Taoism in Chinese Culture
Taoism, known as “The Way,” can be categorized as both a Chinese philosophy and a religion. Taoists believe in accepting and yielding to the ways of life, complementing nature and being by internalizing their goals rather than worshipping a god externally. Taoism, in its metaphysical and philosophical nature, is much like Confucianism, but the ideal interests of the two religions are contrasting. Confucianism was formulated during a time of war and relies heavily upon a moral and political system that fashioned society and the Chinese empire, while Taoism correlates to a time of peace and honors spiritual and metaphysical preoccupation (Taoism 2).
The supposed author of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, is said to be the father of Taoism. It is estimated that Lao Tzu, spelled many other ways including Lao-tsu, Lao Tse, and Lao Tzi, was born under the name of Li Erh in Honan, China, around 604 B.C.E. Myth says that Lao Tzu was born fully developed with a long, white beard and hair the color of snow. He was somewhat of a recluse and withdrew from society to avoid governmental law and rule. He retreated to the Western frontier after the fall of the Zhou dynasty to continue his personal study of metaphysics and philosophy (Taoism 2). The collaborations of his studies and observations are said to be the basis of the Tao Te Ching, although some scholars argue that Lao Tzu’s existence cannot be proved and that the scholar Chuang-tzu played at least a partial role in the authorship. However the Tao Te Ching came to be, it is prized for being the foundation of Taoist belief and should hold merit as a universal guide, not as an author’s accomplishment (De Bary, Chan, and Watson 49).
There are three focuses that are imperative in the definition of Taoism. These are that thinking should be cyclical, that Taoism is an interpretation within oneself, and that one should not have boundaries. The Tao is the natural order of things. It continually revives itself in a cycle of opposites. Lao Tzu says in the Tao Te Ching, “Reversion is the movement of the Tao.” Anything that develops extreme qualities will revert back to its opposite extreme, and in this way everything becomes a cycle of constant flux (qtd. in Taoism 6). Raymond Smullyan remarks, “The idea of the synchronicity of two events is not that one is the cause of the other, but that they, so to speak, have a common cause (176). Using this idea of the cyclical, Taoists believe that life and death are eternal transformations of being and non-being and that through this cycle, you will reap what you sow.
The Taoist sainthood is eternal and regards saintliness as an interpretation within oneself. This belief of individualism is preserved in the idea of wu-wei, or non-intervention. When practicing wu-wei, one is able to feel the energies of the universe and fall away from the businesses of men’s priorities. Taoists are productive through inaction when they...