Taoism is a Chinese philosophy and a religion that developed from it. Taoism ranks with Buddhism and Confucianism as one of China’s great systems of ethical and religious thought. Many scholars, both Western and Oriental, study the Taoist philosophy. The philosophy’s emphasis on man’s oneness with nature has had a strong influence on Chinese art and on the development of Zen Buddhism.
Thesis Statement: The purpose of this study is to: (1) know the historic development of the religion including its founder; (2) be aware of the basic beliefs, practices and sacred writings associated with the religion; (3) figure out the value and impact that the religion has added to society and compare it to Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Shinto.
A. History of Daoism
According to tradition, The Way and Its Virtue was written in the sixth century B.C. by a Chinese philosopher name Lao-tzu. He is regarded as the founder of Taoism. The Taoist religion probably began to develop in the second century A.D. It combined the Taoist philosophy with ideas and practices from other philosophies and religions, especially Buddhism.
By the end of the fifth century A.D., the Taoist religion had priesthood, temples, rituals, a system of ethical teachings, and a belief in many gods. Taoist priests, however, began to emphasize the practice of alchemy and the religion became increasingly superstitious in nature, embracing such practices as fortune-telling, sorcery, and charm selling. After the Communists came to power in 1949, Taoist monasteries and temples were closed and Taoist organizations were suppressed, but the religion persisted among the peasant population.
The chief book of Taoism, The Way and Its Virtue (Tao Te Ching), teaches that those who want to be happy must become part of Tao (“The Way”). To Taoists, Tao is “the path that natural things follow” or “the totality of all that is spontaneous.” A person becomes part of Tao by retreating from civilization to mediate on his oneness with nature. The central Taoist principle is wu wei (“do nothing”), meaning that one should do nothing forced or artificial—only be natural and spontaneous.
Taoism emphasizes avoidance of extremes, acceptance of the natural course of events, and simplicity in political and social organization. Taoists believe that the simple, primitive life is the happiest because it is closest to nature and the efforts to control events, acquire learning, or abide by rules are unnatural and bring unhappiness.
A. Its Founder and the basic beliefs, practices and sacred writings associated with the religion.
Lao-Tzu. The book of the semilegendary Lao-tzu, the Tao-te Ching, is a collection of aphorisms whose precise meanings are often difficult to ascertain. The general drift of the thinking, however, is clear enough. In terms of Western philosophy, it points to a naturalistic view of reality, leading to ethical individualism and philosophical anarchism.
Reality. Here encounters the first attempt at ontology (the branch of philosophy that is concerned with being or reality) in ancient Chinese philosophy. “There is a thing formless yet complete, which comes into being before heaven and earth. Silent, immaterial, it stands alone, unchanging. All-pervading and inexhaustible, it is the mother of all under heaven. I do not know its name, but I call it “The way” (Tao).” The process which leads from Tao to ‘The Way’ (Tao).” The process which leads from Tao to tangible, individual existences is a transition from simplicity to multiplicity. “Tao begets One; One begets Two; Two begets Three; Three begets myriad things.”
Art of living. The best way for a man to conduct himself is to follow nature (Tao), in other words, to follow his own instinct (Te). He should always abide by the principle of spontaneity, be “self-so,” and not reach for or hanker after anything that lies beyond his Te. And in view of the fact that when a thing advances beyond a certain point, it passes into its opposite, one should let well enough alone and never overreach or overdo. “He who hoards most will suffer the heaviest losses; he who knows contentment can never be annihilated; he who knows where to stop can never be perishable.” Therefore “the sage avoids excesses, extravagance, and indulgence.”
Fore the same reason, one who wishes to attain an end should move in a direction opposite to it. Stoop in order to conquer. “it is the way of heaven not to contend, yet proficiently it wins victory.” On the other hand, “the darling and violent do not die a natural death.” Therefore, the sage, in order to be above the people, must in words keep below them; in order to be ahead of the people, must in person stay behind them. Thus when he is above, the people do not feel his burden; when he is ahead, they do not his hindrance. Consequently, the entire world is pleased to honor him. Because he does not compete, no one competes with him.
Arduous cultivation of moral virtues is against nature. Benevolence, righteousness, propriety appear only when men have lost their primitive simplicity and perfection, through the artificialities which they invented. Morality as well as law laws to confusion instead of human happiness.
B. The value and impact that the Taoism has added to society and compare it to Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Shinto.
In Taoism, if noncontention is the way of personal happiness, then tolerance is the key to good government. Any effort to make the people conform to what ruler deems right is harmful because this involves inference with their natural inclinations. The more restrictions and prohibitions there are, the poorer the people become. “The more laws and regulations are given, the more robbers and thieves there are.” But “when the government inarticulate, the people will be contented.”
Buddhism. Although Buddhism was originally a reform movement that rejected certain beliefs and practices of Hinduism, the two religions have several important beliefs in common. Among them are reincarnation, the ideas that a living thing can be reborn in a new body; the law of karma, which holds that events in life are effects whose cause lies in previous lives and acts; and liberation, or salvation, the state of being free of the law of karma and rebirth. According to Buddhism, liberation is attained through understanding and practice of the Four Noble Truths:
There is suffering in life. Suffering is caused by desire for pleasure, existence, and prosperity.
3. Suffering and rebirth cease when one ceases such desires, leading to enlightenment, or Nirvana, a blessed state in which peace, harmony, and joy are attained.
The way, or path, to Nirvana is the Eightfold Path, summarized as:
Right understanding Right thoughts Right speech Right conduct Right occupation Right effort Right mindfulness Right meditation
The Eightfold Path is also called the Middle Way—because of its emphasis on avoiding such extremes as following sensuous pleasures on the one hand, and self-punishment on the other. The Buddhists must at all times observe in the high moral principles described in the Eightfold path, which emphasizes nonviolence and the brotherhood of all.
Confucianism. Confucianism has deeply influenced Chinese culture. Its precepts, always practical, emphasize man and his society, in contrasts to Taoism, which emphasizes nature. Confucianism sees spiritual development in terms of moral conduct in this life; it lacks completely the mysticism and concern with the hereafter found in Buddhism. However, the Chinese people did not find the three religions contradictory and many of them adhered to all three.
Confucianism teaches the practices of benevolence and love, or Jen, and the harmonious development of things, or the Doctrine of the Mean. Confucius believed that development of Jen begins with filial piety. His social goals included the harmonious development of family life, a well-ordered state, and the world at peace. Rules of etiquette, propriety, and ceremony serve to order human relations; observing them is an expression of reverence. The Confucian superior man is one who establishes his own character by first helping others to establish their own. He is sincere and shows a harmony of emotion that is without anxiety or fear.
Jainism. Jainism is a religion of India and an off-soot of Hinduism. The name is from the Sanskrit jina (“conqueror”) and implies man’s spiritual conquest over his material nature. According to Jainism, salvation, or nirvana, can be attained only after many years of extreme asceticism, which involves abstention from sex for pleasure; renunciation of material wealth; and much fasting. Jains also practice ahimsa, or non-injury to animals, even insects.
Sikhism. Sikhism is an Asian religion, centering in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. Sikhs believe in one God. Their sacred scripture is the Granth Sahib (Lord Book). Sikh men wear long hair, untrimmed beards, and turbans.
Hinduism. Hinduism is the religion of the great majority of the people of India. The word comes from the Sanskrit sindhu, “river,” and originally referred to the Indus. Hinduism is actually a collection of many native Indian religions, past and present. It is responsible for the social structure of India, especially for the caste system (a hereditary class system).
The oldest of the world’s great religions, Hinduism is the only one without a founder. It has never tried to win converts by force and has always tolerated other religions and absorbed ideas from them. Hinduism has about 20 sects, with beliefs that range from primitive forms of animism to the highest reaches of mysticism and philosophy. Many of the sects and cults seem to be separate religions. Yet all have a family relationship since they spring from common traditions and thrive on the conditions peculiar to India. Most have a mystic strain and all stress nonviolence.
Shinto. Shinto or Shintoism is a major Japanese religion. It is based on tradition and social institutions, and has no formal doctrine. Worship takes the form of a purification rite at a shrine.
Shinto, which means “Way of the Gods,” began as a simple form of nature worship. Foremost among its thousands of deities was Amaterasu, the sun goddess. Added later were spirits of a few emperors and national heroes.
As a conclusion, based on my research, Taoism is more on practicality and reasoning. It simply talk about human happiness prevails in a society of idyllic and simplicity. They are taught to regard death as grave matter and not to go far away. They are made to restore the use of knotted cords [to replace writing]. They feel satisfied with their food, pleased with their dress and comfortable in their dwellings, happy with their customs. What I admire in this belief is that it teaches about contentment in life and just be happy of what heaven has entrusted to our hands.