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    Taoism: A Religion of Uniqueness and Open-Endedness

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    Throughout history, Taoism has been one of the most influentialreligions of Eastern culture. This is certainly one of the most uniqueof all religions. Many Taoists, in fact, do not even consider it areligion; and in many ways it is not. Taoists make no claim that theTao exists. 1 That is what essentially separates Taoism from the rest ofthe world religions: there is no heated debate or battle over Taoistdoctrine; there have been no crusades to spread the religion. The veryessence of Taoism is quite the opposite.

    Taoisms uniqueness andopen-endedness have allowed the religion to flourish almost undisturbedand unchanged for over two thousand years. The founder of Taoism was a man named Lao Tzu, who lived around theyear 604 B. C. E. According to Chinese legend, Lao Tzu was an archivistin the imperial library at Lo Yang was known for his knowledge, althoughhe never taught.

    2 When Lao Tzu left his position at the library, hewent to the Chinese province of Chou. At the border, however, he wasstopped and forced to write down his teachings. During this time, hewrote the Tao Te Ching, the major scripture of Taoism. 3After Lao Tzus death, a man named Yang Chu (440-366 B. C. E.

    ) took uphis teachings. 4 A naturalist and philosopher, Yang Chu believed highlyin self-regard and survival as the core of human nature and direction. His ideals were personal integrity and self-protection, and said that hewas unwilling to pluck one hair from his head even if all humanity wereto benefit from it. 5The next influential Taoist philosopher was Chang Tzu, who lived from350-275 B. C. E.

    He defined existence using Lao Tzus teachings. 6 Hewrote fifty-two books in response to the Tao Te Ching, thirty-three ofwhich still survive today. 7 Using exaggeration and fantasy, heillustrated Lao Tzus teachings and how the Tao acted in nature. Histheories spoke of a cosmic unity which encompasses all reality andguides it naturally, without force, to its proper end. 8The Yin and Yang theory became part of Taoist philosophy around 300B.

    C. E. when they were mentioned in the Hsi tzu, an appendix to the IChing. 9 Yin and Yang are defined as the two forces in nature. They areoften called the two breaths or chi. 10 Yin is the feminineprinciple, representing darkness, coolness, and dampness; Yang is themasculine principle, representing brightness, warmth, and dryness.

    11 Neither principle is good or bad; they are not opposites, but each isneeded to maintain stability in the universe. 12 This belief holds thateverything is defined through opposition; consequently, the virtues ofbalance and understanding are highly valued. 13Taoism became an official religion between 100 and 200 C. E. 14 Due tocompetition from Buddhism, Taoists adopted many Buddhist beliefs. During this pivotal point in the religions history, searching forself-knowledge and wisdom were replaced by searching for solutions tosorrows and other physical problems.

    15 Alchemy and superstition becamehighly popular during this period of time, as Taoists tried to escapereality rather than to control the artificial and unnatural. ManyTaoists used magic and the concept of Tao to try to extend the physicallife rather than to focus on the afterlife. 16 Gradually the religionbecomes more complicated, with a wide pantheon of gods and a rulinghierarchy. 17The leader Chang Ling took the title Heavenly Teacher in 200 C.

    E. Hecreated a dynasty of high priests who manipulated Taoism to support asuperstitious doctrine of magic and mysticism. 18 Seizing higher poweras a religious leader, he pioneered a merging of Taoism andZoroastrianism into a system called Five Bushels of Rice Taoism. Eventually this developed into a society based on Mazdaism, aZoroastrian sect, where every believer was charged five bushels ofrice.

    19 Although the believers followed the basic Zoroastrian worshipformat, they worshipped different gods: the Tao instead of Ahura-Mazda,and the various Chinese folk gods in place of the Persian Angels. 20Three hundred years later, the philosopher Honen moved away fromMazdaism and combined Taoism with Buddhism. This simplified religion hecreated became known as the Pure Land School, or Amidaism. Gradually,however, Taoism again became tied to magic, and it failed as areligion. 21 Today, only its original philosophies survive and there arevery few followers of Taoism, mostly found in Taiwan.

    22 AlthoughTaoisms religious practices deteriorated with advancing Westerninfluence, its philosophical aspects have outlasted those ofConfucianism and Zen Buddhism. 23For centuries, Taoism has been known as the Way of Harmony. 24 This isbecause Taoists believe that the Tao leads all nature toward a naturalbalance. The Tao, however, is not considered to be a deity or a ruler:it may reign but it does not rule. 25 This is reflected in seven basicstatements. 26 The first states that the Tao is nature.

    This means thatthe Tao is the way of everything, the movement of everything in nature,and all existence. The second statement is that the Tao is knowledge,meaning that the Tao is the utmost form of understanding and wisdom andthat to understand it means to understand all. The third statement saysthat the Tao is Goodness. This indicates that the Tao is the pathtoward virtue, and the highest virtue of these is conforming to theTao. The fourth statement is that the Tao is imminent. This means thatthe Tao is the source of all reality and that the Tao is inseparable.

    The fifth statement tells that the Tao is being, or the process ofbecoming, which characterizes reality. The sixth holds that the Tao isfelt in passiveness, not in activity. The final statement asserts thatthe Tao is individual and unique for every person. Therefore, no personcan truly know the Tao outside themselves.

    As the Tao Te Ching states:The ways that can be walked are not the eternal way. The names that can be named are not the eternal name. The nameless is the origin of the myriad creatures. The named is the mother of the myriad creatures. Therefore, Always be without desirein order to observe its wondrous subtleties; Always have desireso that you may observe its manifestations. 27In essence, the universe is a pattern which cannot exist without anypart of it.

    Therefore, trying to alter the Tao through action isessentially trying to destroy the balance of the universe. 28Taoists have a very simple definition of virtue, called Teh. For aTaoist, the only virtue is to find unity with the Tao. 29 Thiscontradicts Western religious thought because Westerners believe inpeace and salvation through action. Taoists, however, believe thatunity with the Tao requires no effort but rather passive existencewithout work; by finding unity with the Tao, one can therefore findheaven.

    This is explained in Lao Tzus doctrine of the three treasures,those being love, balance, and humility. 30 Love stems from and resultsin kindness and consideration for others. Balance can be found throughself-control and moderation. Humility results from self-esteem andhappiness in ones status. The Taoist path to salvation is called Wu Wei, meaning the principleof non-action.

    “31 The way to attain unity with the Tao involves noeffort, ambition, discipline, or education. Therefore, each person hasan equal opportunity to attain balance. It involves a surrender tonature: since every person is by definition part of the Tao, there is noneed or reason to seek it elsewhere. Furthermore, everyone has directaccess to the Tao because the Tao is connected to reality, and everyoneis a part of reality.

    32 In summary, there is no need to seek answersoutside of oneself. Through non-action the answer is revealed throughones own existence. Taoism is different from any other Eastern religion. According toLawrence Durrell, Taoism is such a privileged brand of easternphilosophy that one would be right to regard it as an aesthetic view ofthe universe rather than a purely institutional one.

    33 Thus, as Taoismis a religion of non-action, Lao Tzu and his followers discouraged thepractice of rituals. As a result, Taoism has no tangible rituals. Early Taoists, in fact, were far more concerned with everyday life thanwith celebrations or worship. 34 Taoists prefer to leave the question ofGod unanswered. 35Taoist rituals did flourish, however, around and during the 900s. 36 During this time lavish temples were built, complex rituals werepracticed, and colorful festivals were celebrated.

    37 The closestlasting action in Taoism to rituals is the idea of wu-hsing. 38 This isthe set of notions called the five phases (wu-hsing) or powers(wu-te): water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. 39 This concept helpphilosophers build a system of correspondences and participations whichlink all macrocosmic and microcosmic phenomena. Thus all seasons,colors, directions, musical tones, animals, and other aspects of naturecorrespond to the five major inner organs of the human body. 40 Becauseof this, many Taoists believed that the essences relating to theirrespective phases nourished the organs of the body; this supposedly ledto longevity. 41Several sects of Taoism emerged during the eleventh and twelfthcenturies.

    Among them were: the Tai-i (Supreme Unity) sect, founded byHsiao Pao-chen in approximately 1140; the Chenta Tao (Perfect and GreatTao) sect, founded by Liu Te-jen in 1142; and the Chan-chen (PerfectRealization) sect, founded in 1163 by Wang Che. 41 The Chan-chenbecame very popular, and small groups of monks from this sect surviveduntil the twentieth century. 42Taoism has been affected largely by Confucianism, and vice versa. Thetwo religions grew up together and compose a Yin-Yang themselves. Confucianism works for the public welfare, Taoism concerns theindividual.

    43 Confucianism emphasized sensibility and gentility, whilethe latter encouraged spontaneity. 44 While the two religions arefundamentally different, they rely upon each other to create a balanceof their differences. Because of this, many people believe in andpractice both Confucianism and Taoism. Neither probably would havesurvived if the other had never existed. Taoism is in itself a very difficult religion to define. Little isknown of its founder or its origins, and it has no clear doctrine ormethod of worship.

    45 The whole concept of Tao is extremely abstract andtherefore cannot be fully explained, only understood. The religion mayhold a completely different meaning for each person–it may be a form ofphilosophy, religion, or magic. 46 The religion has guided countlessindividuals through life and toward union with the Tao. As it hasinfluenced the past through its writings, Taoism may influence the worldfor generations more with its wisdom. Bibliography1.

    Bettencourt, Jerome: Comparative World Religions: Notes. Oxnard: Fall Semester 1994-95. 2. Durrell, Lawrence: A Smile in the Minds Eye. New York: UniverseBooks,1982.

    3. Goetz, Philip (Ed. ): Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, Vol. 28. Taoism. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

    , 1991. 4. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.

    5. Pastva, Loretta: Great Religions of the World. Winona, Minnesota:SaintMarys Press, 1986. 6. Smullyan, Raymond: The Tao Is Silent. San Francisco: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1977.

    7. Watts, Alan: Tao: The Watercourse Way. New York: Pantheon Books,1975. Endnotes1 Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way (New York: Pantheon Books,1975), p.

    5. 2 Jerome Bettencourt, Comparative World Religions: Notes (Oxnard: FallSemester 1994-95). 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid.

    5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Philip Goetz, Ed.

    , Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th Edition, Vol. 28:Taoism (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. , 1991), p. 39910 Ibid. , p. 39811 Bettencourt.

    12 Goetz, p. 398. 13 Bettencourt. 14 Ibid. 15 Loretta Pastva, Great Religions of the World (Winona, Minnesota:Saint Marys Press, 1986), p.

    117. 16 Ibid. 17 Bettencourt. 18 Ibid.

    19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 Ibid. 22 Goetz, p. 40723 Bettencourt. 24 Ibid.

    25 Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way (New York: Pantheon Books,1975), p. 51. 26 Bettencourt. 727 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers,1977), p. 59.

    28 Watts, p. 51. 29 Bettencourt. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid.

    32 Ibid. 33 Lawrence Durrell, A Smile in the Minds Eye (New York: UniverseBooks, 1982), p. 18. 34 Pastva, p. 117.

    35 Durrell, p. 19. 36 Pastva, p. 117. 37 Ibid. 38 Goetz, p.

    399. 39 Ibid. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid. , p.

    404. 42 Ibid. 43 Pastva, p. 11544 Ibid.

    45 Ibid. 46 Ibid.

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