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.

There's also a branch called tao-chia - the school of Tao or of unity with the Tao - developed by the famous Taoist masters Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu.

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 the natural world. 

  • Taoism sources

Everything we know about tao-chia Taoism - its concepts and practice - 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 to the oldest basic stratum of the Taoist teachings.

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  in its commentaries and advice.

  • Taoism and the Western World

Chuang-tzu, the famous Lao-tzu's disciple
Chuang-tzu, the famous Lao-tzu's disciple, explained and expanded the Taoist wisdom
The religious Taoism resembles Christian and other such religious systems. But tao-chia is not equaled by any known Western system.

Westerners, mainly interested in the worship of a personified god, have difficulty in understanding the meaning and use of Taoist 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 way to live.

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