Taoism also known and pronounced as Daoism is a philosophy that originated in ancient China around the 6th century. It emerged from the philosophies and religions in China at the time and is encompassed in a text known as the Tao Te Ching which is a book of wise and sometimes seemingly paradoxical and ambiguous insights that are about how we relate to the world and the flow of life; what is referred to as ‘the way’ or ‘the Tao’. The Tao cannot be fully understood with words or the rational mind it can be considered as an understanding of energy, presence and the relation or bringing together of opposites. The Tao is to be lived and felt rather than conceptualized. In this article we consider how Taoism is different to other teachings. To do this we will firstly delve into more detail on some of the key elements and philosophies of Taoism and then with more understanding consider the differences that can be observed between other eastern and western teachings and Taoism.
What is Taoism?
In the points below, we shall learn more about some of the key elements and philosophies within Taoism.
- Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching is the central text of Taoism, it is said to have been written by the old sage Lau Tzu. The subject of this book can be simply described by the translation of the title: ‘Tao’ meaning the way, ‘Te’ meaning virtue or integrity and ‘Ching’ meaning great book. This great book contains chapters and short poignant verses that contain the insights of Taoism. The verses often contain seemingly contradictory statements that invoke the perspectives of the Tao within the reader. An example of a small excerpt from chapter fourteen of the Tao Te Ching that contemplates the philosophy of Taoism is as follows;
‘ Look, it cannot be seen- it is beyond form. Listen, it cannot be heard-it is beyond sound. Grasp, it cannot be held- it is intangible. These three are indefinable; therefore they are joined as one.’
- Yin Yang balance
Taoism embraces the idea of Yin and Yang being the perfect and natural balance of life. That the balance of life is the interdependence of opposites; life and death, light and dark, good and evil, pleasure and pain, stagnation and motion, the most fundamental experiences cannot exist fully without the other. Acknowledging this is central to a Taoist approach to life. This blending of opposites and acceptance of paradox is to see the true nature of the universe and know that all experiences are as they should be in each present moment.
- Knowledge of oneself
A Taoist approach to life naturally fosters an internal exploration of the self, finding an internal balance so that we can navigate everyday human experiences with knowledge of the eternal nature of the spirit that animates all that is us and the world.
- Living in harmony with the Tao
The essence of Taoism is an everyday practice and embodiment of living in harmony with the Tao or the Way. It is not fully understood through conceptualization but rather through feeling, knowing, being and daily lived experience. The Tao can be easier experienced when we are fully aware in the present moment. Sentiments which describe the nature of the Tao can be found in the chapters of the Tao Te Ching. An example of one of many insightful verses that invokes an understanding of the Tao taken from the very first chapter of the Tao Te Ching is as follows: ‘The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth’. To know the Tao is to see the ultimate nature of reality.
- Wu Wei
Wu Wei is a concept that is part of Daoism, it is a Chinese word that translates to ‘effortless action’ and is the practice of going with the flow. Taoist acknowledges that all in nature and life is in perfect order and so all that is needed is to be fully in the present moment and go with the flow. Being at peace while engaging in the tasks and experiences that arise throughout life. Letting go of ideals and plans and respond to the present moment, surrendering to nature.
How is Taoism different?
Now that we have a better understanding of Taoism this section of the article will delve into how it differs from teachings from other religions and spiritualities. Taoism is different to both eastern and western religions in that it is non- attached to a specific god or deities as ruler. The Tao acknowledges nature, we and everything around us as a system of sacred energy in itself. It is not about the world events being dictated by a specific deity but rather acknowledges the intelligence and interconnection of nature and yin and yang concepts that make up the happenings of life. Taoism entrusts the experience of life to each individual person and their relation to the inner and outer worlds as oppose to most religions which focus on the individual worshipping and having faith in some higher power.
Taoism is also different from other spiritualities and religious teachings in that it embraces contradiction and paradox as an essential part of life and spiritual understand. Most mainstream religions have clear instructions on what is considered right and wrong and what actions are considered moral, Taoism embraces both light and dark as equally spiritual and necessary experiences. Following the Way or the Tao most essentially asks for presence and embodied acknowledgment of what is; this differs from many other teachings as most spiritual or religious teachings suggest specific and dedicated ritual practices as part of their teachings.
The teachings of Taoism as a philosophy and way of life are very accepting and non-judgmental and this has made it a very popular philosophy for modern-day open-minded individuals who wish to easily embody a spiritual way of life. Living with an awareness of the Tao and considerations of Taoism can provide a simple and effective way to spiritually navigate the diversity of modern life as it evolves in each present moment. In closing we will part with another small but potent verse from the Tao Te Ching, it goes as follows;
‘In dwelling, be close to the land. In meditation, go deep in the heart. In dealing with others, be gentle and kind. In speech, be true. In ruling, be just. In daily life, be competent. In action, be aware of the time and the season.’
__Written by Music Of Wisdom team