Origins of Taoism

Taoism commonly pronounced as “Daoism” (its first syllable is pronounced as Dow hence Daoism) has no single specific angle from which it can be defined; it can either be defined through the eyes of philosophy, culture, or religion since it heavily incorporates the three aspects. In simpler sense, Daoism can be referred to as the practice of reverence and submission to an all encompassing cosmic force governing nature. The key concept behind Taoism is the Tao which implies “the way” or “the path.” In essence the Tao refers to a formless, nameless, all-pervasive power which brings all things to existence and reverts’ them back to non-existence in an eternal cycle. The concept of Taoism is native to the Chinese and is known to have been in existence for more than 2000 years.

The Taoism culture emphasizes on the importance of submission to the way of the Tao which basically is submission to the all encompassing cosmic force through adapting and finding one’s place in the natural order of things. A key Taoism concept argues that rather than fight situations or conditions which one finds themselves in, they ought to yield and accept things things as they are with a knowledge that every situation or condition is cyclical, hence, as a natural order the situation or condition shall pass; that there is no situation or circumstance that exists by itself, everything has to balance, where there is good there is bad, where there is beautiful there is ugly, where there is life there is death and so forth. The reasoning behind d balance and harmony in all things gave birth to the concept of yin and yang in Taoism which shall be explained later in this article.

The Narrative

Even though the concept behind Daoism might have been conceived way much earlier, its awareness to the mainstream is closely linked to a Chinese philosopher known as Lao-Tzu. Around 500 B.C.E Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching (Dao de Jing) which up to date is lauded as a notable text in Taoism. A historian named Sima Qian (145-86 BCE), narrates the legend of Lao Tzu in a compelling picture.

According to Sima Qian’s narrative, Lao Tzu was a natural philosopher who worked as a curator at the Royal library in the state of Chu. Lao Tzu was a strong believer that if people could only suspend their self interests briefly and consider other people’s interests as well then balance and harmony could easily be achieved. Incidentally, Lao Tzu grew impatient in the manner which people carried themselves and with the corruption he witnessed in the government which brought untold pain and misery to the citizens. Due to frustration from his inability to solve the situation he decided to go for a self imposed exile.

As Lao Tzu was taking the Western Pass to leave China, Yin Hsi the gatekeeper who recognized him as a philosopher enquired as to his whereabouts. Yin Hsi then asked Lao Tzu to write him a book to which He agreed. Lao Tzu then made himself comfortable on a rock beside Yin Hsi and wrote the Tao Te Ching (The Book of The Way). On completion of the book, Lao Tzu handed the book over to Yin Hsi and calmly walked through the western pass into oblivion.

The Tao-Te-Ching is not your typical book of scripture; it is a collection of sayings and poetry from the 3rd and 4th century BCE which depicts a simple way of living life and following the Tao. It emphasizes living a harmonious life with one self and others. There are sources which indicate that Lao Tzu might have been a mythical figure who probably did not author the Tao-Te-Ching at all. These sources indicate that the Tao-Te-Ching might have been a product of several authors developed over time; however that’s not important at this point, the most important thing is the message being delivered.

As noted earlier, one of the key concepts behind Taoism is belief in the balancing forces of yin and yang; a concept which depict opposing sides (like good and bad, light and dark) working in harmony to attain the universal whole. The yin and yang concept illustrate that nothing in the universe makes sense by itself. For one to appreciate the good times there have to be bad times as well, otherwise how would you know whether whatever you are experiencing is good or bad, how would it all make sense, opposing sides make the universal whole.

Taoism has had tremendous effect in the development of the Chinese civilization over the years. Its influence soared during the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) where at some point it was decreed as a state religion in China. Even though its influence waned with the fall of the Tang dynasty there are still some major contributions attributed to its very existence.

Some of the notable contributions attributed to the practice of Taoism are scientific in nature. For instance, the invention of gunpowder as well as other areas of Chinese medicine that came about as a result of the search for the “elixir for immortality.” Then there is the invention of the magnetic compass which was first applied in the art of fixing the most promising sites for structures and buildings (feng shui); this came about from an effort to align human life with the universal energies. These are just a few examples to show the far reaching influence that Taoism has exerted on civilization over the years.

Since its inception, Taoism has spread to several parts of Asia including: Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Singapore. More recently it has found its way North American countries and Europe as well.

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