Out of the obscure Chinese past, around 600 B.C. we see a faint figure of a man named Lao-Tsu. Some scholars believe he dialogued with a fellow Chinese philosopher and sage, Confucius. Lao-Tsu is said to have written the little book upon which much of Taoism rests, the Tao-Te-Ching. Like other sages and founders of religious movements, Lao-Tsu attempted to address the basic questions that all humans have asked since the dawn of time. Who am I? How am I to live my life? How do I find happiness? What happens after death? Once, he said, "You seek wisdom, goodness, and contentment. In the ways you are trying to attain them, you are blind and foolish. Cannot you see that wisdom is trust, goodness is acceptance, and contentment is simplicity? This is the way of the world."

The teachings of Lao-Tsu are a part of the ethos of Taoism, or the "way of nature." Taoism represents perfect balance within nature, and that balance produces perfect harmony. Tao is more a reality than a god. I suppose that if a Taoist were to be asked, "If there is a God, what would be the nature of that God?", his answer would be "Tao". The universe is filled with binary polarities, ebb and flow, creation and destruction ending in new creation. This idea is captured somewhat in the Hebrew axiom: "You turn man to destruction, and say, 'Return, you children of men'" (Psalm 90:3).

Marcus Borg observed: "God is the Tao that cannot be named." For, "To be known directly is the characteristic mark of an idol" Kierkegaard. Karl Barth, commenting on the mystery-the Tao-of God stated: "If Christ be very God, he must be unknown." But we humans fear the unknown. We want to explain our deity. What we can explain, we can control and be god over. Tao to Christians restores the sense of mystery and awe concerning God.

Taoism is a way of life, seeking balanced living within nature. Taoists have their "Garden of Eden" stories, referring back to a "Golden Age"-a time when all lived "naturally" and "balanced" lives, accepting the simple ebb and flow of life. Ambition and aggression violated ones own nature and sounded the death knell for happiness. "Acceptance" of the way things are is important to the Taoist.

But reformers like Confucius came along espousing a "morality model"-if men would be virtuous enough, the Golden Age could be regained. Taoists resisted the striving after virtue as the way back to harmony, feeling that such an effort only produces legalism and the sort of hyper-moral-ism as was seen in Nazi Germany. Chuang-tse, a later disciple of Taoism (about 300 B.C.) believed that reformers and moralists who came preaching purity and goodness were "chasing their own shadows," a figure to compulsive striving and antithetical to the spirit of Taoism. However, Taoists do not deny evil. Evil is seen in a more "redeeming" way:

"The teaching of the Tao te Ching is moral in the deepest sense. Unencumbered by any sense of sin, the Master does not see evil as a force to resist, but simply as an opaqueness, a state of self-absorption that is in disharmony with the universal process, so that, as with a dirty window, the light can't shine through. This freedom from moral categories allows him his great compassion for the wicked and the selfish"-Stephen Mitchell

There exists a similar tension between liberals and conservatives in the Christian Church. Fundamentalists tend to promote the moral priority. Liberals believe that grace must appear and be experienced (Tao) before "truth" can happen, referring to the apostle John's remark: "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth (in that order) came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). St. Paul corroborated this correct order as he denounced the moral legalists of his day, claiming the moral priority produced an "under the law" atmosphere, which in turn incited rather than minimized, sin.

Those who live by Tao do not use force, citing the example of all "nature." Nature doesn't "argue", it just is. Gravity operates naturally as well as all other natural law. We Westerners can learn much from the Tao ethos. It would go far in removing our compulsive, obsessive and controlling behavior-a special travesty when this is seen within Christianity.

Taoism is practically inarticulate and works from the inside. Christians, too, are encouraged to listen for that "still, small voice" within. But Christianity also has had its share of moral purists and reformers. These have turned the attention of many to the "outside"-making the priority "behavior" and "works." This has manifested in frenzied attempts to get unbelievers "saved" before it's "too late." Such Christians are taught to distrust their feelings and intuitions, to look to "leaders" and powerful teachers who apparently have the knowledge and way of salvation. This, of course, is priest-craft and has led to over two thousand Christian denominations. "Thinking that we know, when actually we do not, is a special sickness to which all men are prone. Only when we become sick of such conceit and fraud can we cure ourselves of the sickness" (Ibid.).

We humans are creatures of extremes. This often shows up within our spirituality, making for aberrant religious behavior. Taoism did not escape this and so later followers became extreme and fanatical in their search for meaning. Some became hermits and nihilistic. Others became compulsive and controlling in their attempts to formulate "the way" of Taoism. Followers became discouraged, some turning to Confucianism. China today is a "mixed bag" religiously. Though Taoism in its original form has faded out, its positive influence within other religious traditions, in China and worldwide, continues to be felt.

"When two great forces collide, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield"--Taoist saying


The symbol of Taoism represents Yin and Yang in balance. Yin is female, cold, passive, negative, dark, death, good, right, weak, responsive. contraction. Yang is male, hot, active, positive, light, life, evil. left, strong, aggressive, expansion. Tao (pronounced "Dow") can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way. It "refers to a power which envelops, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe. It embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without female.)"

"Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." Lao Tse

"We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance, and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in the Tao, that we may live in peace and balance with the Universe, both in this mortal life and beyond." Lao Tse'

The founder of Taoism was Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE) Taoist Beliefs and Practices: Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life. The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao. The concept of a personified deity is foreign to Taoism, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.

Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking. Yin (dark side) is the breath that formed the earth. Yang (light side) is the breath that formed the heavens. They symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen throughout the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. Intervention by human civilization upsets the balances of Yin and Yang. The symbol of Taoism, seen at the top of this page, represents Yin and Yang in balance. "The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.

Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth. Each person must nurture the Ch'i (air, breath) that has been given to them.

Development of virtue is one's chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility. Taoists follow the art of "wu wei", which is to achieve action through minimal action. "It is the practice of going against the stream not by struggling against it and thrashing about, but by standing still and letting the stream do all the work. Thus the sage knows that relative to the river, he still moves against the current. To the outside world the sage appears to take no action - but in fact he takes action long before others ever foresee the need for action." One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.

A Taoists is kind to other individuals, largely because such an action tends to be reciprocated. Taoists believe that "people are compassionate by nature...left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward."

The Creed: "We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance, and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in the Tao, that we may live in peace and balance with the Universe, both in this mortal life and beyond."

For further information. http://www.crystalinks.com/taoism.html