Chinese religion: Taoism
It represents the wisdom accumulated over 5,000 years of Chinese history. Like the Confucianists, Daoists looked back to a golden age. The good ruler, they thought, guided his people with humility, not seeking to interfere with the rhythms of social life conducted within the larger patterns of the natural world and the whole cosmos. The Daoist adept was concerned to achieve 'immortality', seen as transmuted earthly existence. Unlike Buddhism, Daoists do not believe that life is suffering. Daoism believes that life is generally happy but that it should be lived with balance and virtue.
Since its foundation in Shundi period (126 - 144 AD) of East Han Dynasty, Taoism has had a history of more than 1,800 years, or more loosely speaking, a history of over 2,000 years.
The Origin of Daoism in China
The history of Daoism is as old as the history of religion in China. Much of Taoist religion comes from Chinese folk religion. Buddhist ideas were adopted, and ideas of Confucian philosophy were added. The origins of Daoism are obscure, but it is first seen as a rival to Confucianism. The teachings of early Taoism are ascribed to Lao Zi in the 15th century BC who is the reputed author of the most influential Taoist text, the Dao De Jing(道德经). Where the Confucian stressed ethical action, the Taoist spoke of the virtue of Wu Wei (non-action), going with the flow of things. Laozi’s successor, Zhuangzi, further developed Daoist principles. Writing in the 4th Century BC, Zhuangzi recounted his famed “Butterfly Dream” transformational experience, where he dreamt he was a butterfly but upon awakening, posed the question “Was it the butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.” The history of Taoism stretches throughout Chinese history. Originating in prehistoric China, it has exerted a powerful influence over Chinese culture throughout the ages. Taoism evolved in response to changing times, its doctrine and associated practices revised and refined. The acceptance of Taoism by the ruling class has waxed and waned, alternately enjoying periods of favor and rejection.
The Themes in Daoism Thought
Taoism, also known as Daoism, arose about the same time as Confucianism. Laoze, is considered to have written a book of 81 chapters, named Tao Te Ching, also Daodejing, a classical Chinese text, mainly concerning the word ‘Tao’ 道 (or Dao) translates into "path", ‘method’, ‘principle’ or "way", it is the basis of all living things, it governs nature, and it is a method to live by. Daoists do not believe in extremes, instead focusing on the interdependence of things. There is no total good or evil or negative and positive. The Yin-Yang symbol exemplifies this view. The black represents the Yin the white represents the Yang. Yin is also associated with weakness and passivity and Yang with strength and activity. The symbol shows that within the Yang there exists the Yin and vice versa. All nature is the balance between the two. The word 德 te/dé "virtue”, life, strength. It is Another key component of Daoism, which is the manifestation of the Dao in all things. De is defined as having virtue, morality and integrity.
The Three Treasures (三宝sānbǎo) are basic virtues in Taoism comprising Compassion, Moderation, and Humility. They are also translated as kindness, simplicity and modesty. Historically, the highest achievement of a Daoist is to achieve immortality through breathing, meditation, helping others and the use of elixirs.
The Spread of Daoism
The basic ideas of Taoism are Changsheng (long living), Shen (god), and Xian (immortal), etc., and its doctrine has evolved from the academic thought of Taoists in the Spring and Autumn, and Warring States Period. As time passed Daoism found itself in direct competition with the foreign teachings of Buddhism. It borrowed Buddhist practices and also drew on folk religious traditions to create its own religious form and ethos. It secured an essential place in popular religious life, but in this form it has ceased to bear much resemblance to the philosophical precepts of the early teachers. The earlier, more philosophical Daoism has continued to inspire Chinese painters and poets through the ages and its teachings appealed to many a scholar official who adhered to a strictly Confucian ethic in public life. During its popularization since its birth, Taoism had long been a kind of high-level culture, and widely pursued by the upper-class society. Consequently, many leaders of Taoism had gained great respects from the imperial governments. However, since the 12th century, Taoism began to decline due to its own reasons, the attitude change of the government as well as the revival of other religions. From then on, Taoism started to spread in the lower-class society, and its witchcraft elements facilitated its influence on the lower-class society. Daoism has influenced Chinese culture for over 2,000 years. Its practices have given birth to martial arts such as Tai Chi and Qigong. Healthy living such as practicing vegetarianism and exercise. And its texts have codified Chinese views on morality and behavior, regardless of religious affiliation.