What is Tao and Taoism
Taoism, an ancient Chinese tradition and religion, stretches back through the sands of time to a bygone era some 1,800 years ago. It was during this time that Master Zhang Taoling (张道陵) of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD) organized a religious Taoist group, forever altering the cultural, ideological, political, and economic fabric of ancient Chinese society. Yet, despite its historical importance, Taoist thought holds no concern for “God” or any religious tenets.
The literal English translation of the Chinese word Tao (道) is “way” or “path,” embodying the essence of Taoist thought as a journey or exploration of one’s inner self. For many Taoists, the definition of Tao can be extended to mean “method” or “principle,” giving rise to the proliferation of various philosophical and cultural tracts that utilize the term Tao in their titles or descriptions. However, within the Chinese language, the same written character can represent multiple meanings, allowing for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Taoism.
For Taoists, “being” is the embodiment of one’s desires and what they truly need. Recent years have witnessed a growing interest and respect in the West for the profound understanding of human nature and the inner wisdom presented in Taoist writings. To Lao Tzu (老 子), the Way is not merely a path, lifestyle, style of thinking, method, or principle. As with Zen teachings that developed after Taoism, the Tao is something of much greater subtlety. Like the enigmatic Zen Mind, the Tao can best be described as elusive, intangible, and mysterious. It is transcendental, infinite, and eternal, preceding even the birth of the universe.
Throughout the ages, countless commentaries and philosophical tracts have been written about Taoism, and numerous religious groups, rites, rituals, and ceremonies have formed around its teachings. However, over time, the pure Taoist teachings were reshaped and interpreted by many religious and spiritually-based schools. Unfortunately, many of the Taoist teachings were misunderstood, and there was often a tendency to view Taoism as a form of religious magic or metaphysical system in Chinese popular culture.
Despite this, the fundamental teachings of Taoism are best represented by the works of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. There are many similar ideas in the writings of both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, and it is universally accepted among students of Taoism that many of Chuang Tzu’s commentaries are specifically designed to clarify confusion one may experience concerning Lao Tzu’s teachings as presented in the Tao Te Ching.
Like Zen, some chapters of the Chuang Tzu are overtly paradoxical while others are subtle, though consistent in thought. What do they all mean? At the foundation of both Lao Tzu’s and Chuang Tzu’s writings is the idea that all that exists flows on a path of eternal cycles. Everything that “is” moves in one direction and when it reaches the peak of movement in that direction, like a pendulum, it reverts to its opposite, moving back to where it originated.
Moreover, the Taoist philosophy emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with nature, as it teaches that everything is interconnected and that we must respect and appreciate the natural world around us. Additionally, it encourages individuals to cultivate a sense of humility, simplicity, and contentment, emphasizing the importance of being present in the moment and embracing the simple pleasures of life.
In essence, Taoism is a philosophy that encourages individuals to live in harmony with themselves, others, and the natural world around them. By embracing the principles of Taoism, individuals can cultivate a deeper sense of inner peace, contentment, and fulfillment, as they learn to live in alignment with the natural flow of life.
The Tаоiѕt paradoxes, oft-discussed and studied, are as elusive as they are intriguing. Futilitу, non-resistance, preservation through ѕurrеndеr – concepts that seem at odds with reason, yet remain central to Tаоiѕt philosophy.
To surrender to the Tao is to preserve oneself, to be one with the essence of reality. It is a paradox, yes, but one that holds the key to true enlightenment. For those who seek to understand the Tao, there is no easy path. But through perseverance, through surrender to the essence of reality, one can find the truest form of existence.