May 15, 2011

Introduction to Taoism

Compiled By: Pravin K Shah

Taoism began about 2,500 years ago in China.

Lao-tzu whom Confucius described as a dragon riding the wind and clouds.

Major Scriptures:
The Tao-te-Ching or Book of Reason and Virtue, is the shortest of all scriptures, containing only 5,000 words.

Taoism is a mystical tradition, so interpretations have been diverse and its sects are many.

Estimated at 50 million, mostly in China and Asia.

The primary goal of Taoism may be described as the mystical intuition of the Tao, which is the way, the undivided unity, and the ultimate Reality. Both imminent and transcendent, the Tao is the natural way of all things, the nameless beginning of heaven and earth, and the Mother of all things. All things depend upon the Tao, and all things return to it. Yet it lies hidden, transmitting its power and perfection to all things. He who has realized the Tao, has arrived at
pure consciousness and sees the inner truth of everything. Only one who is free of desire can apprehend the Tao, thereafter leading a life of "actionless activity." There is no personal God in Taoism, and thus no union with Him. There are three worlds and all beings are within them. The worship is a part of the path.

Path of Attainment:
One who follows the Tao follows the natural order of things, not seeking to improve upon nature or to legislate virtue to others. The Taoist observes "wu-wei" or non-doing, like water, which without effort seeks and finds its proper level. This path includes purifying oneself by stilling appetites and emotions. This is accomplished in part through meditation, breath control, and other forms of inner discipline, generally under a master. The foremost practice is goodness or naturalness, and detachment from the worldly things.

The term Taoism refers both to the philosophy outlined in the Daode Jing (Tao Te Ching) (identified with Laozi or Lao-tzu) and to China's ancient Taoist religion. Next to Confucianism,
it ranks as the second major belief system in traditional Chinese thought.

Three doctrines are particularly important to Taoist:

* Non-being (wu): The creative force brings everything into being and the destructive force dissolves everything into non-being.

* Return (fu): Everything after completing its cycle, returns to non-being.

* Non-action (wu wei): Non-action does not mean no action, but action in harmony with nature, which is the best way of life. If we keep still and listen to the inner promptings of the Tao, we
shall act effortlessly, and efficiently, hardly giving the matter a thought. We will be our true selves.

The prominent features of Taoist religion are belief in physical immortality, alchemy, breath control and hygiene (internal alchemy), a pantheon of deities, monasticism, and the ritual of community renewal, and revealed scriptures. The Taoist liturgy and theology were
influenced by Buddhism.

The Tao, or the Way, has never been put down in words rather it is left for the seeker to discover within himself. Lao-tzu himself said, "The Tao that can be expressed or named is not the eternal Tao." Taoism is concerned with man's spiritual level of being. The awakened
man is compared to bamboo; upright, simple, useful outside, and hollow inside. Radiant emptiness is the spirit of Tao, but no words will capture its spontaneity, or its eternal newness. The followers are taught to see the Tao everywhere, in all beings and in all things.

Taoist shrines are the homes of divine beings who guide the religion and bless and protect worshipers.

Zhuangzi taught that, from a purely objective viewpoint, all oppositions are merely the creations of conceptual thought and imply no judgments of intrinsic value (one pole is no more
preferable than its opposite). Hence the wise person accepts life's inevitable changes.

Lie Xi said that the cultivation of Tao would enable a person to live for several hundred years. Taoism teaches the devotee to lead a long and tranquil life through the elimination of one's desires and aggressive impulses.

The Eternal may be understood as the Tao or the Way, which embraces the moral and physical order of the universe; the path of virtue which Heaven itself follows; and the Absolute, yet so great is it that "the Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao."

The sage Lao-Tsu is uniquely great as is his disciple Chuang-Tsu.

The Tao-te-Ching and the writings of Chuang-Tsu's are important spiritual insight.

Man aligns himself with the Eternal when he observes humility, simplicity, gentle yielding, serenity, and effortless action.

The goal and the path of life are essentially the same, and that the Tao can be known only to exalted beings who realize it themselves -- reflections of the beyond are of no avail.

The omniscient and impersonal Supreme is implacable beyond concern for human woe, but there exists lesser divinities, from the high gods who endure for eons the nature spirits and demons.

All actions create their opposing forces, and the wise will seek inaction in action.

Man is one of the Ten Thousand Things of manifestation, it is finite and will pass. Only Tao endures forever.

Tao believes in the oneness of all creation, in the spirituality of the material realms, and in the brotherhood of all men.

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