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Research Association of Laozi Taoist Culture

Research Association of Laozi Taoist Culture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tao (the way or path) is a concept central to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism.

Taoism is an outlook on life that attempts to harmonize the individual will with natural and spiritual influences. Personal thoughts and actions alternately coincide or conflict with the Tao, which signifies the flow of the universe, or in some commentaries, the Will of Heaven.

Ideally, ones lives in wu-wei, which has been translated as “effortless action.” This does not imply inaction, per se. The Taoist can be quite active. But again, this action is in line with the Tao.

One of the classic passages oft quoted about the Tao comes from Lao Tzu, who says

I do not know its name; I call it Tao.

In other words, Lao Tzu realizes that naming the Tao always falls short of its true meaning.¹

¹ More here:




Tai Chi

Chinese Five Elements

Chinese Five Elements (via Wikipedia)

Tai Chi (Chinese: “ridge beam”) is an ancient Taoist concept denoting the ultimate and supreme, consisting of yin and yang. In their dynamic combination, yin an yang create the five elements of metal, water, wood, fire and earth, which constitute All That Is. The idea appears in Taoists texts and in a commentary on the I Ching, an ancient philosophical book used for divination.

Phenomenologically, Tai Chi refers to an ultimate mental state or, at least, the highest and most sublime state that the Chinese sages at that time had experienced. We, perhaps, have no way of knowing whether or not this state is experientially equivalent to, say, the Christian experience of heaven.

The ancient Chinese martial art, often called Tai Chi, is more correctly Tai Chi Chuan. The principles of Tai Chi, however, are found within Tai Chi Chaun.


Tai Chi Chuan

The Chinese martial arts Taijiquan being pract...

The Chinese martial arts Taijiquan being practiced on the Bund in Shanghai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tai Chi Chuan is a defensive Chinese martial art said to be at least 2,000 years old, based on the principles of Tai Chi.

Tai Chi Chuan is a graceful, slow-moving series of 108 so-called archetypal positions relating to nature (“grasp bird’s tail”) and human situations (“fair maiden works at shuttles”) that flow into one another in a linear series.

The practice has spread throughout the world via Taoist masters and missionaries. In Canada, almost every small city has a Tai Chi center, where classed are taken for an affordable fee. I’m not sure about the US, Europe and other regions, but I imagine it’s much the same.

Tai chi chuan or Jedi? by Womby

Tai chi chuan or Jedi? by Womby via Flickr

Enthusiasts say Tai Chi Chuan has notable health benefits in the areas of digestion, general flexibility, arthritis and the cultivation of serenity.

Critics, who usually aren’t too visible, say that the organizational aspect might exhibit cultish qualities. And some feel that the numinosity associated with or generated by the practice of Tai Chi is unclear or spacey.

To this effect Robert Thoor cautions: “Avoid strict or spacey teachers.”¹

Related Posts » Anthroposophy, Yin-Yang


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Taoism (or Daoism)

Misty mountains by Bill Tyne

Bill Tyne – Misty mountains – Part of the path along Hua Shan (Flower mountain) in China. Hua Shan is one of the five sacred (great) mountains of Taoism – via Flickr

Taoism is an outlook on life that attempts to harmonize the individual will with natural and spiritual influences. Personal thoughts and actions alternately coincide or conflict with the Tao, which signifies the flow of the universe, or in some commentaries, the Will of Heaven.

Ideally, ones lives in wu-wei, which has been translated as “effortless action.” This does not imply inaction, per se. The Taoist can be quite active. But again, this action is in line with the Tao.

The advent of Taoism is usually attributed to two Chinese sages, Lao Tzu (mid fourth-century BCE) and Chuang Tzu (369-286 BCE). However, other Taoist authors are available in translation.

In the poetic Lao Tzu (also called the Tao-te-Ching), its author, Lao Tzu, tells of the 10,000 things (representing the visible world) that synchronously flow with an underlying ground of being. This ground cannot be named but he paradoxically calls it Tao (often pronounced Dow, as in Dow Jones).

Tao-An-kun(陶安公)was a legend of China.This Pict...

Tao-An-kun(陶安公)was a legend of China.This Picture was carried on the book of the name, “Lie-Sien-Chiu-Pai(列仙酒牌)”.This book what I have was published in 1923. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chaung Tzu’s writings are more mystical than Lao Tzu’s. Later developments in Taoism include the use of magic, alchemy and polytheistic worship. These trends were regarded by many Chinese as degradations of the original message—namely, the cultivation of virtue through naturalness and simplicity.

According to Wikipedia,

Popular Taoism typically presents the Jade Emperor as the official head deity. Intellectual (“elite”) Taoists, such as the Celestial Masters sect, usually present Laozi (Laojun, “Lord Lao”) and the Three Pure Ones at the top of the pantheon of deities. The pantheon tends to mirror the bureaucracy of Imperial China; deities also may be promoted or demoted for their actions. While a number of immortals or other mysterious figures appear in the Zhuangzi, and to a lesser extent in the Tao Te Ching, these have generally not become the objects of worship.†

English: Statue of Lao Tzu (Laozi) in Quanzhou...

Statue of Lao Tzu (Laozi) in Quanzhou 中文: 福建泉州老君岩 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although many people idealize Taoism as some kind of neutral, natural “green” path, it’s not all so pretty. Some Taoists, for example, practice the barbaric ritual of animal sacrifice. Again from Wikipedia:

At certain dates, food may be set out as a sacrifice to the spirits of the deceased or the gods, such as during the Qingming Festival. This may include slaughtered animals, such as pigs and ducks, or fruit [emphasis added].†

But it’s not all bad:

Another form of sacrifice involves the burning of Joss paper, or Hell Bank Notes, on the assumption that images thus consumed by the fire will reappear—not as a mere image, but as the actual item—in the spirit world, making them available for revered ancestors and departed loved ones. At other points, a vegan diet or full fast may be observed.†

English: Taoist Priest in Macau, february 2006...

English: Taoist Priest in Macau, february 2006. More photos available at (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some writers, such as Alan Watts, have popularized Taoism in the West with books like Tao: The Watercourse Way. Fritzoff Capra, Gary Zukav and several others have followed suit by relating the cosmology of Taoism to sub-atomic physics observations.

In China, itself, Taoism has a strong paranormal edge:

Fortune-telling—including astrology, I Ching, and other forms of divination—has long been considered a traditional Taoist pursuit. Mediumship is also widely encountered in some sects. There is an academic and social distinction between martial forms of mediumship (such as tongji) and the spirit-writing that is typically practiced through planchette writing.†

† All Wikipedia quotes from

Related Posts » Ancestor Cults, Anthroposophy, Confucianism, Evil, I Ching, Lao-tzu, Pantheism,  Particle-Wave Duality, Reincarnation, Saint, Soul, Spinoza (Baruch), Wu Wei, Yin-Yang



Yin-Yang (yin =umbral, yang = bright)

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This is the Chinese idea that all transformations arise from a dynamic interaction of two basic and complementary modes of existence.

The Yin-Yang cosmology harkens back to ancient Chinese philosophers (c. 500-200 BCE) who saw the world as an organic totality, where subject and object, self and other are essentially interrelated.

As John S. Major puts it:

The cosmos was “organic”; everything was related to and affected by everything else, without regard for mathematically or mechanically demonstrable cause and effect. No distinction was drawn between physical and mental phenomena, or between the “human” and “natural” worlds.¹

The Chinese characters Yin and Yang originally referred to the dark and bright sides of a sunlit riverbank.

A definite Yin-Yang school of philosophy arose around 305-240 BCE, attributed to Tsou Yen. By the time of Confucius, the Tsou Yen school had acquired scholarly and philosophical significance. Yin represented the Earth and, according to this schema, the associated elements of darkness, passivity, femininity, negativity and destruction.

Yang came to be associated with Heaven and all the associated elements of light, activity, masculinity, positive forces and creativity.

Image via Tumblr

Kevin at adds:

I think the feminine and passivity were actually Confucian additions. Confucius was pretty much a misogynist.

A core quality of Yin in the bright and shadow / strong and subtle paradigm, was of manifestation.

A very good example of this is procreation – the man fertilises (Inspiration / Yang) but the woman manifests the life in growing the embryo. Seen like this Yin is very powerful and not at all passive. (Though of course it can be passive at times).

Similarly all the running about working and commuting or whatever that many of us do in the modern world is actually manifestation and is Yin energy activity, not Yang as many suppose.

I am not sure equating the quality ‘destruction’ to Yin entirely does the quality justice. Yin manifests and un-manifests by withholding nurture. So a harsh frosty spell cutting back the verdant growth is very Yin.

Destruction is much more a Yang principle. The lightening which the ancient Chinese believed shook into being the new was a ‘positive Yang Force whereas over done it becomes the lightening which strikes down the tree.

Both Yin and Yang therefore have positive and negative valences which are not to be confused with good and bad. That hard frost which clears the ground makes way for new growth too.

Similarly Yin is not the negative of Yang (another bit of spin implied by Confucians) – The two exist in creative harmony.

Studying the Dazhuan (The Great Treatise approx. 3rd Century BCE) clarifies a lot of this as does studying the First two hexagrams of the Yijing which are the two exponents of these principles.

The Yijing predates Ying Yang theory… indeed the Ying Yang principle probably grew out of it and in turn replaced the shadow / light names within it. This is certain when one realises that all of the hexagrams are in pairs (in the King Wen sequence which is the one commonly used). Thus hexagrams 1 and 2 are a pair as is 3 and 4 etc. It only takes cursory study to see that these are in fact Yang / Yin pairs. Pairs of inspiration and manifestation. The King Wen sequence is between 1600 and 1200 BCE depending on which historian you subscribe to.²

Apart from the ongoing scholarly debates, perhaps most important from a contemporary perspective is the idea of dynamic complementarity. The two complementaries of Yin and Yang are said to be in a constant interplay and all phenomena arise through their interaction.

One interesting aspect of this process occurs when one modality eventually flows into its apparent ‘opposite,’ which in the field of psychology C. G. Jung called enantiodromia.

The Yin-Yang idea has become a part of pop culture. Almost everyone knows its basic message. This is, perhaps, because the Yin – Yang cosmology underscores the unity of mankind and nature, as well as the importance of transformation. In fact, for the ancient Chinese the idea of change was key, as we find with the oracle of the I Ching (Book of Change), from which Yin-Yang theory likely developed.

¹ John S. Major in The Encyclopedia of Religion. Eliade, Mircea (ed). New York: 1987, Collier Macmillan, Vol. 15, p. 515.

² See full comment »

Related Posts » Gemini, Siva, Tai Chi, Taoism



Eisai, founder of the Rinzai School of Zen, 12...

Eisai, founder of the Rinzai School of Zen, 12th century. 13:02, 29 January 2005 PHG 281×398 (90634 bytes) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zen is a Japanese form of Buddhism, introduced to Japan by the monk Eisai (1141-1215 CE).

Dissatisfied with formalistic Buddhism, Esai traveled to China and returned to Japan, bringing home this new form of an older religious practice. Accordingly, the word Zen is derived from the Chinese Ch’an (Ch’an Buddhism), which itself comes from the Sanskrit Dhyāna or Jhāna (advanced contemplative states).¹

Ch’an was apparently introduced to China by the Indian Buddhist missionary Bodhidharma (c. 500 CE).

Zen emphasizes “being here now” in a tranquil state of mind, supposedly untouched by the desires and concerns of worldly life.² The Zen peak experience is called satori, an apparently sudden ego-less flash of illumination. Zen masters use various techniques to try to instill this frame of mind in disciples or, perhaps better put, to dispense with ‘frames of mind.’

The most fundamental method is zazen (Japanese = sitting + absorption). This involves sitting upright in a quiet room, regulating one’s breathing and watching desires and distractions come and go. Another Zen method is the koan. A koan is a seemingly illogical, nonsense verse said to facilitate satori. The koan is said to take a disciple’s awareness beyond the dualistic world of subject and object.

Français : Zazen au dojo

Français : Zazen au dojo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Archery and elaborate tea ceremonies are also used as vehicles leading to the ultimate achievement of ‘no-mind.’

To my mind, the idea of utterly dispensing with ‘frames of mind’ and achieving ‘no-mind’ is a questionable idea. Almost every practicing Buddhist I’ve talked to is so invested in their religious assumptions that to suggest anything otherwise is usually met with a kind of patronizing dismissal. And if pressed, a barrage of ancient Asian concepts and theories usually follows, apparently supporting their particular “truth.”

It seems that folks who believe the fairly common Buddhist claim that individuality and God are both illusory don’t realize that they’ve merely embraced a particular set of all-too-human beliefs. For them, their theories are the simple truth. And some seem to have lost the reflective quality of the mind that arguably contributes to our uniqueness as human beings—not unlike victims of a cult. This, of course, isn’t just an issue with Zen Buddhism. Religious believers of all types may shut out healthy doubt if for some reason it’s too uncomfortable to question further.

Bible science

Bible science (Photo credit: joeflintham)

Over the years of doing | and volunteering at, I’ve met a lot of different types of people thru the web. And whenever some authoritarian (not authority) figure says “This is the truth,” be it a Buddhist monk, a Christian Fundamentalist or a New Age Life Coach, all I see is a big question mark.

¹ It should be stressed that these mental states are considered “advanced” within the traditions from which they sprang. Not everyone sees them as advanced. In fact, some see them as hindrances to “genuine” spirituality.

² I say “supposedly” because oft overlooked by enthusiasts is the fact that many Buddhist monks, not unlike their Catholic counterparts, get money from somewhere, and don’t really have to face the challenges that ordinary people do. And I personally think that, in some cases, this can hinder spiritual development.

Related Posts » Eightfold Path, Heart Sutra, Mantra, Satori



Confucius Temple at Tainan, Taiwan via

Confucianism  is a Chinese teaching of morality, right action and right education, based on the ethical teachings of Confucius. Up until 1382, statues of Confucius were common in public places. Every city had a shrine dedicated to Confucius and at least two state festivals were held in his honor during mid-spring and mid-autumn. The roots of Confucianism can be found in the ancient Chinese scholar class, the Ju. They were experts on rituals, sacrifices and the connection between heaven and earth.¹

Following Confucius’ death in 479 BCE, various schools of Confucianism arose. These Confucian schools are often contrasted with the more mystical aspects of Taoism. Confucianism is usually associated with precise rules of behavior and the State education that persisted in China early into this century. Taoism, on the other hand, is usually associated with the free-floating, unregulated ideas of Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu, as popularized by Alan Watts and others.

But such a contrast is arguably overemphasized due to Western misunderstanding.

The rites of Confucianism (li) are meant to guide our natural and inherently good human potential (jen), they are not meant to oppress or stultify. Rules ideally are like stakes guiding a growing plant. Oppression arises when li are distorted or corrupted because a ruler is out of sync with the cosmic harmony (Tao). Notably, Confucius was not a snob. He believed that all people could attain ethical correctness and thus become noble (chun tzu).

These fundamental ideas belong to both Confucianism and Taoism. Differences were arguably not categorical but more about emphasis. The Neo-Confucian Mencius favored following personal intuition instead of adhering to external rules. But he certainly knew that one must calibrate one’s actions to one’s social circle, which, sociologists will tell us, always implies a kind of structure and rule. Mo Tzu highlighted the importance of universal love. Meanwhile, Mencius stressed the importance of love within one’s immediate circle, which, again, to be effective must take in to account socio-cultural rules and expectations.

Earlier Chinese religion practiced divination through oracle bones and the belief in a great cosmic being. But Confucianism generally tried to steer thinking away from the transcendent toward the humanistic. This trend is found in the main Confucian texts of the Analects, The Book of Rites, The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean.

¹ S. G. F. Brandon ed., Dictionary of Comparative Religion (1970: 203-205).