A.) Tao – means "path” or "way” 1
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.)" 1
B.) History of Taoism
The founder of Taoism is believed by many to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius. (Alternative spellings: Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, Laozi, Laotze, etc.). 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 (a.k.a. Daodejing). 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. With the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next period of warlordism. After the Communist victory in 1949, religious freedom was severely restricted. "The new government put monks to manual labor, confiscated temples, and plundered treasures. Several million monks were reduced to fewer than 50,000" by 1960. 2 During the cultural revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, much of the remaining Taoist heritage was destroyed. Some religious tolerance has been restored under Deng Xiao-ping from 1982 to the present time.
Taoism currently has about 20 million followers, and is primarily centered in Taiwan. About 30,000 Taoists live in North America; 1,720 in Canada (1991 census). Taoism has had a significant impact on North American culture in areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and martial arts..." 2
C.) Taoism and The Concept of Man
1. Taoists believe that men are born equal naturally equal in that all possess a timeless principle within, which is responsible for the changes they undergo in life.3 (The belief that asserts the equality of men is called "egalitarianism”)
Furthermore, Tao is unitary and consequently cannot be more or less present in some things than in others.
2.) "People are compassionate by nature...left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward."4
3.) Taoists also believe that man is a microcosm for the universe. The body ties directly into the Chinese five elements. The five organs correlate with the five elements, the five directions and the seasons. Akin to the Hermetic maxim of "as above, so below", Taoism posits that man may gain knowledge of the universe by understanding himself. From a Western perspective, the Taoist view of sexuality is considerably more at ease. The body is not viewed as a dangerous source of evil temptation, but rather as a positive asset. Taoism rejects Western mind-body dualism; mind and body are not set in contrast or opposition with each other. Sex is treated as a vital component to romantic love, however Taoism emphasizes the need for self-control and moderation. Complete abstinence is treated as equally dangerous as excessive sexual indulgence. The sexual vitality of men is portrayed as limited, while the sexual energy of women is viewed as boundless. Men are encouraged to control ejaculation to preserve this vital energy, but women are encouraged to reach orgasm without restriction. Taoists believe that a man may increase and nourish his own vitality by bringing a woman to orgasm, thereby "activating" her energy and attuning it with himself. This is considered to be of benefit to both partners." 5
4.) In Taoism, even beyond Chinese folk religion, various rituals, exercises, and substances are said to positively affect one's physical and mental health. They are also intended to align oneself spiritually with cosmic forces, or enable ecstatic spiritual journeys. These concepts seem basic to Taoism in its elite forms. Internal alchemy and various spiritual practices are used by some Taoists to improve health and extend life, theoretically even to the point of physical immortality. 5
II. MY EVALUATION OF TAOISM
For me, talking about equality of all things or "egalitarianism” is somewhat confusing or inconsistent to the fact about individual differences. It Tao is believed to be present equally to all things, no more and no less present in some things than others, what about the individual differences? Could Tao be actually the same in some things than the others? Example: Some people have more compassion than the others.
Regarding the belief that man is a microcosm for the universe or man is part of the universe, that there is no division of self and others. But how about the fact that we can sometimes change the environment or the Nature? We can sometimes bent it to our wishes. Example: Inventors, scientists, great entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates shapes the history of mankind from Industrial to Information Technology age.
Note: These are some useful information that I can contribute. The evaluation I’ve given above are my personal opinions based on my critical thinking. I hope this will help you find more meaning in life.
1. "Our Beliefs," Reform Taoist Congregation at: http://www.reformtaoism.org/
2. Arthur P. Wolf, "Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors," Pages 131-182; as quoted in Judith A. Berling, "Taoism, or the Way," at: http://www.askasia.org/
3. Donald Munro, "The Concept of Man in Early China”, Page 139,at http://books.google.com.ph
4. "Where does the Yin Yang Symbol come from?" Chinese Fortune Calendar, at: http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com
5. "Taoism” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism