Spiritual Guide: An Introduction To Taoism

Provides information on Taoism, its perceived problems in existence, its path and method of resolving problems, and its implicit values as a system.

Taoism is a Chinese religion that was most likely founded some time in the 3rd Century B.C.E. It's founder, Lao-Tsu, put down its somewhat esoteric principles in a book, known as the Tao te Ching, or the Way of the Tao.

Lao-Tsu's philosophy is likely to some extent a reaction to the teachings of Confucius, which emphasized a strict adherence to tradition, ritual, government and ethics in order to produce external harmony. Taoism seeks harmony through another route--not through external imposition or ritual, but rather interiorly by "going with the flow". Therefore, social harmony with the orderliness of nature as its pattern is not forced or coerced through abstract ethics, but rather comes about as a result of the neutral submission to circumstances and events.

According to Lao-Tsu, all of life is tied together in a flow, like that of a river. Suffering and the perception of evil--and its subsequent lack of peace, disunity and alienation--is a result of attempting to go against the flow by putting too much weight and meaning on polar opposites, or contradictory absolutes. The symbol of the Tao conceives of polarities as existing in circular unity, rather than as opposite extremes. To put great significance on one side disrupts the other, and breaks one's movement with the flow of nature, resulting in disorder and chaos.

Therefore, one must seek to overcome the illusion of absolutes in morality, or in the circumstances of life, which involves humility and a lack of selfishness. One must percieve each situation he enters as part of the flow, rather than investing personal significance in it, whether it is "good" or "bad". For instance, one might see a friend in the distance, and think it "good", but while running to meet him break his leg; breaking his leg, he might think is "bad"; but the person in the distance turns out to be a soldier coming to draft him for war, so the break is "good". Seeing his friend is both perceived as "bad" and "good"; breaking his leg is perceived as both "bad" and "good". One must quench inner conflicts and value judgments in order to "go with the flow" of the universe, which is tied together in one organic creature, and is neither intrinsically "good" nor "bad".

Obviously then, the Taoist trains himself not to think in terms of "good" or "bad," but is rather receptive in every situation to whatever possibilities might exist in it. He never tries to manipulate or control circumstances or people, and he must not compete with others. Going with the flow of the universe involves intuition, rather than the external rituals of Confucianism. One seeks the underlying energy of the cosmos, not merely to outwardly conform. To this end, the Taoist rejects the Confucist absolute of external harmony with society.

Taoism also places siginificance on language, viewing words as relative to each other and to context, and not ultimately descriptive or connected with reality. The universe and the Way (the Tao) cannot be adequately contained or described through discursive intellectual prowess, but must be experienced. This involves not going against nature (Wu Wei, or "nonaction"), but rather allowing all things to act according to each operations intrinsic nature. For the human, that means discovering his own intrinsic nature, and resisting any impulse to act in any way that is contrary to it.

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