The conception of 'Taoism' refers both to a Chinese system of thought and
to one of the four major religions of China. Taoism, like Confucianism is
a native Chinese religion. Its root's go back to the earliest history of
China. However Taoism did not begin to develop as an organized religion
until 100 B.C.
Taoism teaches that everyone should try to achieve two
goals, happiness and immortality. The religion has many practices and
ceremonies, intended to help people. They include prayer, magic, special
diets, breath-control, meditation, and recitation of scriptures. Taoists
also believe in astrology, fortune telling, witchcraft and communication
with the spirits of the dead. Taoists worship more deities than do the
followers of almost any other religion. Some deities are ancestors and
others are the spirits of famous people.
Taoism borrowed heavily from Buddhism. Many Taoist deities, temples and
ceremonies show the influence of Buddhism. By A.D.1000, Taoism had divided
into many sects. Some of the sects withdrew from daily routine to meditate
and study in Monasteries. Other sects were based in temples. The temple
priests passed on their position to their children. They gained a
reputation as highly skilled magicians, who could predict the future,
protect believers from illness, accidents and other misfortunes.
In mid 1900's, the Chinese government opposed Taoism, claiming it was
based on superstition. Today, the Chinese Government permits the practice
of the religion and the followers are gradually increasing in number.
Taoists remain active in Chinese societies outside China. Their deities
include Jade emperor who rules the Earth, Empress of Heaven, and Laozy -
an ancient Chinese philosopher who is the founder of Taoism.
TWO TYPES OF TAOISM
Religious Taoism appropriated earlier interest and belief in alchemy
and the search for the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone. By the
5th cent. AD, Taoism was a fully developed religious system with many
features adopted from Mahayana Buddhism , offering emotional religious
satisfaction to those who found the largely ethical system of Confucianism
inadequate. Taoism developed a large pantheon (probably incorporating many
local gods), monastic orders, and lay masters. Heading the commonly
worshiped deities is the Jade Emperor. Directly under him, ruling from Mt.
Tai, is the Emperor of the Eastern Mountain, who weighs merits and faults
and assigns reward and punishment in this and future existences. An
ecclesiastical hierarchy was founded in the 8th cent., headed by the T'ien
Shih [master of heaven]; he claimed succession from Chang Tao-lin, an
alchemist of the 2d cent. who was reputed to have discovered the elixir of
immortality after receiving magical power from Lao Tzu.
Throughout its history Taoism has provided the basis for many Chinese
secret societies; in the 1950s, after the establishment of the Communist
regime, Taoism was officially proscribed. Taoism is still practiced to
some degree in modern China, as well as in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao
and in communities of Chinese who have emigrated.
The philosophical system stems largely from the Tao-te-ching, a text
traditionally ascribed to Lao Tzu but probably written in the mid-3d cent.
BC The Tao, in the broadest sense, is the way the universe functions, the
path [Chin. tao path] taken by natural events. It is characterized by
spontaneous creativity and by regular alternations of phenomena (such as
day following night) that proceed without effort. Effortless action may be
illustrated by the conduct of water, which unresistingly accepts the
lowest level and yet wears away the hardest substance. Human beings,
following the Tao, must abjure all striving. The ideal state of being,
fully attainable only by mystical contemplation, is simplicity and freedom
from desire, comparable to that of an infant or an “uncarved block.”
Taoist political doctrines reflect this quietistic philosophy: the ruler's
duty is to impose a minimum of government, while protecting his people
from experiencing material wants or strong passions. The social virtues
expounded by Confucius were condemned as symptoms of excessive government
and disregard of effortless action. Second only to Lao Tzu as an exponent
of philosophical Taoism was Chuang-tzu , who wrote brilliant satirical
essays. Taoist ideals greatly influenced Chinese literature, painting, and
calligraphy. Later Taoism emphasized the techniques [Chin. te power] for
realizing the effects flowing from the Tao, especially long life and
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