B. C. Lao-tzu, an elder contemporary of Confucius, is considered the founder of Taoism. His teachings described in the Tao-te ching

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Also known as Daoism, Taoism originated as a philosophy in ancient China during the Period of Warring States from ca. 475 to 221 B.C. Lao-tzu, an elder contemporary of Confucius, is considered the founder of Taoism. His teachings described in the Tao-te ching, Taoism’s most important text.

The Tao-te ching provided the foundation for a philosophical Taoism that came to dominate imperial courts throughout much of China until the second century A.D., when a religious form of Taoism evolved in the province of Sichuan (Szechuan). Zhang Daoling, an important teacher of Taoism, claimed to receive a revelation from Lao-tzu, who instructed him to implement his "orthodox and sole doctrine of the authority of the covenant." Zhang Daoling later earned the title "heavenly master." A succession of followers, also called heavenly masters, founded an independent organization to instruct the faithful on the work of Lao-tzu, with an emphasis on teaching the right actions and good works. Heavenly masters often acquired influential roles in Chinese courts as intermediaries between the ruler and the people. By A.D. 300, most of the powerful families in northern China had become adherents of Taoism. As Taoism spread, the heavenly masters practiced increasingly diverse and elaborate ceremonies and rituals, including hygienic and respiratory techniques, exorcisms, and other activities. They also organized a system of temples and hereditary priesthoods. Some Taoist sects developed monasteries where religious communities facilitated everyday observance of Taoist meditation, liturgy, hygiene, and other matters. Even today, some in China practice Taoism as a religion, while some follow it as a philosophy.

In the fourth century, Buddhism made significant inroads into China, and the two religions/philosophies, although very similar, were at constant odds with each other. By the sixth century, Buddhism had overtaken Taoism as the dominant religion in China.

Major Beliefs

Do you believe in fate? If so, then you have something in common with millions of believes of Taoism. Taoism is all about harmonizing your life with the Tao. The Tao is an imperceptible state that exists in nature. It is a purposeless, amoral, and impersonal cosmic entity that serves as the underpinning for everything that exists. "Look, it cannot be seen—it is beyond form," states the Tao-te ching. "Listen, it cannot be heard—it is beyond sound. Grasp, it cannot be held—it is intangible." In a western sense, the Tao is a force that determines one’s fate. Believers of Taoism attempt to harmonize their actions with the Tao, essentially leaving everything to fate.

The Tao is often represented as a harmony between opposing forces. As such, the yin-yang is the religious symbol of Taoism. The yang represents good, masculine, warmth, and positive principles. The yin represents cold, feminine, evil, and negative principles.

Tao religious practices are aimed at allowing people to discover the Tao through a variety of rituals and ceremonies. The goal is to strip a person of the cluttering outside influences that obstruct his or her understanding of the cosmic Tao forces and allow him or her to become one with the Tao. Taoists discourage passions and emotions that deflect the spiritual power of the Tao. They encourage the mastery of the physical senses so that they can be used to focus on the Tao. The avenues for understanding are many. Perhaps the most important of the Taoist contemplative practices is the shouyi (or "meditating on the One") in visualization exercises of the heavenly bodies and planets.

Taoism Questions:

  1. Who was the founder of Taoism? What was its most important text?

  1. Is Taoism a religion or a philosophy? Why?

  1. Which religion replaced Taoism in China by 400 A.D.?

  1. What is the Tao?

  1. What are the basic beliefs of Taoism?

  1. What is the yin-yang? What does it have to do with Taoism?

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