Taoism, which originated in China, is somewhat confusing in its origins.
Everyone seems to agree that it was started by the sage Lao-tsu, (also known as Lao Tzu, Laozi, Lao Tse or Laotse).
But apparently there is still debate as to whether he even existed !
(His name is actually interesting, in that it is made up of two separate Chinese words – Lao, which means venerable or old – and Zi or Tsu, which means boy.
Thus this name is not his real name but is a name given to honor him – The Venerable Boy or the Old Boy.
His real name is thought to be Li Er – (which somehow doesn’t have the same ‘ring’ to it !)
He is thought to have lived around 600 B.C., and legend has it that he lived for 800 years !
He was around at the same time as another important Chinese sage – Confucius, and the two apparently met and exchanged ideas.
Although there is no evidence that Lao Tzu ever met Buddha, there is a famous drawing that represents Lao Tzu, Confucius and Buddha all tasting vinegar – and thus known as “the Vinegar Tasters”….it is an interesting comment on thethree people involved – and their philosophies.
In the picture – — the one on the right is Lao Tzu – with a smile— Confucius on the left – with a sour expression— and Buddha in the centre – with a bitter expression.
This supposedly represents the main attitude of each man, and therefore also of his philosophy.
……Confucianism sees life as sour, and in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people.
….. Buddhism sees life as bitter, and full of pain and suffering.
……Taoism sees life as basically good in its natural state.
However, another interpretation of the picture is that….‘all the three teachings are one.’
This picture also came to fame in the book The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff, which has done a lot to bring these ideas of Taoism to the West.
The word Tao or sometimes written as Dao can be loosely translated as ‘The Way,’ and this is the sense that it has come to be meant in the West.
The teachings are very much associated with Chinese Traditional Medicine, and the two are closely intertwined.
There are many different schools of Taoism, but they all share a few common ideas.
They all believe that rituals, exercises, medicines and certain foods or substances can positively affect ones’ physical and spiritual health, and also align one to the better influenceof ‘cosmic forces.’
The whole set of the teachings are as put down in the TAO TE CHING,, which was written by Lao Tzu, and in another set of teachings called the ZHUANGZI, that were written aboutthe 4th Century B.C. by a Taoist sage with the same name as the teachings – Zhuangzi.
All of the Taoist teachings tend to give a somewhat lighthearted view of the world, and are often full of humor that one will not find in Buddhist or Confucian teachings.
They are full of themes that emphasize detachment, emptiness, the strength of softness, and a concept called Wu-wei or non-action.
Wu-wei means knowing when to act – and when not to act – on something.
… The aim is to achieve a state of perfect balance or equilibrium…which will give rise to an irresistible ‘soft and invisible’ power over anything.
Another important teaching is associated with the well known book – the I Ching, this was supposedly revealed to a semi-mythical figure in Chinese history, called Fu Tsi, in somewhere around 2700 B.C.
The I Ching is a book of divination and advice, that contains 64 Hexagrams, each hexagram is formed of 6 horizontal stacked lines, each of which is either an unbroken, solid line that is considered to be Yang or an open line with a gap in the center that is considered to be Yin.
(See the section on Tai Chi for more details about Yin and Yang).
Each hexagram therefore can contain from 0 to 6 solid lines, from 0 to 6 broken lines, or any combination of these – for example two broken and 4 solid lines.
Each hexagram is associated with a particular changing state, and the I Ching book gives (often somewhat obscure) advice about that particular state.
The individual hexagram that is used is chosen by a random form of selection.
There are many methods of random selection that are used, and each has its believers.
Some of the methods used use dice, coins, 49 yarrow stalks (chosen from an original 50 stalks), marbles or beads, rice grains, calligraphy strokes or even the number and direction of cracks on a heated turtle shell !
It is all quite complicated, but also has a lighthearted element to it as well.
Taoism has never been a unified religion, and has many different interpretations, beliefs and practices based on each branch of the religion.
Thus there appear to be no particular forms of meditation that are universal throughout this religion.
There are some complex and unusual advanced Taoist meditation practices that focus on control of body fluids like urine and saliva, …or visualizations where various internal organs are linked to different stars or gods -… but these are not of a great deal of value for us in the West.
The main interest is in the lighthearted outlook on life that Taoist philosophy has, and the ‘fortune telling-like’ aspects of the I Ching.
The best overall introduction to Taoism that I know – is Benjamin Hoff’s book “The Tao of Pooh,” and it’s companion book “The Te of Piglet“….both of which explain the whole concept of Taoism in a lighthearted way that also reflects its basic philosophy.
I would strongly recommend both if you are interested to learn more about Taoism.
Let’s move on, to consider the place of meditation in other religions.
On some of the pages in this website, such as this one, there is an anonymous Survey form for ideas you may have for further subjects to be included in this website – please give me your thoughts.