin: jīng-qì-shén; jing is usually translated with "essence" and shen with "spirit"). These terms are elements of the traditional Chinese concept of the human body, which shares its cosmological foundation - Yinyangism - with Taoism. Within this framework, they play an important role in neidan ("Taoist Inner Alchemy").

Cosmology

Taoist cosmology is based on the School of Yin Yang which was headed by Zou Yan (305 BCE – 240 BCE). The school's tenets harmonized the concepts of the Wu Xing (Five Phases) and yin and yang. In this spirit, the universe is seen as being in a constant process of re-creating itself, as everything that exists is a mere aspect of qi, which, "condensed, becomes life; diluted, it is indefinite potential". Qi is in a perpetual transformation between its condensed and diluted state. These two different states of qi, on the other hand, are embodiments of the abstract entities of yin and yang, two complementary extremes that constantly play against and with each other and cannot exist without the other.

Human beings are seen as a microcosm of the universe, and for example comprise the Wu Xing in form of the zang-fu organs. As a consequence, it is believed that deeper understanding of the universe can be achieved by understanding oneself.

 

 

The taijitu (simplified Chinese: 太极图; traditional Chinese: 太極圖; pinyin: tàijítú; commonly known as the "yin and yang symbol" or simply the "yin yang") as well as the bagua 八卦 ("Eight Trigrams") are associated with Taoist symbolism.[102] The taijitu is not an exclusive symbol of Taoism, however. While almost all Taoist organizations make use of it, one could actually also call it Confucian, Neo-Confucian or pan-Chinese. One is likely to see this symbol as decorations on Taoist organization flags and logos, temple floors, or stitched into clerical robes. According to Song dynasty sources, it originated around the 10th century. Previously, yin and yang were symbolized by a tiger and dragon.

Taoist temples may fly square or triangular flags. They typically feature mystical writing or diagrams and are intended to fulfill various functions including providing guidance for the spirits of the dead, to bring good fortune, increase life span, etc. Other flags and banners may be those of the gods or immortals themselves.

A zigzag with seven stars is sometimes displayed, representing the Big Dipper (or the Bushel, the Chinese equivalent). In the Shang Dynasty the Big Dipper was considered a deity, while during the Han Dynasty, it was considered a qi path of the circumpolar god, Taiyi.

Taoist temples in southern China and Taiwan may often be identified by their roofs, which feature dragons and phoenixes made from multi-colored ceramic tiles. They also stand for the harmony of yin and yang (with the phoenix being yin). A related symbol is the flaming pearl which may be seen on such roofs between two dragons, as well as on the hairpin of a Celestial Master. In general though, Chinese Taoist architecture has no universal features that distinguish it from other structures.