Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs and worldview. Taoist ideas have become popular throughout the world through Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong, and various martial arts.
Taoism teaches a person to follow their breath, to embrace wonder and the joy in living gracefully with style. So here is the modern practical guide to living as a Taoist!
To many people, a confusing aspect of Taoism is its very definition. Many religions will happily teach a Philosophy/Dogma which in reflection defines a person. Taoism flips this around. It starts by teaching a truth; “The Tao” is indefinable. It then follows up by teaching that each person can discover the Tao in their own terms. A teaching like this can be very hard to grasp when most people desire very concrete definitions in their own life.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Taoism: philosophical and religious. Philosophical Taoism is rational, contemplative, and nonsectarian, and it accepts death as a natural returning to the Tao. Religious Taoism is magical, cultic, esoteric, and sectarian, and it emphasizes health and healing as ways to gain long life or even immortality. T’ai chi and the medical practice of Quigong are modern manifestations of Taoism.
Taoism is about the Tao. This is usually translated as the Way. But it’s hard to say exactly what this means. The Tao is the ultimate creative principle of the universe. All things are unified and connected in the Tao.
- Taoism originated in China 2000 years ago
- It is a religion of unity and opposites; Yin and Yang. The principle of Yin Yang sees the world as filled with complementary forces – action and non-action, light and dark, hot and cold, and so on
- The Tao is not God and is not worshipped. Taoism includes many deities, that are worshipped in Taoist temples, they are part of the universe and depend, like everything, on the Tao
- Taoism promotes:
- achieving harmony or union with nature
- the pursuit of spiritual immortality
- being ‘virtuous’ (but not ostentatiously so)
- Taoist practices include:
- feng shui
- fortune telling
- reading and chanting of scriptures
Before the Communist revolution fifty years ago, Taoism was one of the strongest religions in China. After a campaign to destroy non-Communist religion, however, the numbers significantly reduced, and it has become difficult to assess the statistical popularity of Taoism in the world.
Originally Taoism can be considered to be a shamanic practice. However, Taoism is so old; the complete history of Taoism cannot be traced through written records. Taoism is very much a tradition that is transmitted verbally from master to student over the generations. Because of this, some of the shamanic roots of Taoism still survive today. Taoism historically is also a very flexible practice. Taoism is a practice of change and it always changes to meet the needs of the times. This is still happening today and even as we speak Taoism is evolving to keep pace with modern culture. This is one reason Taoism has survived for so long, it always adapts with the time while holding onto a few key concepts to keep the practice true to the Tao.
A simply way to start learning the definition of Taoism is to start within yourself.
Here are some simple starting tips to help a person live as a Taoist.
- Having a set of basic guidelines can be helpful. However realistically, guidelines don’t determine how to live; Instead Taoism teaches by living you will express your nature.My personal guidelines are the following:
- With care, I aid those who are extended expressions of my nature.
- Be true to myself
- Connect to the world as I want to be treated.
- Connect to those outside my nature with decisive action.
- To those unwilling to accept me for my true nature, no action is required:
Just silently let them be themselves as I remain myself.
- I own nothing; I am merely a passing custodian of items outside of my nature.
- Discover a set of practices to aid keeping the mind, body and spirit engaged and strong. Remember practices should support your essence with the activities fitting the needs of the moment. Which means this is a shifting balance of activities relative to your needs. For example I practice martial arts to keep my body strong, yoga to make my body subtle, meditation to clear my mind, bike around simply to fly and lift my spirit. Poetry as a lens of examination. All these and more are my shifting practices to support my essence and in doing each, each helps me learn more about myself and the world.
- Take time, relax and just explore and poke around. Taoism has no plans. Taoism is based upon following your gut feelings and trusting your instincts.
- It’s within the pause of a breath… that each step of living becomes visible for your larger life to improve and follow upon.Smile, when needing to pick a possible next step. To smile is to open possibilities.Breathe when needing a break. Since to breathe is to be at one with yourself.Alternate the two and your path will become free and clear for an entire lifetime of wonder to explore.This may sound simple, but you would be surprise how many people cannot embrace this most basic aspect of Taoist practice! People think it cannot be that simple! Taoism truly is this simple. If you follow and practice step four, not only is that all one needs to fully embrace Taoism, but also anything becomes possible within this simple practice. However, most people need time letting go of expectations. So it’s also ok to dig deeper into Taoism. Taoism has many many levels of teachings on purpose to help people from all perspectives move smoothly in life.