Student Question

What is the most interesting aspect of Taoism?

Quick answer:

Interesting aspects of Taoism include its long-reaching history in ancient China, the mysteriousness of its founder, Lao Tzu, who might not have really existed, the varying ways in which people can practice Taoism, the similarities and differences between Taoism and Confucianism, and the interesting perspectives that Taoism can offer us about the way we see our circumstances.

Expert Answers

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There are many interesting aspects to Taoism! Here are some aspects to consider:

  • The central philosophies of Taoism can be traced back to as early as 1600 BCE in the Shang Dynasty.
  • Taoism is attributed to a thinker named Lao Tzu, but many scholars believe the person named Lao Tzu never actually existed and that he is simply a legendary figure.
  • While Taoism originated in ancient China, elements of Taoism permeate many East Asian cultures and philosophies, not just in China.
  • Taoism is both a philosophy and a religion. Some approach Taoism as a philosophy and see Lao Tzu as a great thinker, while others approach Taoism as a religion and worship Lao Tzu as a deity or holy figure.
  • People who practice religious Taoism may also worship other deities in temples.
  • A central tenet of Taoism is the idea of "going with the flow" and adapting to change. This can explain why it has lasted through so many centuries of social change in China and beyond.
  • The Tao-Te-Ching is the most commonly known Tao "scripture," but it is not a scripture in the same way as the Bible and the Qu'ran, which document religious stories and prescribe a way of life. The Tao-Te-Ching is rather a book of poetry that encourages the reader to live a peaceful life in accordance with the Tao.
  • Taoism can be compared and contrasted with another well-known Chinese philosophy called Confucianism, which came later in Chinese history. At first glance, they are very different, because Taoism is more carefree and "goes with the flow," while Confucianism is more strict and emphasizes moral duty. At the same time, both Taoism and Confucianism have very similar ideas about humanity, society, and hierarchies of the universe, which can likely be traced to ancient folk tradition in China before either Taoism or Confucianism was born.
  • During the Shang Dynasty, as the very early tenets of Taoism were arising in the peasant class in China, people would practice divination (future-telling) by throwing yarrow sticks onto a table and reading their shapes or heating bones with a hot poker and reading the cracks that were made.
  • The yin-yang symbol is much older than Taoism, but it is often associated with Taoism, because it represents the balance of life, which can be related to the concept of Tao.
  • According to Taoism, nothing in life is necessarily "good" or "bad." All things are as they are meant to be, because they come from Tao, or the flow of life/nature. We only see things as "good" or "bad" because of our self-interest. This can be an interesting perspective when we feel like life is difficult—according to Taoism, everything is as it was meant to be.

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