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Taoism Portal

What is Taoism?

Character Tao: 道
Symbols of the Tao.

Taoism, or Daoism, is a philosophical and religious tradition of Chinese origin 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 and the driving force behind everything that exists. It is ultimately ineffable: "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao."[1]

While Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the tenets of the School of Yin Yang, 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 its keystone work. Together with the writings of Zhuangzi, these two texts build the philosophical foundation of Taoism. This philosophical Taoism, individualistic by nature, is not institutionalized.

Institutionalized forms, however, evolved over time in the shape of a number of different schools. Taoist schools traditionally feature reverence for Laozi, immortals or ancestors, along with a variety of divination and exorcism rituals, and practices for achieving ecstasy, longevity or immortality.

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

Taoism has had profound influence on Chinese culture in the course of the centuries, and clerics of institutionalised Taoism (Chinese: 道士; pinyin: dàoshi) usually take care to note distinction between their ritual tradition and the customs and practices found in Chinese folk religion as these distinctions sometimes appear blurred. Chinese alchemy (especially neidan), Chinese astrology, Chan (Zen) Buddhism, several martial arts, Traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui, and many styles of qigong have been intertwined with Taoism throughout history. Beyond China, Taoism also had influence on surrounding societies in Asia.

Featured deity

The Three Pure Ones (Chinese: 三清; pinyin: Sānqīng) are the three highest Taoist deities, representing the three levels of manifestation of the Tao, the origin of all being. They are:

From the Tao Te Ching, it is held that «the Tao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced all things». It is generally agreed that: Tao produced One—Wuji produced Taiji; One produced Two—Taiji produced yin and yang [or Liangyi (兩儀) in scholastic term]. However, the subject of how Two produced Three has remained a popular debate among Taoist scholars. Most scholars believe that it refers to the Interaction between yin and yang, with the presence of qi, or life force.[2]

The Tao, or the source of the universe, is itself personified in some theologies as Hongjun Laozu (鸿钧老祖, "Ancestor of the Great Balance"). In other theologies it is the Taiyi Tianzun (太乙天尊, "Heavenly Lord of the Great Oneness"), or simply Taiyi ("Great Oneness"), represented as a lord riding a lion. In its pre-creating, pre-ordering phase it is the Hundun Wuji Yuanshi Tianwang (混沌無極元始天王, the "Heavenly Ruler of the Indeterminate Chaos", or "Great One of the Infinite Chaos").

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Hall of the Big Dipper of the Changchun Temple, a Taoist temple in Wuhan.

Selected scripture

1770 Wang Bi edition of the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao Te Ching, Daodejing, or Dao De Jing (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Dàodéjīng), also simply referred to as the Laozi,[3][4] is a Chinese classic text.

According to tradition, it was written around 6th century BC by the sage Laozi (or Lao Tzu, "Old Master"), a record-keeper at the Zhou dynasty court, by whose name the text is known in China. The text's true authorship and date of composition or compilation are still debated,[5] although the oldest excavated text dates back to the late 4th century BC.[3]

The text is fundamental to both philosophical and religious Taoism and strongly influenced other schools, such as Legalism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, which when first introduced into China was largely interpreted through the use of Daoist words and concepts.

Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and even gardeners have used the Daodejing as a source of inspiration. Its influence has also spread widely outside East Asia, and is amongst the most translated works in world literature.[3]

The Wade–Giles romanization "Tao Te Ching" dates back to early English transliterations in the late 19th century; its influence can be seen in words and phrases that have become well-established in English. "Daodejing" is the pinyin romanization.

Featured school

Tao Hongjing, responsible for the compilation of Shangqing texts.

The Shangqing (Chinese: 上清; pinyin: Shàngqīng; literally: "Highest Clarity") school of Taoism began during the aristocracy of the Western Jin dynasty. The first leader of the school was Wei Huacun (251-334), but Tao Hongjing (456-536), who structured the theory and practice and compiled the canon, is often considered to be its true founder.

His prestige greatly contributed to the development of the school that took place near the end of the 5th century. The mountain near Nanjing where Tao Hongjing had his retreat, Maoshan (茅山), today remains the principal seat of the school.

Shangqing practice values meditation techniques of visualization and breathing, as well as physical exercises, as opposed to the use of alchemy and talismans. The recitation of the sacred canon plays an equally important role.

The practice was essentially individualistic, contrary to the collective practices in the Way of the Celestial Masters or in Lingbao Taoism.

Recruiting from high social classes, during the Tang dynasty, Shangqing was the dominant school of Daoism, and its influence is found in literature of the time period. The importance of the school only began to diminish beginning from the second half of the Song dynasty. Under the Yuan dynasty, the movement was known by the name Maoshan and the focus changed from meditation to rituals and talismans.

In the 21st century, Maoshan Taoism is still practiced but its current techniques are very different from the original techniques by the school.

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The White Cloud Temple in Beijing hosts the headquarters of the Chinese Taoist Association.

Chinese Taoist Association (Chinese: 中国道教协会), founded in April 1957, is the main association of Taoism in the People's Republic of China. It is recognized as one of the main religious associations in the People's Republic of China, and is overseen by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Dozens of regional and local daoist associations are included in this overarching group, which is encouraged by the government to be a bridge between Chinese Taoists and the government, to encourage a patriotic merger between Taoism and government initiatives.

The group also disseminates information on traditional Taoist topics, including forums and conferences. The association was a major sponsor of the 2007 International Forum on the Tao Te Ching. The Chinese Taoist Association advocates the recompensation of losses inflicted on Taoism by the Cultural Revolution. Taoism was banned for several years in the People's Republic of China during that period.

The Chinese Taoist Association advocates ecology. This can be explained by the fact that Taoism places a special significance to nature. As they put it, people should live in harmony with nature instead of trying to conquer it.



Temple of Xuanwu of the Wudang Mountains, sites of the Wudang Taoist tradition.

Taoism has many schools or denominations, of which none occupies a position of orthodoxy.

Taoist branches usually build their identity around a set of scriptures, that are manuals of ritual practices. Scriptures are considered "breathwork", that is "configurations of energy" (qi), embodiments of "celestial patterns" (tianwen), or "revelations of structures" (li).

Among the major ones are the Quanzhen, the Zhengyi, the Maoshan and the Lingbao school.

Featured person

Laozi leaving, riding his water buffalo.

Laozi was a philosopher and poet of ancient China. He is best known as the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of Taoism.

Although a legendary figure, he is usually dated to around the 6th century BC and reckoned a contemporary of Confucius, but some historians contend that he actually lived during the Warring States period of the 5th or 4th century BC.

A central figure in Chinese culture, Laozi is claimed by both the emperors of the Tang dynasty and modern commonfolk of the Li family as a founder of their lineage.

Taoist masters

A Taoist master in Beijing.

Daoshi (道士, "master of the Tao") refers to a priest in Taoism. In some schools they practice asceticism in the mountains and alchemy, with the aim of becoming xian, "mountain men" or "holy men".

The activities of the daoshi tend to be informed by materials which may be found in the Daozang, or Daoist canon; however, daoshi generally choose, or inherit, specific texts which have been passed down for generations from teacher to student, rather than consulting published versions of these works. They can perform a variety of ceremonies and practices, depending on the school they belong.

Today there are two dominant priesthoods. That of Quanzhen Taoism, which is dominant in the northern half of China, which masters are monks, in that they are celibate, vegetarian, and live in monasteries. One of the most known ones is the White Cloud Temple in Beijing.

The other main priesthood is that of Zhengyi Taoism, in which the priests can marry, eat meat, and live in their own homes. They are mostly priests part-time and can hold other jobs. They are dominant in southern China.

Featured concept

Wu wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無為; pinyin: wúwéi) is an important concept in Taoism that literally means non-action or non-doing. In the Tao Te Ching, Laozi explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way.

As the planets revolve around the sun, they "do" this revolving, but without "doing" it. As trees grow, they simply grow without trying to grow. Thus knowing how and when to act is not knowledge in the sense that one would think, "now I should do this", but rather just doing it, doing the natural thing. The goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Laozi, the attainment of this natural way of behaving.

In the original Taoist texts, wu wei is often associated with water and its yielding nature. Although water is soft and weak, it has the capacity to erode solid stone and move mountains. Water is without will (that is, the will for a shape), though it may be understood to be opposing wood, stone, or any solid aggregated material that can be broken into pieces.

Due to its nature and propensity, water may potentially fill any container, assume any shape; given the water cycle water may potentially go "anywhere", even into the minutest holes, both metaphorical and actual. Droplets of water, when falling as rain, gather in watersheds, flowing into and forming rivers of water, joining the sea: this is the nature of water.

Featured practice

Taoist meditation refers to the traditional meditative practices associated with the Chinese philosophy and religion of Taoism, including concentration, mindfulness, contemplation, and visualization.

Techniques of Taoist meditation are historically interrelated with Buddhist meditation, for instance, 6th-century Taoists developed guan 觀 "observation" insight meditation from Tiantai Buddhist anapanasati "mindfulness of breath" practices.

Traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts have adapted certain Taoist meditative techniques. Some examples are daoyin "guide and pull" breathing exercises, neidan "internal alchemy" techniques, neigong "internal skill" practices, qigong breathing exercises, zhan zhuang "standing like a post", and taijiquan "great ultimate fist" techniques.

Demographic map

The demographic diffusion of Taoism according to the most recent statistical data.

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  1. ^ Laozi. "Tao Te Ching, 1. chapter, translated by Livia Kohn (1993)". Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  2. ^ (Chinese) Yang, Chaoping (December 1, 2007). "道德經第四十二章‧「道生一,一生二,二生三,三生萬物。」". 
  3. ^ a b c "Laozi". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Stanford University. 
  4. ^ "The Tao Teh King, or the Tao and its Characteristics by Laozi - Project Gutenberg". Gutenberg.org. 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  5. ^ Mircea Eliade. A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. p.26