Toaism Essay, Research Paper
Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher and reputed founder of Taoism, was born in the province of Henan. According to tradition, he is the author of the Tao-te Ching, a book that has had enormous influence on Chinese thought and culture. It teaches that “the way” is realized through recognition and acceptance of nothingness; that is, knowing that weakness equals strength, happiness depends on disaster, and passivity is the greatest action.
The Tao-te Ching is a poem that consists of approximately eighty-one stanzas. While many Taoists have their own personal interpretations the idea of Tao, there are five main concepts that run throughout the stanzas which all Taoists observe; the nature of the Tao, the idea of “the one,” the theme of yin and yang, anti-Confucianism, and naturalism.
“Tao is the pointing finger and, at the same time, the direction,” or as the beginning of the Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” “I do not know its name, so I call it Tao. If you insist on a description, I may call it vast, active, moving in great cycles.” How then, to describe the indescribable, or to put into words that which is beyond words? The ancient sages say the Tao can only be referred to. It cannot be held, only experienced, it cannot be touched, only felt, and it cannot be seen, only glimpsed with the inner eye. Lao Tsu teaches that the Tao is eternal, unchanging, simple and has no body, which means that no limited, human language can fully express its essence.
More a mode of living that an actual theology, Taoism asks that each person focuses on the world around them in order to understand the inner harmonies of the universe. It is a religious system heavily focused on meditation and contemplation. The Tao surrounds everyone and one must listen to find enlightenment.
Secondly, Taoism is based on the idea that behind all material things and all the change in the world lies one fundamental, universal principle: the Tao. This principle gives rise to all existence and governs everything, all change and all life. Behind the bewildering multiplicity and contradictions of the world lies a single unity. The Tao is the natural order of things. It is a force that flows through every object, as well as through the entire universe. All things are relative, all opposites blend, and all contrasts are harmonized. the One is Tao. It is the total spontaneity of all things. All is so-of-itself.
Next, the most common graphic representation of Taoist philosophy is the circular Yin-Yang figure. It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray. The Yin and Yang are a model that the faithful follow, and an aid that allows each person to contemplate the state of their lives.
Since the Taoists believe that the Tao is the cosmic, mysterious, and ultimate principle underlying form, substance, being, and change, it can be used to understand the universe and nature as well as the human body. For example, “Tao gives birth to the One, the One gives birth to Two, and from two emerges Three. Three gives birth to all the things. All things carry the Yin and the Yang, deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital forces.” Tao is the cause of change and the source of all nature, including humanity. Everything from quanta to solar systems consists of two primary elements of existence, Yin and Yang forces, which represent all opposites. These two forces are complementary elements in any system and result in the harmony or balance of the system. All systems coexist in an interdependent network. The dynamic tension between Yin and Yang forces in all systems results in an endless process of change; production and reproduction and the transformation of energy. This is the natural order. Nature and the earth are constantly in flux. Simply, the only constant in the world is change. When individuals learn that growth and movement are natural and necessary, they can become balanced.
In addition, Confucianism was an activist philosophy. It was concerned with the arts of the government of city-states and with social morality. It was “this-worldly,” and while the activist philosophers were advocating their theories in the courts and capitals of the city-states, philosophical activities of quite a different kind were taking place in the countryside, outside of society. These were the philosophies of the Taoists.
Confucianism inspired a religion of individual moral duties, community standards, and governmental responsibilities. In contrast, Taoism placed its emphasis on individual freedom and spontaneity, laissez-faire government and social primitivism, mystical experience, and techniques of self-transformation. Confucianism and Taoism reflect something of the Chinese philosophical origins from the “classic texts.” However, Confucianism was predominantly a religion of the court and of the gentry, while Taoism never lost sight of its more popular roots in seeking access to knowledge in the trance-like state of the shaman rather than the documents of antiquity.
Finally, for many centuries Taoism was an informal way of life. A way followed by peasant, farmer, gentleman, philosopher and artist. It was a way of deep reflection and learning from nature, considered the highest teacher. Followers of the Way studied the stars in the heavens and the energy that lies deep within the earth. Taoism encourages working with natural forces, not against them. It teaches the path of wu-wei-the technique of mastering circumstances, not trying to control them. In yielding we can find strength and succor and in softness we can find a way to overcome even the worst tribulations. What is being spoken of is not a mushy, weak kind of softness, but a resilient, decisive softness-the springy softness of the bamboo which bends and springs back in contrast to the hard and stiff oak which is blown down in a hard wind.
Lao Tzu describes a Taoist as the one who sees simplicity in the complicated and achieves greatness in little things. He or she is dedicated to discovering the dance of the cosmos, in the passing of each season as well as the passing of each moment in our lives. He says: “Those who seek for and follow the Tao are strong of body, clear of mind, and sharp of sight and hearing. They do not load their mind with anxieties, and are flexible in their adjustment to external conditions.”