Imagine you are a Taoist

An overview of Taoism:

Taoist Concepts, Beliefs and Practices:

The Yin Yang Symbol:

Tai Chi:

Happiness from a Taoist point of view

In Conclusion


Your religion has its roots in ancient China.

It honours the natural order of the Tao (the Way).

You believe in the balance
and dynamic interaction
of the two eternal forces of the Tao,
Yin and Yang.

You believe that the main cause of suffering
is the arrogance of humans
attempting to subvert
the natural flow of the universe
to their own ends.

Your central text, Tao Te Ching,
was composed in the 6th century BCE
by Lao-tzu, a contemporary of Confucius.

You share the traditional culture of Chinese people.
Your family worships various gods and goddesses.
The honouring of ancestors
is of central importance to you.
You celebrate the Chinese New Year and there are festivals
in the spring and autumn
when you may commune with the dead.

Yin and Yang is a symbol for Taoists, representing the balance and harmony of all creation and the unification or transcending of opposites. In Chinese cosmology, the cosmos is seen as evolving by a process of binary division. The concept of Yin and Yang can be found in Chinese medicine, which seeks to restore the balance in the body's natural forces.

Taken from the Taoist Faith Card in the SIFRE Diversity Game



Taoism is an Eastern religion/philosophy with perhaps 225 million followers.  Although it is more accurately referred to as a philosophy, books on world religions inevitably include it with other religions from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism.

The exact number of followers worldwide is impossible to estimate because many of its followers also identify with other religions -- often Buddhism and Confucianism -- and because it is impossible to obtain reliable polling information from individuals in China.

Tao (pronounced "Dow") can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way.  It is basically indefinable.  It has to be experienced.  It "refers to a power which envelops, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living.  The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe.  It embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without female.)"

The founder of Taoism is believed by a few religious historians to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), whose life overlapped that of Confucius (551-479 BCE).  (Alternative spellings include: Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, Laozi and Laotze).  He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime.  The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching (Daodejing).  It describes the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life.  Most historians suggest that he is a synthesis of a number of historical figures.  Others suggest that he lived in the 4th century BCE.  Still others believe that he is a mythical character.

Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religious faith in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion.  At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity.  Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became one of the three great religions of China.

The number of followers of Taoism is impossible to estimate with any accuracy.  There are about 225 million followers of Chinese traditional religions of which Taoism appears to be the main influence.  About 20 million followers live in Taiwan, about 30,000 North America and 1,720 in Canada.  (Canadian data from the 1991 census).  Taoism has had a significant impact on North American and European culture in areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and martial arts..."  In the UK there are probably only about 4,000 Taoists, but most Chinese people are influenced by Taoist teachings.


Taoist concepts, beliefs and practices:

Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.

Taoists strongly promote health and vitality.

The five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.

Each person must nurture the Ch'i (air, breath) that has been given to them.

Development of virtue is one's chief task.  The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.

Taoists follow the art of "wu wei," which is to let nature take its course.  For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; so do not erect a dam which would interfere with its natural flow.

One should think ahead and consider carefully each action before making it.

A Taoist is kind to other individuals, in part because such an action tends to be reciprocated.

Taoists believe that "people are compassionate by nature...left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward."


The Yin Yang symbol:

This is a well-known Taoist symbol.  "It represents the balance of opposites in the universe.  When they are equally present, all is calm.  When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray."

There are various interpretations of the Yin Yang symbol. "The most traditional view is that 'yin' represents aspects of the feminine: being soft, cool, calm, introspective, and healing...  and "yang" the masculine: being hard, hot, energetic, moving, and sometimes aggressive.  Another view has the 'yin' representing night and 'yang' day.

However, since nothing in nature is purely black or purely white, the symbol includes a small black spot in the white swirl, and a corresponding white spot in the black swirl.

Ultimately, the 'yin' and 'yang' can symbolize any two polarized forces in nature.  Taoists believe that humans often intervene in nature and upset the balance of Yin and Yang.


Tai Chi:

There is a long history of involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques.  Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the body.  It stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain.  It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood.  Moreover, tai chi's rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality." Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body's "chi" (intrinsic energy).  Tai Chi is believed to balance this energy flow.

Taoist Tai Chi is practised in around 500 locations in 25 countries around the world.

It was introduced to western society by Master Moy Lin-shin in 1970 and is designed fundamentally to promote and restore health; a purpose which distinguishes it from other forms of Tai Chi.

Its goal is to return the body and mind to its original pure and healthy state. The physical element of Taoist Tai Chi consists of basic principles known as the "foundation" and 108 movements, which constitute the "set".

Taoist Tai Chi can help reduce the stiffness and deterioration that tends to occur with age or as a result of years of physical inactivity. The prime spiritual aspect of Taoist Tai Chi is the adoption of a spirit of self-sacrifice, generosity and the elimination of self-centredness. Taoist Tai Chi is intended to be taught and practised in a spirit of compassion and service to others.


Happiness from a Taoist point of view

Zhuangzi and others have contemplated happiness in their writings:

Is there such a thing as perfect happiness in the world or isn't there?! Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn't there?! What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate? This is what the world honours: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name.

This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use - this is a superficial way to treat the body!

I look at what ordinary people find happiness in, what they all make a mad dash for, racing around as though they couldn't stop - they all say that this happiness.

But I don't know whether this is happiness, neither whether this is not happiness. In the end is there really happiness or isn't there?! (Zhuangzi XVIII)

In defining a route to happiness, the following tenets have been explored:.

·        Eliminate craftiness and get rid of profit and there will be no more robbers and thieves.

·        Manifest plainness and embrace simplicity

·        Lessen selfishness and make few your desires. (Laozi 19)

·        Fame or your life – which is more dear?

·        Your life or possessions which is worth more?

·        Gain or loss – in which is there harm? (Laozi 44)

Woodworker Qing was carving wood for a bell stand, and when it was finished, all who saw it were amazed as if they were seeing the work of a spiritual being. When the Marquis of Lu saw it, he asked: ’With what art have you made this?’

Qing replied: ‘I am only a workman – how would I have any art? There is one thing, however. When I am going to make a bell stand, I never dare waste any of my energy. So it is necessary to fast in order to calm my mind. When I have fasted for three days, I no longer have any thoughts of congratulations or rewards, of titles or salary. When I have fasted for five days, I no longer have any thought of blame or praise, of skill or clumsiness. And when I have fasted for seven days, I am so still that I forget I have four limbs and a form and a body.

By that time, the ruler and his court no longer exist for me. My skill is concentrated and all external distractions fade away. After that, I go into the mountain forest and observe the heavenly nature of the trees. If I find one of ultimate form, and if a complete bell stand manifests itself to me, I put my hand to the job of carving; if not, I stop. Thus is heaven joined to heaven. That's the reason why people suspect that my instruments are made by a spiritual being.' (Zhuangzi XIX)

Chuang Tzu denies that happiness can be found by hedonism or utilitarianism. The life of riches, ambition, pleasure is in reality an intolerable servitude in which one 'lives for what is always out of reach', thirsting for 'survival in the future' and 'incapable of living in the present.' (...)

He is, in fact, saying that happiness can be found, but only by non-seeking and non-action. It can be found, but not as the result of a program or a system. (Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu, Unwin Books, London,1965, p. 22; p.27-28.


In conclusion

Taoism is more a way of life than a religion. It's a general attitude that the most effective way to function is to go with the laws of nature (cycles of birth and death, seasons, yin and yang etc.) rather than trying to control nature.
It underlies a lot of the Asiatic philosophy of life, of going with the flow, being pragmatic and not tied to dogmas and principles.

In practical terms it forms the basis of traditional Chinese medicine (acupuncture, etc.) and most Asiatic martial arts (Tai Chi, Qigong, etc.). It has a strong influence on Chinese religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism and ancestor worship.  The Chinese mingle all these together and use whatever rituals are convenient at the time.

Isabelle Wen, Chinese Medicine Practitioner, living in Suffolk.