Chinese philosophical system, traditionally founded by the Chinese philosopher Lao Zi in the 6th century BC. He is also attributed authorship of the scriptures, Tao Te Ching, although these were apparently compiled in the 3rd century BC. The ‘tao’ or ‘way’ denotes the hidden principle of the universe, and less stress is laid on good deeds than on harmonious interaction with the environment, which automatically ensures right behaviour. The magical side of Taoism is illustrated by the I Ching or Book of Changes, a book of divination.
Beliefs The universe is believed to be kept in balance by the opposing forces of yin and yang that operate in dynamic tension between themselves. Yin is female and watery: the force in the Moon and rain which reaches its peak in the winter; yang is masculine and solid: the force in the Sun and earth which reaches its peak in the summer. The interaction of yin and yang is believed to shape all life.
This magical, ritualistic aspect of Taoism developed from the 2nd century AD and was largely responsible for its popular growth; it stresses physical immortality, which was attempted by means ranging from dietary regulation and fasting to alchemy. By the 3rd century, worship of gods had begun to appear, including that of the stove god Tsao Chun. From the 4th century, rivalry between Taoists and Mahāyāna Buddhists was strong in China, leading to persecution of one religion by the other; this was resolved by mutual assimilation, and Taoism developed monastic communities similar to those of the Buddhists.
Taoist texts record the tradition of mental and physical discipline, and methods to use in healing, exorcism, and the quest for immortality. The second major work is that of Zhuangzi (c. 389–286 BC), The Way of Zhuangzi.
Brief Introduction to Taoism
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