Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Taoist Faith/Philosophy (Installment #2 H2)

Installment #1

            In my first installment, I wrote about Lao Tzu. A man who is widely considered a myth or legend to many historians today. This does not diminish the Taoist way any less. It is difficult to gauge how many people adhere to the Taoist teachings as many internet sources tend to disagree; some say 2 million, some say 6, one site claims its possible there is 173 million followers. The internet makes things so complicated that it makes any one site unreasonable compared to another. For all we know, these online researchers are jumbling up people who follow Confucius and those who follow The Tao (“The Way”). So, it would probably be a good idea to try to untangle everything that modern culture tangles up. For this second installment, I will be explaining the Taoist Faith/Philosophy, along with comparing and contrasting Confucianism and Taoism so that way there is a clearer understand of what each religion or philosophy represent.
            The first thing I wanted to get out of the way was this symbol:

I’m sure many students of philosophy have seen the Taoist symbol Yin and Yang. But it’s origins are surprisingly not Taoist at all.  The origins of the yinyang idea are obscure but ancient. In the 3rd century B.C.E.  it formed the basis of an entire school of cosmology, whose main representative was Zou Yan. Upon reading through the website “Ancient History Encyclopedia” and other encyclopedias, they said that he believed that life went through and was made up of five phases/elements - fire, water, metal, wood, earth - which continuously interchanged per the principle of yin and yang. There is mention of him in the Shiji but it is brief and does not offer much as to who he was but this idea of Yin and Yang followed through much of Chinese culture, even seeping into Confucian and Taoist thought. But the Taoist religion and philosophy pull more from this symbol due to their stronger connection with nature and its position on life. I tend to mix Yin and Yang up, but the idea is this: Yin = feminine, black, dark, north, water (transformation), passive, moon (weakness and the goddess Changxi), earth, cold, old, even numbers, valleys, poor, soft, and provides spirit to all things. And Yang = masculine, white, light, south, fire (creativity), active, sun (strength and the god Xihe), heaven, warm, young, odd numbers, mountains, rich, hard, and provides form to all things. The Taoists favor yin whilst Confucians favor yang in keeping with the prime focus of their respective philosophies. The Taoists seem to emphasize reclusion to gain a bigger sense of the universe whilst Confucians believe in the importance of engagement in life.
So, what else could Confucius and Laozi possibly disagree on? Or agree on? In the broadest sense of each Religion/Philosophy they are put thusly: Confucianism mainly deals with interpersonal relationships, social conduct, and a lot of rules; while Taoism mostly deals with a person’s relationship with nature, the universe, and going with the flow that comes with it. According to an article written by a grad student at the University of Hawaii, “Confucianism clearly defines what is proper and what is "right". Daoism does not define with words what is right or wrong; it encourages you to find out for yourself what it means to be in harmony with nature”. The Tao Te Ching offers another insight between the two. It states that Confucius and Lao-tzu did in fact meet to discuss the Imperial Archives and other rituals. But Laozi was unimpressed by the “beautiful robes” worn by Confucius, and did not agree with looking back on the past. "Put away your polite airs and your vain display of fine robes. The wise man does not display his treasures to those he does not know. And he cannot learn justice from the Ancients." Laozi in this instance seems like a very straight forward kind of guy… until you read some of his quotes. "Without going out of your door, you can know the ways of the world. Without peeping through your window, you can see the Way of Heaven. The farther you go, the less you know. Thus, the Sage knows without traveling, sees without looking, and achieves without struggle." Or "Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." That last one reminds me of what Bruce Lee once said about being like water.

To flow like water is to follow the current, or its path. That is the essence of the Taoist teaching. The Tao, or “The Path”, is similar to Buddhist idea of finding the “middle way”. Laozi believed that the way to happiness was for people to learn to "go with the flow." Instead of trying to get things done the hard way (Confucianism), people should take the time to figure out the natural, or easy way to do things, and then everything would get done more simply. This idea is called "wu-wei", which means "doing by not doing". But in this teaching, he was trying to reach another goal. Laozi was against wars, government, etc., because he believed in The Tao and that everything in the universe was connected by a special energy that many scholars just labeled as the “Life force”. This life force is where a lot of Taoists introduce the Yin and Yang as the Light and Dark sides of the life force. One cannot exist without the other. But when war is fought and blood is spilt, it disrupts this energy and Laozi hated that people reveled in that. This partly explains his leave during the fall of the Zhou Dynasty when war broke out.
But none of this explains how exactly a philosophy from way back when, became religious. You see, the Chinese use separate terms to distinguish between two major trends within Taoism. Tao-chia, more commonly known as “Philosophical Taoism,” consists of mystical teachings about the Tao, “roughly but inadequately translated as ‘Way’” as stated by award winning Author and Speaker Caroline Myss. And the art of wu-wei, as mentioned earlier, defined by Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. “Through meditation, students of Tao-chia learn to let things proceed as they ought. Because it is philosophically oriented, Tao-chia was never institutionalized, passing from teacher to student without the mediation of an organized church.” (Caroline). Philosophical Taoism tries to reduce the friction that comes with most of life’s actions and to conserve one’s vital energy. On the opposite end, Tao-chiao, or Religious Taoism, focuses more pragmatically than Tao-chia on ways to achieve longevity or even immortality through the augmentation and preservation of one’s essential vitality, or ch’i
 I know this can get confusing, it was confusing to start with when I was doing all my research. Everyone jumbles up the history and statistics so much that there is so much to sort through. Even finding a concrete beginning of how to explain Tao was confusing: Yin and Yang, its correlation to Confucianism, or The Tao itself. But that should not stop anyone from trying to learn the practices of Religious or Philosophical Taoism.

Morgan's Installment on Buddhism
Robin's Installment on John Muir


  1. "The farther you go, the less you know. Thus, the Sage knows without traveling" - boy, is that anti-peripatetic!

    The yin-yang duality is irresistible, but isn't it too binary? The more I "travel" the more I realize that things are on a continuum, less either/or, more both/and. They flow together, like water. No wonder they're confusing.

  2. This was really informational, I really enjoyed it! I wish we had more education on the different types of faiths/philosophies out there. It was nice to finally understand the yin/yang symbol!

  3. i enjoyed reading this because i myself really enjoy the eastern philosophical school of thought more than the ideas of western philosophers. I really enjoy the way that taoists search for higher meanings in life versus Confucianism which deals more with the social aspects of philosophy.