Taoism is one of the great philosophical systems and religions which has come from ancient China, debuting fully in the 4th century B.C. Taoism can be difficult or controversial to define because so much of Taoism has an elusive, adaptable quality to it, which can make it more challenging to peg down. It goes without saying that Taoism has been able to exert a tremendously powerful influence on Chinese aesthetics, hygience and religion (cuny.edu, 2013). Taoist did receive a certain influence from Buddhism and adopted a certain degree of monasticism and anxiety for spiritual afterlife rather than seeking an immortality of the flesh. One of the major concepts of Taoism has been immortalized forever by the Yin and Yang symbol. This symbol may have been embraced by pop culture, but ultimately it's a traditional expression of Taoism and this form of harmony. It's a symbol of how the Taoists view balance and reality. "The root of Tao is defined as the way of the universe, nature, balance, it is a reality that can not be grasped in language, or thought. The goal of life is to conform human lives in the way of the universe, being itself is a state of being. Taoism is also known as the nameless philosophy. Its main themes are intuition, simplicity, spontaneity, and the way of nature. The Tao-Te Ching or The Way and its Power, is the doctrine of Taoism that is thought to be written by Lao-Tzu. The key concepts of Taoism are: Wu Wei- action-less action, Te the flowing power, living simply, Chi, cosmic energy, and finally, Feng-Shui, winds and waters" (csuchico.edu).
These concepts demonstrate why Taoism has long had a certain elusive quality to it. This is in part as a result of the fact that it has never had a single place of origin, the way that Christianity and Islam have. Two sources originate for Taoism: the philosophers who were prominent during the Civil War are one source, as they strongly followed the Tao of society in their own way of life, along with the shamans and magicians who offered a truly notable role in the life of ordinary Chinese people (Csuchico.edu).
The way that life and the best way of living is treated within Taoism is somewhat hard to grasp, which contributes to the overall elusiveness of this entire religion. "Daoism has a reputation of being impenetrable mainly because of its central concept, dao. Yet surprisingly, the almost universal translation in English uses one of the smallest, simplest, most familiar and least consciously noticed terms of the language -- 'way.' This common translation, 'way', is apt in several ways. Dao (Tao) is a pivotal concept of ancient Chinese thought. 'Way' is similarly primitive (it resists analytic definition). We can only offer synonyms: e.g., 'course', 'method', 'manner', 'mode', 'style', 'means', 'practice', 'fashion', 'technique' and so on" (Stanford.edu). This may all appear intensely circular, but in examining these terms, the circularity can give way to clarity. "Way" really is an accurate translation of Tao, because it answers the question of how to live and what is the best way of living. Because tao can be used interchangeably with the idea of a road or path, it speaks to the overall guidance of living that this religion provides: Taoism is in this sense a prescriptive structure. All actions have a certain degree of Tao in them -- even thievery and dying.
One of the main concepts of Taoism in connection with life and living is that the sheer concept of Tao is connected to the notion of beingness or truth (Stanford.edu). Common interpreters try to align or compare the notion of Tao with certain central concepts in Western thought, but this is futile as it's essentially comparing apples and oranges. "Although it's insightful to say humans live in dao as fish do in water, the insight is lost if we simply treat dao as being or some pantheistic spiritual realm. Dao remains essentially a concept of guidance, a prescriptive or normative term… Dao is the pivot of Chinese philosophy -- but it still translates as 'way', not 'being'" (Stanford.edu). This is a truly important distinction. Taoism corresponds most strongly as a concept for living, rather than an idea. Tao can help guide human beings along the road of life.
The overall objective of those who practice this religion is to gain a certain degree of harmony with the Tao, something which is achieved by living in accordance with nature (csuchico.edu). Naturalism is something which is central to the ideologies of Taoism. Fundamentally, nature is viewed as something not for exploitation or abused but which should be befriended and not defeated (csuchico.edu). An ideal person working through the Tao is someone who is able to connect the naturalness of existence through a certain degree of self-sufficiency which is not at all tied up in wealth or within the social arena: it is believed in Taoism that this was the way to gain real happiness. "To achieve mental discipline, all thoughts must respond only to Tao, the openness of the universe. The method behind achieving lasting peace and harmony in life is waking with persistence to reach the spiritual level. Tao is the potency of the universe, it includes all gods, deities, divine beings, spirits and souls. The deep root of all things has Tao. To embrace Tao is to become Tao. Tao is the source of everything, but everything is not Tao. Spontaneity is the way of living things and rigidity is the way of death" (csuchico.edu). This demonstrates the greatest guide for living as it shows the sheer power of the Tao: Tao helps individuals focus on what is important without concerning themselves with the material or earthly concerns that they've been programmed to have. This is both liberating and lofty, as it helps people to live in a greater level of accordance and harmony with the universe.
This paper has already touched on the power and important of the yin-yang doctrine which occupies such as central place in Taoism. The yin-yang doctrine can really help provide a certain level of guidance for living, and help to spotlight the principles which more readily embrace nature. One of these principles is that the universe is guided by the sole concept of Tao (also known as the great ultimate); this concept is thus divided into two principles which rival one another in their actions of yin and yang (csuchico.edu). "The principles of yang are light, heat, Heaven, male, sun, etc. The principles of the yin are darkness, cool, earth, female, moon, etc. Everything consists of this balance, it is what constitutes reality. Each of these opposites produce the other: Heaven creates the ideas of things under yang, the earth produces their material forms under yin, and vice versa. This production of yin from yang and yang from yin occurs in a cyclical motion and is continuous" (csuchico.edu). This creates a state of constant balancing so that one concept of yin or yang does not dominate the other: this means that there is no other factor to life where these principles don't apply: they are an expression of the fully contrasting balance which can occur when no single principle dominates any other. This means that there is no aspect of life to which these concepts of yin and yang aren't relevant (csuchico.edu). Yin and yang demonstrate truly contrasting aspects and interrelationships of all things that are fundamental in the universe: they are without concrete definitions, which make them almost untranslatable (csuchico.edu).
Relating to Others in the World and Enlightenment
Within the belief system of Taoism, the fundamental objective of human existence is to gain and be able to maintain a certain level of harmony with Tao: while this might seem like a simple goal, it's far more nuanced than it appears. Accepting this level of "plainness" in one's life means that enlightenment has been gained. This level of enlightenment cannot be obtained via a doctrine but through the balance of energy and clarity of mind: this indicates that the self is connecting and relating to the energy in life, making all desires and impulses more balanced and harmonious to fulfill their natural function as manifestations of all that is beneficial, imaginative and useful within the entire universe (csuchico.edu). Taoism is one of the most fundamental philosophies of China which encourage the spontaneity and organic quality of the universe and marries the individual to all that can transcend it; in its purest definition it promotes a level of purity, open communication, surrender of control and the wisdom which comes from life experience. Thus, the absolute goal is to be able to cultivate this ability and this very balanced and harmonious way of looking at the world from a sagelike perspective: this creates that absence of arrogance and the lack of bias which is necessary in order to relate worldly affairs and the things which are of this world in a manner that is accurate…