Tao (pronounced "Dow")
can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way. It is
basically indefinable. It has to be experienced. It "refers to a power
which envelops, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living."
The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe. It
embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no
light without dark, no male without female.)"
The founder of Taoism is believed by
many to be Lao-Tse (604-531 B.C.), a contemporary of Confucius. He was searching
for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that
disrupted society during his lifetime. What
a curious life this was for the supposed founder of a religion. He didn't
preach; he didn't organize a church. He wrote a few pages, rode off on a water
buffalo, and that as far as he was concerned was the end of the matter.
Here was a man so little concerned with the success of his own ideas, to say
nothing of fame and fortune, that he didn't even stay around to answer
questions. And yet, whether the story of this life be fact or fiction, it is so
true to Taoist values that it will remain a part of the religion forever.
The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching.
Taoism started as a combination of
psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religious faith in 440 A.D. when it
was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated
as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism,
became one of the three great religions of China. With the end of the Ch'ing
Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was
destroyed during the next period of warlordism. After the Communist victory in
1949, religious freedom was severely restricted.
Taoism is primarily centered in Taiwan. Taoism has had a significant impact on North American culture in
areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and
There is a long history of involvement by
Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. 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
They believe Tao is the first-cause of the
universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
They believe it is their goal to become
one with the Tao.
The priesthood views the many gods
as manifestations of the one Tao. 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.
They believe time is cyclical, not linear as in
They believe Yin (dark side) is the breath that
formed the earth. Yang (light side) is the breath that formed the heavens.
They symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen throughout the universe,
such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. Intervention by
human civilization upsets the balances of Yin and Yang. The symbol of
Taoism, represents Yin and Yang in balance.
the Tao surrounds everyone and
therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.
They believe the five main organs and orifices of the
body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and
They believe each person must nurture the Ch'i
(air, breath) that has been given to them.
They believe the development of virtue is one's chief
task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.
They believe in following 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.