Taoism

Throughout history, Taoism has been one of the most influential
religions of Eastern culture. This is certainly one of the most unique
of all religions. Many Taoists, in fact, do not even consider it a
religion; and in many ways it is not. Taoists make no claim that the
Tao exists.1 That is what essentially separates Taoism from the rest of
the world religions: there is no heated debate or battle over Taoist
doctrine; there have been no crusades to spread the religion. The very
essence of Taoism is quite the opposite. Taoism’s uniqueness and
open-endedness have allowed the religion to flourish almost undisturbed
and unchanged for over two thousand years.

The founder of Taoism was a man named Lao Tzu, who lived around the
year 604 B.C.E. According to Chinese legend, Lao Tzu was an archivist
in the imperial library at Lo Yang was known for his knowledge, although
he never taught.2 When Lao Tzu left his position at the library, he
went to the Chinese province of Chou. At the border, however, he was
stopped and forced to write down his teachings. During this time, he
wrote the Tao Te Ching, the major scripture of Taoism.3

After Lao Tzu’s death, a man named Yang Chu (440-366 B.C.E.) took up
his teachings.4 A naturalist and philosopher, Yang Chu believed highly
in self-regard and survival as the core of human nature and direction.
His ideals were personal integrity and self-protection, and said that he
was unwilling to pluck one hair from his head even if all humanity were
to benefit from it.5

The next influential Taoist philosopher was Chang Tzu, who lived from
350-275 B.C.E. He defined existence using Lao Tzu’s teachings.6 He
wrote fifty-two books in response to the Tao Te Ching, thirty-three of
which still survive today.7 Using exaggeration and fantasy, he
illustrated Lao Tzu’s teachings and how the Tao acted in nature. His
theories spoke of a cosmic unity which encompasses all reality and
guides it naturally, without force, to its proper end.8

The Yin and Yang theory became part of Taoist philosophy around 300
B.C.E. when they were mentioned in the Hsi tz’u, an appendix to the I
Ching.9 Yin and Yang are defined as the two forces in nature. They are
often called the two “breaths” or ch’i.10 Yin is the feminine
principle, representing darkness, coolness, and dampness; Yang is the
masculine principle, representing brightness, warmth, and dryness.11
Neither principle is good or bad; they are not opposites, but each is
needed to maintain stability in the universe.12 This belief holds that
everything is defined through opposition; consequently, the virtues of
balance and understanding are highly valued.13

Taoism became an official religion between 100 and 200 C.E.14 Due to
competition from Buddhism, Taoists adopted many Buddhist beliefs.
During this pivotal point in the religion’s history, searching for
self-knowledge and wisdom were replaced by searching for solutions to
sorrows and other physical problems.15 Alchemy and superstition became
highly popular during this period of time, as Taoists tried to escape
reality rather than to control the artificial and unnatural. Many
Taoists used magic and the concept of Tao to try to extend the physical
life rather than to focus on the afterlife.16 Gradually the religion
becomes more complicated, with a wide pantheon of gods and a ruling
hierarchy.17

The leader Chang Ling took the title “Heavenly Teacher” in 200 C.E. He
created a dynasty of high priests who manipulated Taoism to support a
superstitious doctrine of magic and mysticism.18 Seizing higher power
as a religious leader, he pioneered a merging of Taoism and
Zoroastrianism into a system called Five Bushels of Rice Taoism.
Eventually this developed into a society based on Mazdaism, a
Zoroastrian sect, where every believer was charged five bushels of
rice.19 Although the believers followed the basic Zoroastrian worship
format, they worshipped different gods: the Tao instead of Ahura-Mazda,
and the various Chinese folk gods in place of the Persian Angels.20

Three hundred years later, the philosopher Honen moved away from
Mazdaism and combined Taoism with Buddhism. This simplified religion he
created became known as the Pure Land School, or Amidaism. Gradually,
however, Taoism again became tied to magic, and it failed as a
religion.21 Today, only its original philosophies survive and there are
very few followers of Taoism, mostly found in Taiwan.22 Although
Taoism’s religious practices deteriorated with advancing Western
influence, its philosophical aspects have outlasted those of
Confucianism and Zen Buddhism.23

For centuries, Taoism has been known as the Way of Harmony.24 This is
because Taoists believe that the Tao leads all nature toward a natural
balance. The Tao, however, is not considered to be a deity or a ruler:
it may