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Taoism (a.k.a. Daoism)

Concepts, beliefs, practices, symbol,
names, Tai Chi, courses, & objects


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Taoist concepts, beliefs and practices:

bullet Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.

bullet "The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment." 1

bullet A believer's goal is to harmonize themselves with the Tao.

bullet Taoism has provided an alternative to the Confucian tradition in China. The two traditions have coexisted in the country, region, and often within the same individual.

bullet The priesthood views the many gods as manifestations of the one Dao, "which could not be represented as an image or a particular thing." The concept of a personified deity is foreign to them, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.

bullet In contrast with the beliefs and practices of the priesthood, most of the laity have  "believed that spirits pervaded nature...The gods in heaven acted like and were treated like the officials in the world of men; worshipping the gods was a kind of rehearsal of attitudes toward secular authorities. On the other hand, the demons and ghosts of hell acted like and were treated like the bullies, outlaws, and threatening strangers in the real world; they were bribed by the people and were ritually arrested by the martial forces of the spirit officials." 2

bullet Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.

bullet Taoists strongly promote health and vitality.

bullet Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.

bullet Each person must nurture the Ch'i (air, breath) that has been given to them.

bullet Development of virtue is one's chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.

bullet Taoists follow the art of "wu wei," which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; do not erect a dam which would interfere with its natural flow.

bullet One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.

bullet A Taoist is kind to other individuals, in part because such an action tends to be reciprocated.

bullet Taoists believe that "people are compassionate by nature...left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward." 3

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The Yin Yang symbol:

This is a well known Taoist symbol. "It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray." 1One source explains that it was derived from astronomical observations which recorded the shadow of the sun throughout a full year. 3 The two swirling shapes inside the symbol give the impression of change -- the only constant factor in the universe. One tradition states that Yin (the dark side) represents the breath that formed the earth. Yang (the light side) symbolizes the breath that formed the heavens.

One source states: "The most traditional view is that 'yin' represents aspects of the feminine: being soft, cool, calm, introspective, and healing... and "yang" the masculine: being hard, hot, energetic, moving, and sometimes aggressive. Another view has the 'yin' representing night and 'yang' day. 3 

Another source offers a different definition: A common misconception in the west is that "...yin is soft and passive and yang is hard and energetic. Really it is yang that is soft and yin that is hard, this is because yang is energetic and yin is passive.  Yin is like a rock and yang is like water or air, rock is heavy and hard and air is soft and energetic." 4

Allan Watts, describes the yin and yang as negative and positive energy poles: "The ideograms indicate the sunny and shady sides of a hill....They are associated with the masculine and the feminine, the firm and the yielding, the strong and the weak, the light and the dark, the rising and the falling, heaven and earth, and they are even recognized in such everyday matters as cooking as the spicy and the bland." 5,6

However, since nothing in nature is purely black or purely white, the symbol includes a small black spot in the white swirl, and a corresponding white spot in the black swirl.

Ultimately, the 'yin' and 'yang' can symbolize any two polarized forces in nature.  Taosts believe that humans often intervene in nature and upset the balance of Yin and Yang.

About the alternative names: Taoism or Daoism:

There are two commonly used systems for translating the Mandarin Chinese language into Roman letters:

bullet Wade-Giles: This system is commonly used in Taiwan and the U.S. The Chinese character for "Way" becomes "Tao," which leads to the English word "Taoism."

bullet Hanyu pinyin or Pinyin: This system was developed by the Chinese people and is now finding increased use worldwide. The "Way" becomes "Dao," which leads to the English word "Daoism." The "Dao" is pronounced like the "Dow" in "Dow-Jones Index."

We have chosen to emphasize the "Taoism" spelling. A Google search for "Taoism" returned 245,000 hits, whereas a search for "Daoism" returned only 35,000.

Tai Chi:

There is a long history of involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. 7 Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the body. It "stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi's rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality." Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body's "chi" (intrinsic energy). Tai Chi is believed to balance this energy flow.

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Taoist courses and objects:

bullet Lao Tzu and Taoism Revealed: A 40-day course delivered by email. You may learn more about the life and philosophy of Lao Tzu, including the study of Tao Te Ching, and concepts like tao, wu-wei, wu, and more. Register here. More information


bullet The LaoZi Academy in Sydney, Australia, teaches "... the fundamentals and secrets of ancient Daoist life. The Academy delivers clear and concise principles and practice methods used by ancient Daoist masters in the pursuit of health, happiness and longevity many thousands of years ago." See: http://www.laoziacademy.com/

bullet Mr. Sage's Philosophical Taoist Homepage's intent is to give a more scientific, astro-physics, philosophical, as well as traditional esoteric view on Taoism. See: http://members.aol.com/


bullet "Tao Resource" is a website that imports authentic Taoist products to help people improve their "personal or sacred space, to build a small Taoist shrine or even to construct a large Taoist temple." This site is well worth perusing. It has sections showing altar tables, bells & chimes, jewelry, statuary, personal altars, etc. See http://www.taoresource.com/ 

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Taoism," at: http://ssd1.cas.pacificu.edu/
  2. Arthur P. Wolf, "Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors," Pages 131-182; as quoted in Judith A. Berling, "Taoism, or the Way," at: http://www.askasia.org/
  3.  "Where does the Yin Yang Symbol come from?" Chinese Fortune Calendar, at: http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com/
  4. From a personal Email to ReligiousTolerance.org
  5. Alan Watts, "Tao - The Watercourse-Way", Pantheon Books, (1975), Page 21.
  6. "Tao te Ching, "The Nature of Polarity by Alan Watts," DivineTao.com, at: http://divinetao.com/
  7. "The Ying Yang symbol: What does it mean?" at: http://www.mvkarate.com/ (apparently now offline)

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Copyright © 1995 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original publishing date: 1995-JUN-3
Latest update on: 2011-JAN-15
Author. B.A. Robinson
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