Taoism came into my life through the I Ching. Taoism, or Daoism, is based on the teachings of the Tao Te Ching written in the 6th century BC in China by Lao Tze with an emphasis on spiritual harmony within the individual complements the social duty focus of Confucianism.
Taoism is rooted in the cultural experience of the Chinese people, and for centuries influenced the philosophy, art, literature, science, statecraft and the military arts, medicine, the martial arts, divination, and especially the arts of spiritual cultivation in China.
Tao is, according to Deng Ming-Dao in Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony “literally the movement of all life … the total ongoing of the universe,” and that to live according to Taoist principles is to go along with this movement, this flow. Deng Ming-Dao notes eight “special qualities” of people who internalize Taoism as being: simplicity, sensitivity, flexibility, independence and being focused, cultivated, disciplined, and joyous.
Two Main Taoist Schools: Philosophical & Religious
The two main Taoist schools are philosophical Taoism or Tao-chia and religious Taoism or Tao-chaio. Tao-chia generally focuses on the philosophical writings of Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu and other early mystics while Tao-chiao emphasizes religious rituals aimed at attaining immortality.
Taoism and Confucianism – the two great Chinese belief systems – were founded at about the same time and continue to co-exist the China of today.
Shamanism: The Roots of Taoist Practice
The Taoist and Shamanic worldviews have much in common and this is reflected in Taoism today. Shamanism goes back for thousands of years before the emergence of China and Taoism.
For instance, the Shangqing (also spelled Shang-ch’ing) sect of Taoism is the most mystical of Taoism’s main lineages. In it we find practices similar to those performed by the shamanic cultures of ancient China.
”The world of Shang-ch’ing Taoism: a world where guardian spirits live inside the human body; a world where mystics fly to the sky and journey among the stars; a world where people absorb the essence of the sun and moon to cultivate immortality; a world where the highest attainment in life is to merge with the Tao in bliss and ecstasy …”
– Eva Wong, from The Shambhala Guide to Taoism
Taoist priests use talismans to invoke the powers and protection of supernatural beings. We see that the components of many Taoist rituals and ceremonies, as well as some forms of qigong, are oriented toward communication with the plant and animal kingdoms. This goes with the practices of Taoist Inner Alchemy are designed to produce, from the very bodies of its practitioners, the mystic wine of ecstatic spiritual union.