Taoism (Daoism) is the English name referring to a variety of related Chinese philosophical and religious traditions and concepts. These traditions influenced East Asia for over two thousand years and some have spread internationally. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao; namely, compassion, moderation, and humility. Taoist thought focuses on wu wei ("non-action"), spontaneity, humanism, and emptiness.
The Chinese character 道The character Tao 道 (or Dao, depending on the romanisation scheme) means "path" or "way", but in Chinese religion and philosophy it has taken on more abstract meanings. Tao is rarely an object of worship, being treated more like the Central Asian concepts of atman and dharma. The word "Taoism" is used to translate different Chinese terms. Daojiao/Taochiao (道教 "teachings/religion of the Dao") refers to Daoism as a religion. Daojia/Taochia (道家 "school of the Dao") refers to the studies of scholars, or "philosophical" Daoism. However, most scholars have abandoned the dichotomy of "religious" and "philosophical" Daoism.
Most traditional Chinese Taoists are polytheistic. Nature and ancestor spirits are also common in popular Taoism. Organized Taoism distinguishes its ritual activity from that of the folk religion, which some professional Taoists (Daoshi) view as debased. This sort of shamanism is eschewed for an emphasis on internal alchemy among the "elite" Taoists.
Chinese alchemy, astrology, cuisine, several Chinese martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine, fengshui, and many styles of qigong breath training disciplines are intertwined with Taoism throughout history.
Taoism has never been a unified religion and has always consisted of different teachings based on many different original revelations. Therefore different branches of Taoism often have very different beliefs. Nevertheless, there are certain core beliefs that all the schools share.
Taoist theology focuses on doctrines of wu wei ("non-action"), spontaneity, humanism, relativism and emptiness. This philosophical aspect of Taoism emphasizes various themes found in the Tao Te Ching (道德經) such as naturalness, vitality, peace, "non-action" (wu wei), emptiness (refinement), detachment, the strength of softness (or flexibility), and in the Zhuangzi such as receptiveness, spontaneity, the relativism of human ways of life, ways of speaking and guiding behavior.
Tao can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order. Tao is believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered. Tao is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. The flow of qi, as the essential energy of action and existence, is compared to the universal order of Tao. Tao is compared to what it is not, like the negative theology of Western scholars. It is often considered to be the source of both existence and non-existence
Tao is also associated with a "proper" attitude, morality and lifestyle. This is intimately tied to the complex concept of "Te" (德), or literally "virtue". Te is the active expression of Tao. Taoism generally expresses this as "integrity" or "wholeness". Tao is considered a "way", while Te is the active living, or cultivation, of that "way".
Wu wei (Traditional Chinese characters: 無為 Simplified Chinese characters: 无为) is a central concept in Taoism. The literal meaning of "wu wei" is "without action". It is often expressed by the paradox wei wu wei, meaning "action without action" or "effortless doing". The practice and efficacy of wu wei are fundamental in Chinese thought, most prominently emphasized in Taoism. The goal of wu wei is alignment with Tao, revealing the soft and invisible power within all things. It is believed by Taoists that masters of wu wei can control this invisible potential, the inate yin-action of the Way. In ancient Taoist texts, wu wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Water is soft and weak, it is noted, but it can move earth and carve stone. Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts that harmony. Taoism does not identify man's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that man must place his will in harmony with the natural universe.
Pu (樸) is translated as "uncarved block" or "simplicity". It is a metaphor for the state of "wu wei" (無為) and the principle of "jian" (儉). It represents a passive state of receptiveness. Pu" is a symbol for a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice. In this state, Taoists believe everything is seen as it is, without preconceptions or illusion. Pu is seen as keeping oneself in the primordial state of "tao". It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge or experiences. In the state of pu, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. There is only pure experience, or awareness, free from learned labels and definitions. It is this state of being that is the goal of following wu wei.
Taoists believe that man is a microcosm for the universe. The body ties directly into the Chinese five elements. The five organs correlate with the five elements, the five directions and the seasons. Akin to the "neoplatonic maxim" of "as above, so below", Taoism posits that by understanding himself, man may gain knowledge of the universe.
In Taoism, even beyond Chinese folk religion, various rituals, exercises, and substances are said to positively affect one's physical health. They are also intended to align oneself spiritually with cosmic forces, or enable ecstatic spiritual journeys. These concepts seem basic to Taoism in its elite forms. Internal alchemy and various rituals are intended to extend life, even to the point of immortality. Immortals, their actions and their relationships with the gods and natural forces form a significant portion of Taoist mythology.
Nations that practice Taoism
Bao You has a minority, about 5 percent, that are professed Taoists. However Taoism, is not really a minority religion, for it assimiliated into a way of life of all peoples of Bao You.