"What you do not want done to you,do not do to others"
Confucius, Analects 15.23
"If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never be truly fulfilled."
Taoism takes its name from the word "Tao" ("the Way"), the ancient Chinese name for the ordering principle that makes cosmic harmony possible. Not a transcendent ultimate, the Tao is found in the world (especially through nature), and can be encountered directly through mystical experience. It is the ultimate reality as well as the proper natural way of life humans must follow. Taoism prizes naturalness, non-action, and inwardness.
Taoism is one of five religions officially recognized in China and claims adherents in a number of other societies. Taoism also has sizable communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and in Southeast Asia. It does not travel far from its Asian roots. The number of people practicing some form of Chinese folk religion is near to 950 million (70% of the Chinese). Among these, 173 million (13%) claim an affiliation with Taoist practices. Further, 12 million people claim to be "Taoists", a term traditionally used exclusively for initiates, priests and experts of Taoist rituals and methods.
Taoism (also called Daoism) is a spiritual, philosophical and religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (Dao). The term Tao means "way", "path", or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source of, and the force behind, everything that exists.
Laozi is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism and is closely associated in this context with "original" or "primordial" Taoism. Whether he actually existed is disputed; however, the work attributed to him – the Tao Te Ching – is dated to the late 4th century BCE .The roots of Taoism go back at least to the 4th century BCE. Early Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the School of Yinyang (Naturalists), and was deeply influenced by one of the oldest text of Chinese culture, the Yijing, which expounds a philosophical system about how to keep human behavior in accordance with the alternating cycles of nature.
The primary religious figures in Taoism are Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, two scholars who dedicated their lives two balancing their inner spirits. Shamans revealed basic texts of Taoism from early times down to at least the 20th century Institutional orders of Taoism evolved in various strains that in more recent times are conventionally grouped into two main branches: Quanzhen Taoism and Zhengyi Taoism. Taoism as religion has its origins in shamanism of the primitive society. It developed slowly, incorporating various folklore and folk religions, myths, and philosophy of different schools, as well as divination and medicine.
The most common graphic representation of Taoist theology 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, an aid that allows each person to contemplate the state of his or her lives.
Daoists believe that in living in harmony with this “energy” is like being in tune with music, a harmonious vibration that leads to a natural life. The name they give to the “energy” principle is the Dao (Tao). Since it is without form the Daoists reject duality of “self” and “other”, believing that all reality is in fact one weaved together by the Dao. Daoism has no central author or dogma, but it has the concept of an ancient and legendary Chinese librarian called Lao Tzu, who was the author of a short book just before he retired.
Chinese Taoist Association , founded in April 1957, is the main association of Taoism in the People's Republic of China. It is recognized as one of the main religious associations in the People's Republic of China, and is overseen by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Dozens of regional and local Taoist associations are included in this overarching group, which is encouraged by the government to be a bridge between Chinese Taoists and the government, to encourage a patriotic merger between Taoism and government initiatives. The group also disseminates information on traditional Taoist topics, including forums and conferences. The Chinese Taoist Association advocates the decompensation of losses inflicted on Taoism by the Cultural Revolution. Taoism was banned for several years in the People's Republic of China during that period.
Taoist practitioners in China are required to register with the Chinese Taoist Association in order to be granted recognition and official protection. The CTA exercises control over religious doctrine and personnel, and dictates the proper interpretation of Taoist doctrine. It also encourages Taoist practitioners to support the Communist Party and the state. For example, a Taoist scripture reading class held by the CTA in November 2010 required participants to ‘‘fervently love the socialist motherland [and] uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.’’ The central government of China has supported and encouraged the Association, along with other official religious groups, in promoting the "harmonious society" initiative of Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao.
When the Chinese creation myth is heard for the first time, we see in it a story similar to that told in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis. We also see a tendency in Chinese thought to express concepts in terms of essential components. The primal forces of the masculine and feminine, of the yang and the yin and their permutations, are emphasized. This ability to express abstract ideas in a direct manner is never really abandoned throughout the entire history of Chinese philosophical thought.
In the beginning of time, there was only chaos. The elements and gases of the heavens and earth freely mingled, and the organizing principle was dormant. It lay dormant somewhere inside this elemental cosmos, awaiting the right moment to begin the transformation. The shape of this primeval mass was something like an egg.
For 18,000 years the universe remained in this state, until the incubation was finally complete, and the egg hatched. Then the heavens and the earth came into existence. The lighter, most pure substances floated upward and became the heavens. These elements were named yang. The heavier, more impure substances descended and became the earth. These were named yin.
From the same forces, a third, the giant Pan Ku, was born as well. As he grew, his sheer size divided the heavens and the earth. The giant lived for another 18,000 years. With the assistance of four creatures, a tortoise, a phoenix, a dragon, and a unicorn, he labored daily to mold the earth. Together they created the world as we know it today.
When Pan Ku finally died, his body was transformed. His left eye became the sun and his right eye became the moon. His blood became the rivers and oceans, his breath became the wind, his sweat became the rain, and his voice became the thunder. His flesh became the soil, and from the fleas living on his body, the human race sprang into being. In this way, the stage was set for the pageant of history to unfold.
VISION OF GOD
Taoism does not have a God in the way that the Abrahamic religions do. There is no omnipotent being beyond the cosmos, who created and controls the universe. In Taoism the universe springs from the Tao, and the Tao impersonally guides things on their way.
But the Tao itself is not God, nor is it a god, nor is it worshipped by Taoists. they conventionally revere Lao Tsu both as the first god of Taoism and as the personification of the Tao.
Nonetheless, Taoism has many gods, most of them borrowed from other cultures. These deities are within this universe and are themselves subject to the Tao.
Many of the deities are gods of a particular role, rather than a personal divine being and have titles rather than names.
Taoist don’t believe that God is a person-shaped entity in the sky. In fact, Taoists don’t even believe God’s nature can be comprehended at all.In the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1, Lao Tzu writes:
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.
Books often describe the Taoist pantheon as a heavenly bureaucracy that mimics the secular administrations of Imperial China. Some writers think that this is the wrong way round and that the secular administrations took their cue from the structure of the heavens. Since the Imperial administrations and the religious culture of the time were closely intertwined this would not be surprising.
Daoists believe that there is no God, only an unknowable and non-understandable “energy” that pervades the Universe and gives rise to the things contained within it. This “energy” is neither alive nor “intelligent”, it is like a naturally occurring pattern and its influence drives what we call nature. It is “behind” reality, “invisible” to our inspection and detectable only by its influence. It is an operation of the universe and the fabric of reality upon which the cosmos, and everything in it, is interweaved.
Religious Taoism follows two main traditions. Each has a clear hierarchical and well-organized structure with special headquarters, rules, guidelines, ordination rites and registration procedures.
The celestial masters (Tianshi or Zhengyi) - Temple Daoism are centered in Taiwan. The monastic branch of the Complete Perfection School (Quanzhen) has its headquarters in Beijing.
The Complete Perfection School ordains people and provides monastic communities as a focus for Taoist practice and rituals.
The Tao Te Ching, a compact and ambiguous book containing teachings attributed to Laozi pinyin, is widely considered the keystone work of this philosophy. Together with the writings of Zhuangzi, which interprets and adds to the teaching of Laozi, these classic texts provide the philosophical foundation of Taoism deriving from the 8 trigrams of Fu Xi in the 2700s BC in China, the various combinations of which creates the 64 hexagrams as documented in the I Ching.
Some say that the original source of Taoism is said to be the ancient I Ching, The Book Of Changes.
Taoism encompasses both a Taoist philosophical tradition (Tao-chia) associated with the Tao-te Ching (Lao-tzu), Chuang-tzu, Lieh-tzu, and other texts, and a Taoist religious tradition (Tao-chiao) with organized doctrine, formalized cultic activity, and institutional leadership. These two forms of Taoist expression are clearly interrelated, though at many points in tension. Aspects of both philosophical and religious Taoism were appropriated in East Asian cultures influenced by China, especially Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
The Daozang ( Treasury of Tao) is also referred to as the Taoist canon. It was originally compiled during the Jin, Tang, and Song dynasties. The version surviving today was published during the Ming Dynasty.[ The Ming Daozang includes almost 1500 texts. Following the example of the Buddhist Tripiṭaka, it is divided into three dong ( "caves", "grottoes"). They are arranged from "highest" to "lowest".
The Zhen ("real" or "truth") grotto. Includes the Shangqing texts.
The Xuan ("mystery") grotto. Includes the Lingbao scriptures.
The Shen ("divine") grotto. Includes texts predating the Maoshan revelations.
Daoshi generally do not consult published versions of the Daozang, but individually choose, or inherit, texts included in the Daozang. These texts have been passed down for generations from teacher to student.
The Shangqing school has a tradition of approaching Taoism through scriptural study. It is believed that by reciting certain texts often enough one will be rewarded with immortality.
Lao Tzu’s theme of oneness is apparent throughout the entirety of the Tao Te Ching. Tao is the creator, the preserver, and the transformer of all Existence. The Universe is a vast and complex system, of which we are just a microscopic part.
The named is the mother of myriad things. Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence. Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations. These two emerge together but differ in name. The unity is said to be the mystery. Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders.
The “door to all wonders” is the oneness of all things.
Human’s like to do something that no other creature on Earth does: we like to give things names. We label everything. We ascribe all manners of characteristics to things. We obsess over differences in quantities and qualities; and in doing so, we forget that we are all apart of the same Universe.
The door to all wonders is realizing that All is One.
Therefore, in order to cultivate a life of contentment, one need only live a simple and healthy life. In living naturally, one moves with Tao; not against it. Within this Universal current, it’s easy to see and feel your place in the Universe, and realize that we are all One.
Hurting your fellow man, hoarding wealth, striving for fame: these are all unhealthy and subsequently unnatural actions – or at the very least, skewed natural actions. These things go against the natural flow of Tao and the laws of nature.
The results of these actions will lead to suffering. God does not need to step in and punish you.
Lao Tzu writes:
The returning is the movement of the Tao. The weak is the utilization of the Tao. The myriad things of the world are born of being. Being is born of non-being.
Everything happens in cycles, including the cycle of death, rebirth, and reincarnation. Reincarnation is not the result of bad karma, although your actions will certainly affect you in subsequent lifetimes. But the fact of the matter is organic life-forms require souls to animate their material bodies.
By this logic, we find that souls exiting a body at death and reentering another at birth, is as natural as breathing. Taoist experts believe that they can journey in spirit to higher realms of being - in much the same way that Shamans can journey out of the body.
The Taoist traveler makes such journeys through ritual, meditation, and visualization which separate them from this world and harmonize them with the energy flows of the universe. The journeys gradually move them closer and closer to the Tao itself. When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises. When it knows good as good, evil arises. Thus being and non-being produce each other.
Light cannot exist without darkness, good without evil, beauty without ugliness, wealth without poverty, life without death, et cetera, et cetera. What’s more, all of these aspects of existence are considered natural manifestations. There is no supreme good or supreme evil. Negative or immoral actions are considered the result of imbalance, in body, mind, or soul.
Taoist diet encourages fasting and vegetarianism.
One of the major parts of religious practice of Taoism is sex.
T'ai chi and the medical practice of Quigong are modern manifestations of Taoism.
There are Taoist temples, monasteries and priests, rituals and ceremonies, and a host of gods and goddesses for believers to worship. These are as vital to the survival of Taoism as individual understanding and practice.
Taoist Holy Days or holidays are usually astronomically based.
Taoists typically have a celebration or personal ritual performed on the equinoxes and solstices. These events represent a shift in the flow of environmental yin/yang, being peak times in the solstice and a transition time during the equinoxes. During such times, it is possible to easily build qi, enhance luck or refine karma.
There are many popular Taoist holidays that are also celebrated by ritual sects and not astronomical.
Some Taoist holidays are also Local Religious Holidays. This means that the Taoist in that country, or region have a special holiday that they celebrate that other Taoists do not. Often times these localized events come from the particular sect that is located in that region. Sometimes they exist to celebrate the actions of a famous Taoist within that community.
Although there are many ancient and modern holidays in Taoism, some of the major modern Taoism holidays are as follows:
The Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival is a celebration of the first full moon of the year, and also the birthday of Tianguan, one of the Taoist gods responsible for good fortune. On this day, people walk the streets carrying lighted lanterns, and red lanterns of all sorts are released into the sky at various public places. As a tradition of Lantern Festival, people eat Tangyuan, a kind of dumpling made of sweet rice and rolled into ping-pong sized balls and filled with sweet fillings. Eating Tangyuan symbolizes family unity and happiness.
Tomb Sweeping Day
Tomb Sweeping Day is believed to have originated in the Tang Dynasty, with Emperor Xuanzong. He noticed that there were an abundance of overly extravagant ceremonies and festivals being enacted, in honor of various ancestors. As a way of putting an end to this over-zealous celebrating, he passed a decree which stated that such celebrations could only happen at the graves of the ancestors, and only on one day of the year, Quingming.
Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival originated in the Zhou Dynasty, in honor of a man named Qu Yuan, who was a poet and statesman, and a minister to the Zhou Emperor. Qu Yuan was a wise and kind and honest man, who did much to eliminate the corruption rampant in the Zhou court.
This was a time in Chinese history when, though the Zhou Dynasty was the ruling power, a number of feudal states were vying for power, and internecine warfare was rampant. Qu Yuan advised the Zhou Emperor to avoid going to war with the Qin – one of these feudal states. This advice was not popular with the other members of the court, and Qu Yuan ended up being exiled.
When the Zhou were defeated by the Qin, Qu Yuan, in despair, threw himself into the Milou River, one the fifth day of the fifth month in 278 BC. His last poem was:
Many a heavy sigh I have in my despair,
Grieving that I was born in such an unlucky time.
I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phoenix chariot,
And waited for the wind to come,
To soar up on my journey
Upon hearing of Qu Yuan’s suicide, the local fisherman paddled out in their long boats, beating drums and throwing glutinous rice balls into the water, so that the fish wouldn’t eat Qu Yuan’s body.
Since that time, people have commemorated Qu Yuan by celebrating the anniversary of his death with activities that include dragon boat races and the eating of zong zi. Because Qu Yuan was a great poet, Duanwu Jie is sometimes also celebrated as “Poet’s Day.”
The Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year has been known as the main religious holiday in China. It involves burning paper statues of gods, allowing the spirits to fly up to heaven and report on the family's behavior. They are replaced with new statues.
Hungry Ghost Festival
It is said that hungry ghosts, (the dead who have not had a proper funeral), are let out of the underworld on this day. People try to claim the ghosts by making offerings, saying prayers, and entertaining them with musical events.
HEAVEN AND HELL
Ancient Taoism had no concept of Hell, as morality was seen to be a man-made distinction and there was no concept of an immaterial soul. In its home country China, where Taoism adopted tenets of other religions, popular belief endows Taoist Hell with many deities and spirits who punish sin in a variety of horrible ways. This is also considered Karma for Taoism.
Once upon a time, a man with a certain military bearing approached the Zen master Hakuin and asked: "Master, do Heaven and Hell actually exist?"
The master wanted to answer in the affirmative, but knew that this would give the man a false impression. In all likelihood the man operated under the mundane paradigm that Heaven and Hell exist as places for souls in the afterlife. The master knew what he must do to break through that false preconception.
"What is your occupation?" He asked.
"I'm a general." This explained the military bearing about him.
The master burst out laughing. "What idiot would ask you to command an army? You look more like a butcher to me!"
This enraged the general. With a roar he drew his sword. He could cut down this defenseless old man in an instant.
"Here lie the gates of Hell," said the master. These simple words stopped the powerful general dead in his tracks.
Realization flooded in. The general sudden understood that the master had risked his life in order to teach him a great truth in the most effective way imaginable.
"Forgive me, master, for what I was about to do." He felt all at once gratitude, amazement, and shame.
"Here lie the gates of Heaven," said the master.
This is an interesting tale. It tells us that even in ancient times, the sages had already evolved their spiritual understanding to a point where they saw Heaven and Hell as states of mind rather than places. In Taoism death is neither feared nor desired instead a person enjoys living.
A few basic concepts which define the nature of Afterlife for Taoism are:
In one sense: afterlife doesn’t exist in terms of a Taoist belief system. It’s in life that we are eternal in Taoism. The afterlife is within life itself. We are of the Tao when living and upon death are the Tao again. Death is the point where your essence is not you, non being… Yet it’s always you as we are always of the Tao, But your expression of your life is within life.
-We touch upon echoes of existence. So for example:
- When you die, you still live, in the memories of others.
- When you die, your essence reincarnates into a new form.
-When you die, you bounce back into your own life and have the opportunity to experience another
variation of your life.
-When you die, you rejoin the universe and are one with God if you believe in God.
- When you die, you discover so many truths exist
One way some people think of this is as: Afterlife in Taoism becomes what you hold as being true. If you hold onto a single truth then this statement is fine within Taoism. Yet if you hold onto only a single truth, you are only holding one color of the rainbow of possibilities.
Many variations exist within Taoism. Taoism is quite open in this question and as Taoists we like it that way .In some of the religious branches of Taoism, we have immortal deities. Quite a few stories exist where some Taoist is chasing after various forms of immortality.
Many Taoists don’t even worry about afterlife, it’s a non-issue. The Tao is simply logical. There’s no mysticism or need for invisible sky gods or some weird belief that you’re important enough to be reincarnated – you simply return to the Tao when you die. And you’re already there anyway, so what’s the big deal?”
And that’s a great Taoist answer about Afterlife. To quote from the Chuang-Tzu again:
“The true men of old did not know what it was to love life or to hate death. They did not rejoice in birth, nor strive to put off dissolution. Unconcerned they came and unconcerned they went. That was all. They did not forget whence it was they had sprung, neither did they seek to inquire their return thither. Cheerfully they accepted life, waiting patiently for their restoration (the end). This is what is called not to lead the heart astray from Tao, and not to supplement the natural by human means. Such a one may be called a true man. Such men are free in mind and calm in demeanor.”
Or more simply: Live and be yourself. Afterlife is not even a concern to a true Taoist in the Chuang-Tzu. So the best answer for a Taoist is: To make a life what you want it to be now. The rest will follow.
The social order of Taoism mimics the social order of China at any given time. In ancient times women were inferior to men and few rights .In modern times that has changed. The history of the social order in complex , but must be studied at a given point in time to reflect the social order of Taoism.
Taoist priests undergo long and intense training to acquire the necessary skills. They must study music, liturgy and ritual, as well as meditation and other physical practices; and they must learn Taoist theology and the spiritual hierarchy of the Taoist deities. During this training they are required to live highly disciplined lives.
In the initiation ritual, one has to affirm that you seek the Tao of your own sincere free will - i.e. you are not being forced into it, have not been brainwashed into it, and you are not harboring deception or hidden agenda. You also affirm your intention to be respectful of the teachings and the avatars of the Tao (Buddha, Taoist immortals, etc.).
The further instructions initiates receive and how they receive them:
They receive the Three Treasures of I-Kuan Tao during the initiation ritual. These are powerful tools to help you with your own spiritual cultivation. The ordained Master perform the ritual of transmission of these Treasures, then either the Master or a lecturer will explain their meaning and help you practice them a few times so you can start applying them in your life as soon as possible.
The details of the Three Treasures are reserved for the initiates, and therefore not completely spelled out in non-initiated writings.
Are there prerequisites and/or period of time an initiate must complete before initiation into I-Kuan Tao? The short answer is no. The long answer is that karmic affinity is the only requirement. One can cultivate or study the Tao with or without the initiation, so it's not some sort of obligation that anyone has to fulfill.
Chinese people have a term for karmic affinity: yuan. Someone who has no yuan with the temple would feel nothing but discomfort even just thinking about initiation. I have seen this happen a few times, particularly when the person has yet to work through deep-seated personal issues like closed-mindedness - and sometimes intellectual arrogance as well.
PURPOSE OF LIFE
The focus of most religious Taoism very simple. It is the attaining immortality.
Taoism is the religion of the Chinese that answers the traditional questions of :
-What am I ;
- Why am I here :
-What am I supposed to do ;
-What is the meaning of life ;
-How does one best live life;
-What happens when I die?
-Is this all there is?
Taoism sees that the Universe was originally chaos and it seeks harmony. The Ying-Yang is the Taoism symbol for achieving that harmony and for harmony itself. It is not too much different from Buddhism and Hinduism in basic principles, but differs mainly in deities, organization and practice.
Humans have certain tendencies. They put names on things; they anticipate the future and wonder about the past; they wonder about death and that ask why they are here and what it is all about. Taoism is the Chinese response to those Universal questions.
October 23 ,2016