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Author Topic: What Is Taoism?  (Read 2616 times)

SatSekhem

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What Is Taoism?
« on: December 12, 2011, 11:08:14 am »
I got into an argument today with a Taoist and realized that I didn't really know much about the religion. I was just curious if anyone can explain to me what it is, why it is, what the beliefs are?
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Shadow

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2011, 11:43:01 am »
Quote from: SatSekhem;34433
I got into an argument today with a Taoist and realized that I didn't really know much about the religion. I was just curious if anyone can explain to me what it is, why it is, what the beliefs are?

 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/taoism/

I don't know anything about Taoism either but the attached site appears to give a pretty comprehensive over-view

Rowanfox

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2011, 03:53:52 pm »
Quote from: SatSekhem;34433
I got into an argument today with a Taoist and realized that I didn't really know much about the religion. I was just curious if anyone can explain to me what it is, why it is, what the beliefs are?

 
It is possible that most Taoists would argue that theirs is a philosophy, not a religion.

At it's core, the writings of Lao Tsu capture most of Taoist philosophy. On my desk at work is printed a copy of one set.....

Manifest plainness
Embrace simplicity
Reduce selfishness
Have few desires

And I particularly like:

"Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."

One of my favourite descriptions is "Taoism really has to do with flowing with the Tao ( Dao ) - a word translated to English as "The Way," and has to do with "the natural flow of things", the "course of nature", and is sometimes called "The Watercourse Way."(From http://www.yakrider.com/Tao/Taoism_Daoism.htm).

Alan Watts is one of the easiest of the modern Taoist writers for westerners to understand, and he has several books to help would be Taoists find The Way.

My Taoist Tai Chi instructor was once asked why we do Tai Chi? Was it for self-defense, health, enlightenment? He said, no....we do Tai Chi to do Tai Chi........that other stuff is just a side effect.

I sometimes l think that Yoda was most likely Taoist, in his time and place. The Force, from Yoda's description, strongly resembles The Way to me........but YMMV of course.

Valentine

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2011, 04:18:39 pm »
Quote from: SatSekhem;34433
I got into an argument today with a Taoist and realized that I didn't really know much about the religion. I was just curious if anyone can explain to me what it is, why it is, what the beliefs are?

 
Well, the first thing to understand is that, at least in its home Chinese context, "Taoism" isn't precisely a distinct religion.  You'll find very few people in China who identify themselves as "Taoists" the way a Christian or a Muslim would self-identify.  For the majority of Chinese people, the Taoist lineage of learning is one that's relevant sometimes and not other times--it's not uncommon for someone to call in an occultist for a Taoist ritual or do tai ch'i, attend a Buddhist funeral later in the day, and then apply Confucian principles to their family life.  Taoist practices and teachings predate the arrival of Buddhism in China, but it's not so unusual for a person to engage with both of those, for instance, without seeing any conflict.  So, at best, a "Taoist" is someone who is engaged with the teachings of Laozi and followers of Laozi, like Zhuangzi, and whose philosophy about the workings of nature and conduct are influenced by those teachings.
In historical China, most of the people doing what we might identify as folk magic--exorcisms, healings, divinations, etc.--were coming from Taoist lineages.  You see a lot of old literature referring to "Taoist wizards" depending on the translation--they were thought to be interacting in a special way with the forces of nature and balance.

It's complicated partially because the beginnings of the school of thought were largely lost thanks to the book-burning period under Qin Shi Huang Di, who insisted that a single edition of a handful of "good" books be preserved and all other books be destroyed--we have very little predating the Han Dynasty except the Daodejing, the Confucian Analects, some snatches of poetry, and a couple of agricultural manuals.  (Some grave excavations have turned up older editions because they were buried and weren't then dug up and burned, but it's messy.)

As to "what Taoists believe," I'm late for class, so I'll see what I can drop by for later--but the Daodejing (or Tao Te Ching) itself is a pretty short read, and is pretty interesting.  It's certainly not the only text of the tradition, but it's the foundational one.  Zhuangzi is also a fluid and interesting read.
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Kasmira

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2011, 04:40:07 pm »
Quote from: Rowanfox;34458

I sometimes l think that Yoda was most likely Taoist, in his time and place. The Force, from Yoda's description, strongly resembles The Way to me........but YMMV of course.

 
lol. I wish the Dao came with mind control powers... :)

More seriously, the answer to the OP's question (as has been hinted at by the differences between Rowanfox's and Valentine's replies) depends a lot on what you mean by "Taoism/Daoism". There's Daoism the cultural body of thought and practice which is ingrained in much of Chinese folk belief. And then there's the Daoism arising from onlookers outside of that body of cultural beliefs reading through the key Daoist works and making their own interpretations of them.

With the exception of a much pruned form of Feng Shui, you'll find little of Chinese Daoist folk practice in Western Daoism. Likewise, the Chinese Daoist pantheon hasn't really made the jump to the West either. For the most part, if you hear talk of Daoism in the West the speaker is referring to the philosophical/religious outlook presented in the Dao de Jing and Zhuangzi's writings.

If you're interested in looking at Daoism in its original cultural context, you're unfortunately going to have more trouble finding reliable materials. You might do better starting off with some research into Daoist influenced esoteric Buddhism (the cross-over between esoteric Buddhism and Daoism is sufficiently profound that there isn't really a discernible point where one ends and the other begins). I'm starting on a similar vein of study so if you are interested then I'll try and post any good sources as I find them.

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RandallS

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2011, 08:18:48 am »
Quote from: SatSekhem;34433
I got into an argument today with a Taoist and realized that I didn't really know much about the religion. I was just curious if anyone can explain to me what it is, why it is, what the beliefs are?

There is no easy answer to this. It is somewhat like asking what are modern Pagan beliefs as Taoism is part of the basis of Chinese folk Religion(s). Here is some academic material on Taoism that is a good start:
Taoism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
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victoreia

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What Is Taoism?
« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2011, 12:49:55 am »
Quote


Alan Watts is one of the easiest of the modern Taoist writers for westerners to understand, and he has several books to help would be Taoists find The Way.

My Taoist Tai Chi instructor was once asked why we do Tai Chi? Was it for self-defense, health, enlightenment? He said, no....we do Tai Chi to do Tai Chi........that other stuff is just a side effect.

I sometimes l think that Yoda was most likely Taoist, in his time and place. The Force, from Yoda's description, strongly resembles The Way to me........but YMMV of course.

 
Funny you should mention Yoda. My junior year religion class introduced Taoism, and the first thing that crossed my mind was how closely the Force resembled the Tao.

An introductory book I really enjoyed is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. (I'd post the link, but I'm posting from my phone at the moment.)
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treekisser

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2011, 09:44:55 am »
Quote from: Rowanfox;34458
It is possible that most Taoists would argue that theirs is a philosophy, not a religion.


Most Western Taoists, maybe. Seconding what Valentine said.

Rowanfox

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2011, 11:03:57 am »
Quote from: treekisser;34692
Most Western Taoists, maybe. Seconding what Valentine said.

 
Well, most "eastern" Taoists I have met don't really name their belief system and practices.......their ideas of religion are culturally very different from ours. I think it is hard to separate religion, philosophy and every day life for many eastern peoples. Also, Taoism, as the west defines it, seldom exists as a stand alone practice in the east, where it is often mixed with other religious or spiritual practices like Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, naturism etc.

Just my observations..... of course.

Valentine

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2011, 05:59:05 pm »
Quote from: Rowanfox;34698
Also, Taoism, as the west defines it, seldom exists as a stand alone practice in the east, where it is often mixed with other religious or spiritual practices like Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, naturism etc.
.

 
Well, probably not naturism, since that's nudists rather than a religion.  <3
But yeah.
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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2011, 06:01:52 pm »
Quote from: Rowanfox;34698
Well, most "eastern" Taoists I have met don't really name their belief system and practices.......their ideas of religion are culturally very different from ours. I think it is hard to separate religion, philosophy and every day life for many eastern peoples.

 
Okay but more seriously, though, I think you're pointing out something important that many of us often forget:  separating out "religion" from "culture" or "philosophy" or "everyday life" is a peculiar and culturally-situated thing that most cultures across history and geography simply don't do, and assuming that they do is a really classic anthropologists' mistake.
"Let be be finale of seem." - Wallace Stevens, "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"
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Rowanfox

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Re: What Is Taoism?
« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2011, 11:29:52 am »
Quote from: Valentine;34757
Okay but more seriously, though, I think you're pointing out something important that many of us often forget:  separating out "religion" from "culture" or "philosophy" or "everyday life" is a peculiar and culturally-situated thing that most cultures across history and geography simply don't do, and assuming that they do is a really classic anthropologists' mistake.

 
Yep. I think we often forget that most cultures, especially those with more limited contact with the "outside" world, never separated culture, religion and every day life.

Even us, in some ways. I still practice throwing salt over my left shoulder when spilled, I say grace (or at least thank the PTBs for dinner), say a small oath of thanks when I dodge the 3 car pile up on the freeway, do not walk under a ladder or put shoes on the table.

And yet, I have never consciously been involved in a religion that actively practices superstitious warding of evil. Nor would I have a name for it if you asked me.

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