The Middle Ground: Daoism Suggests Doing What Comes Naturally

When you ask a Chinese person what his or her religion is, he or she might say, “I?m a Confucian by day at work, a Buddhist by night around my family and a Daoist on weekends with my friends.”

Some modern Chinese may interpret it with a hedonistic tint, but Daoism (Taoism) is rooted in a more naturalistic way. Like Confucianism and Buddhism, Daoism has been pluralistic and tolerant, allowing individuals to have other beliefs and achieve a certain balance.

The founding of Daoism is usually credited to Laozi (Lao Tzu). Although his very existence is the subject of debates, it is generally accepted that he lived during the sixth century B.C. and was born in what is now the Hunan province in southern China.

Legend has it that Laozi quit his post as a bureaucratic archivist when he saw that the government was near collapse.

As he was leaving to retire in the West, the gatekeeper asked him for a writing of his philosophy. Laozi quickly composed a short book and handed it to the gatekeeper.

Laozi is believed to have lived in isolation after writing that book, the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), and everything known about his teachings is in it. It has only 5,250 words, most of them vague and cryptic.

Most historians concluded that the Dao De Jing, translated “The Way and Its Power,” is the work of several authors who lived much later than Laozi.

Most of Laozi?s beliefs are thought to be reactions to Confucianism. Laozi rejected the rigidity and oppression of Confucian rules and rituals and sought an alternative philosophy that would espouse aesthetic expression in individuals.

Laozi believed that nature, left to itself, will tend toward the most harmonious outcome. It is best to avoid discord and find the middle way of the two extremes in all situations.

He preached “wu wei,” or non action. One should take no action against nature and find the path of least resistance.

The Dao itself is an abstract idea. The word is translated, “the way.” Many other religions have used the phrase referring to a moral code, which the Dao is not. It is also not a god or supreme being.

All existence is derived from the Dao, and it is present in everything. It is transcendent, metaphysical and formless. It guides those who have recognized it, but the consciousness of it is indescribable.

“Those who know, don?t say; and those who say, don?t know,” the old Daoist adage says.

Another concept of Daoism is qi (chi), the fundamental substance in the universe. It even predates the Dao, which is made from qi. It gives man energy, and everyone has a limited amount of it.

Our well-being depends on a proper balance of the two opposite but complementary forms of qi, Ying and Yang, in our bodies.

In addition to the Dao De Jing, Daoists have also drawn heavily from the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu).

Named after its author, it was written about three centuries after Laozi. The Zhuangzi was much more literary and comprehensible than the Dao De Jing. It contained parables and metaphors and extensively discussed nature and the mystical qualities of the Dao.

Later Daoist sects emerged in which the original naturalistic themes were broadened. They practiced alchemy in search of an elixir of life. Followers experimented with numerous herbs and substances.

These sects worshipped thousands of gods. Some immortality cults learned martial arts and were militant at times. In fact, both the Yellow Turban and the Boxer Rebellion were driven by Daoist groups.

Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism have influenced each other heavily throughout Chinese history. Collective worships and monasteries in Daoism were definitely due to Buddhist influence.

Daoists used meditations and breathing exercises extensively to connect with the universe and nature, and to find balance and energy. Their techniques were well developed and Zen Buddhism borrowed heavily from them.

Daoism today is an amalgamation of these three religions. Most followers worship gods and their ancestors. They often believe in an indestructible soul that continues in the after life.

Although its differences have been blurred, Daoism remains a distinct religion and continues to exert its influence on art, other religions and people?s daily lives.

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