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Daoism or Taoism

  • Arguably China’s most ancient and esoteric religion, Daoism (Taoism) is a broad term that refers to several religious and philosophical traditions that have their origins in ancient China. Daoism as a religion refers directly to the concept of Dao (also spelled Tao), which is a cosmic principle that unites the universe. Living in harmony with the Dao, the cosmic force which can be creative or destructive, is the most foundational goal of Daoist practitioners.
  • The common symbol known as the yin-yang is a quaint summary of the Dao, whereby the black and white in their separate categories but also simultaneously melded together represents the internal forces in the universe. Living with the Dao, or, like the colloquial saying “going with the flow” refers to, is akin to swimming with the current rather than against the current. This principle refers to all aspects of life from professional or occupational pursuits to the setup of furniture in a room (a concept called feng shui). Daoism is both simple and complex.
  • To explain the concept, the religion employs philosophical and poetical texts. One of the most famous of these texts is the Zhuangzi, which is a book attributed to the man known as Zhuangzi historically. The book is made up of many separate and distinct chapters which explain the Dao in simple and complex allegories. One prime example is that of the butcher. A butcher has several options when carving up an animal. He can either cut at random near the places where he would extract the most meat or he can use his careful training to cut along the fine, natural sinews of the animal. In essence, the butcher, in order to best preserve the meat and also to utilize minimal effort for maximum gain, “goes with the flow” in order to maximize his success. He could cut against the grain but then he would be cutting deeply into tough tissues and muscles whereby he might spoil the meat. So, the butcher lives and works in harmony with his knife and with the beast he is carving.
  • A more apt political analogy may be seen in the presentation of Chinese history itself. The Zhou dynasty around 1000 BCE overthrew the Shang dynasty because the Shang no longer possessed the Mandate of Heaven. Daoists believe even rulers must live in harmony with the universe and if that harmony is broken, the heavenly mandate to rule the land is revoked and given to those who are able to make the kingdom live prosperously and harmoniously. Daoists call the simplicity of living in accordance to nature wu-wei, or ‘action through non-action.’

Daoist (Taoist) Symbol, Yin and Yang Harmony With The Elements

Modern Daoism
  • Many ancient Daoist practices are still common in modern China. Two main practices persist despite rapid modernization and general antagonism toward religion in the contemporary Chinese world. One is divination, or the practice of predicting future outcomes. The second is ancestor veneration. For both, Daoists go to a religious professional who spend their lives training in these ancient, if not esoteric practices. In return for their visions of the future, Daoist priests often receive money in payment or other kinds of donations. Ancestor veneration may occur at a temple or shrine but also at a home shrine that has been properly consecrated.
  • In divination, also known in the west as fortune telling, a person or family submits questions to a diviner who can utilize various methods to find answers to the questions. The questions may range from simple questions about business success or deeper questions such as lineage succession. Methods used may include but are not limited to using tortoise bones, using the number system as devised in the I Ching, and/or wearing special talismans. For ancestor veneration, at the shrine family members worship images or pictures of their deceased relatives. There the family offers food, incense, and prayers so that the deceased ancestors do not become hungry ghosts but rather remain benevolent spirits that can even sometimes be helpful.

Modern Issues: Women’s Roles
  • Historically, Daoism has viewed women as equally capable in manipulating the cosmic Dao energy and living in harmony with nature. Female masters of the Dao are well known and stories of their lives remain an active part of modern Daoism. In modern China, women occupy space at convents and are believed to have an especially powerful ability to function as intermediaries between gods, ancestors, and humans as well as transmitters of texts and practices.
  • Despite these interesting and powerful positions, within institutionalized settings, women still have a difficult time ascending to high posts within the orders since women are, according to Confucian principles, defined by their relationships to the men in their life. Often boundaries between Confucian principles like these and Daoism are porous as pan-Chinese culture will take precedent over the spiritual capabilities of anyone. Nevertheless, women’s roles in Daoism serve as a testament to their power to achieve inside and outside of the cultural and cosmic orders of things.

Symbols For Daoism And Buddhism In Shared Temple

Modern Practices
  • Like Buddhism, often Daoism is considered more of a philosophy than a religion, especially outside of modern China. However, even within China, it is common to find people practicing Daoism simultaneously with other religious practices simply because it is easy and actively beneficial to the practitioner. For example, the practice of Tai Chi martial arts may allow one to manipulate the cosmic forces while allowing ones own body to get physical exercise.
  • In ancient times, much of Daoism focused on achieving immortality. Immortality used to be seen as the highest achievement for a human and Daoism introduced a thorough and complex practice of alchemy to describe how to best achieve immortality. However, modern science has proven that many traditional alchemist concoctions may be harmful to the body either in the short term, as with the ingestion of mercury, or in the long term.
  • As such, modern Daoism has emphasized other types of practices, such as Tai Chi martial arts practice, to fulfill the drive of Daoists towards locating immortality. Other methods include Feng Shui, the practice of arranging a room, house, or family complex in accordance to the ancient cosmic principles found in ancient texts. All of these kinds of manipulations of the energy around people allow them to live in harmony with the Dao.