Taoism > What Is
What is Taoism?
There are several kinds of Taoism. The most known is the religious Taoism. It has gods, and rituals like any other religious system. There are also many mystical schools that follow esoteric disciplines in search of longevity and immortality, most of them dealing with alchemy recipes and breathing techniques.
In short, tao-chia Taoism is a way of life. Trying to define it, Alan Watts, perhaps the most important western author who wrote about Taoism, says:
Taoism [is] the way of man's cooperation with the course or trend of the natural world, whose principles we discover in the flow patterns of water, gas, an fire, which are subsequently memorialized or sculptured in those of stone and wood, and, later, in many forms of human art. (From Tao: The Watercourse Way).
Tao-chia is a way of life which tries to accommodate the tendencies of nature. But this approach is not a pure return to Mother Nature, so familiar to our New Age ideology. Rather it is a wisdom acquired by simply observing the flow of natural of things.
Everything we know about tao-chia Taoism - its concepts and ideas - come from Tao-te ching (The Classic of Tao and Te) ascribed to Lao-tzu.
This book explains what is Tao (the basic topic of tao-chia) and what should be the Taoist disciple's conduct in order to follow the Tao, which is his/her main goal.
Chuang-tzu further developed the ideas of Tao-te ching by means of short stories, most of them fictitious, parables and metaphors. There's also the Lieh-tzu's Book of the Perfect Emptiness and the text on Yang-tzu which ads more hints to the oldest basic stratum of the Taoist works.
We may also count among the Taoist sources the well-known I-ching (Book of Changes) used as divinatory means from the ancient times of Chou dynasty. I-ching includes the Taoist philosophy contained in its commentaries and advice.
Westerners, mainly interested in the worship of a personified god, have difficulty in conceiving such a philosophy. The missing of a god explains why tao-chia is still presented like a historical spiritual movement rather than a living tradition.
Still Taoism is not outdated. And what is worth, it is not necessary to retreat from the turmoil of the daily life to follow this ancient method of living.
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