Taoism: as a way of life
An introduction -
Tao is an ancient Chinese word which literally means “way”. Taoism, also known as Daoism, is its derivative and is based on a core principle that signifies cosmic harmony. Tao is not a transcendent ultimate, but exists as a reality in the form of nature in the world.
An early surviving text to describe the Tao is the Tao-Te Ching, written by a Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu (The old master) sometime in the 3rd or 4th centuries BCE. The Tao-Te Ching focuses on Tao as a "way" or "path" - an appropriate way to behave and to lead others. But the Tao-Te Ching also refers to Tao as something that existed before Heaven and Earth, a primal and chaotic matrix, from which all forms emerged. Taoism did not exist as an organized religion until the Way of the Celestial Masters sect was founded in 142 C.E. by Zhang Daoling. The Way of the Celestial Masters and other later founded sects of Taoism engaged in complex ritual practices, including devotion to a wide range of celestial divinities and immortals. Thousands of Taoist religious texts were produced over the centuries. Different Taoist religious sects were persecuted in China during the 19th and 20th centuries, but they are currently undergoing a revival.
The Tao-Te Ching is a series of poems that can be considered to be a work of philosophy about achieving a balanced life, representing the philosopher’s reflection of humanity and the universe.
Primarily, there are two types of Tao: philosophical and religious. The former one is rational, contemplative and non-sectarian whereas the latter is magical, cultic, esoteric and sectarian. T'ai chi, fengshui, and the medical practice of Quigong are modern manifestations of Taoism.
In actuality, Taoism is more than religion or philosophy. It is a system comprising of beliefs, attitudes and practices formed about people’s own nature, guiding them to lead a better and purposeful life. One can put these beliefs, attitudes and practices into a routine in life with some diligent efforts so as to make their practice a regular habit. It is about accepting oneself fully, living life wisely and in the process discovering oneself. Our nature is ever changing and will always be changing. So, we should not resolve various contradictions in life but to accept them as our true nature.
Over the years, Taoism has become many things to many people, who have imparted different meanings to the variations in Tao practices. Some of these practices are religious whereas others are philosophical in nature.
Fundamentals of practice of Taoism -
The practice of Taoism requires us to embrace life in action without any reservation. It teaches a person to live to one’s heart. The following are some simple basic precepts about the practice of Taoism:
- A Taoist will not harbor thoughts of revenge, when someone comes to do harm to him or her.
- When a Taoist sees someone unfortunate, he or she will support the person with dignity to recover good fortune.
- One will not kill but always be mindful of host of living beings.
- One will not be lascivious and think depraved thoughts.
- A Taoist will not cheat or misrepresent right or wrong.
- One should be absolutely true to oneself by living and expressing one’s true nature.
- We should connect to the world as we want to be treated by it and help those, who are an extended expression of our nature. On the other hand, we should connect to those outside our nature with decisive action.
- No action is required for those, who are unwilling to accept us for our true nature. We should just let them be themselves as we remain ourselves.
- We should live life as if we own nothing and are merely a passing custodian of items outside our nature.
- We should discover a set of practices that aid to keep mind, body and spirit engaged and strong, always remembering that the practices fit the needs of the moment. For example, the practice of martial arts, Tai chi, or yoga to keep our body supple and strong, and meditation to clear our mind will support our essential nature.
- One should just relax and poke around. Taoism has no plans as it is based upon one’s gut feelings and trusting one’s instincts.
- One should breathe mindfully when needing a break since to breathe is to be one with you. Breathing is an inherently incessant action of all living beings and, therefore, if we do it with awareness, we connect to our true nature.
- One should smile unreservedly as it opens up possibilities.
- Quietness constitutes an important part of Tao living. It is necessary every now and then to take time off to hear yourself and not the noise of civilization.
- Normally, we think that we should perform to perfection. Tao says it’s not so but we should desire being good at something, embracing all little imperfections, which end up actually being defining characteristics of each of us. Taoism teaches us how to accept both the best and the worst parts of our life.
- Taoism teaches us to drop expectations. A Taoist lives life without expectations, living in the here and now fully. But most people need a few expectations especially when dealing with important future experiences. A Taoist creates only a single expectation at a time for future experience. For instance, you expect to travel to a particular tourist place to see interesting spots there. If you complicate your expectation of visiting that place by wishing to reach the place by air, travel locally by AC car or have some other special treatment here, you will actually plant the seed for the opposite to occur. Similarly, if you entertain very high expectations about the attractions for tourists at that place, your will sow the seed of disappointment. Instead if you keep this expectation as simple as visiting the place, your expectation is likely to be fulfilled fully. By creating a single and simple expectation, this becomes something you can always fulfill since you can empower that action to happen. An expectation that is complicated relying on something outside of yourself sets up the future for not meeting your expectation. Therefore, dropping expectation is very important within Taoism since not meeting one’s expectation is likely to cause one unhappiness or discontentment.
The bottom line -
This is Taoism at its very elementary level so that an initiate to Taoism can put these simple precepts into one’s life to realize one’s full potential to lead a better life. Taoism as a tradition has teachers, who work with students on an individual basis. In the end, no guide or Master can be right for everyone. For this reason, you are always your own best teacher. Give yourself credit and patience to be such a teacher to your own life.