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Taoism (also known as Daoism) is a philosophical and religious belief system from ancient Chinese tradition. Founded by the writings of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, schools of Taoism continue to teach and learn the ways of the Tao.

Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching

According to Chinese legend, the Tao Te Ching was recorded in the 6th Century BC. Lao Tzu, a record keeper of the Zhou Dynasty, had enough with imperial life and was leaving to the West on a water buffalo. Before he left, a gatekeeper recognized him, and requested that he record Lao Tzu's wisdom. The writings became collectively know as the Tao Te Ching, or The Book of the Perfectability in Nature.

In its 81 verses, the Tao Te Ching underlined the importance of the Tao, or the way of life. It is widely accepted that the verses are divided into various sections, which include the Tao Ching (Verses 1-37) and the Te Ching (Verses 38-81).[1]The Tao Te Ching is one of the most translated book in the world, falling second behind the Chrisitian Bible.[2]

The Tao Te Ching influenced many contemporaries, including Zhang Daoling of the Han Dynasty. Zhang Daoling is credited to have founded the principle Daoist school of thought, The Way of Celestial Masters. He hightly believed in making Taoism an organized religion, which promoted the faith-healing tradition that remains distict in popular Taoism today[3]

Concepts and Ideas

  • Tao (the Way): The core of Taoist teachings revolve around the concepts of the Tao, or the way of life. In Verse 62 of the Tao Te Ching, it is written "Tao is the source of ten thousand things. It is the treasure of the good man, and the refuge of the bad."[4] The Tao is transcendant, and extends beyond all boundaries and limitations of life and death. As Verse 16 observes, "Being at one with the Tao is eternal. And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away"[5]The Tao is also regarded as the Unmanifested, or as the Absoluteness. As in Verse 1 of the Tao Te Ching, "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name."[6]
  • Te (Virtue): The concept of Te has generally been reffered to as the divine virtue of man. It is also believed to be the Manifested, as the divine virtue is seen as the creative powers in the actions of man. The Unmanifested Tao is made manifest by the Te, as Verse 51 tells, "Therefore all things arise from the Tao. By Virtue they are nourished, developed for, cared for, sheldtered, comforted, grown, and protected"[7] As man begins to act out of his divine virtue, or highest self, his intentions are made into reality, as Verse 54 of the Tao Te Ching comments "Cultivate Virture in yourself, and the Virtue will be real...Cultivate it in the universe, and Virtue will be found everywhere"[8]
  • Wu Wei (Non-action): The idea of wu wei, or non-action and non-doing, is also apart of the wei wu wei, which means action without action, or effort from non-effort. The idea of effortless action is proposed as the way of the Tao, as it serves as a natural form of "being" without the struggle of "doing". This is highlighted in Verse 37 of the Tao Te Ching, as "Tao abides in non-action, yet nothing is left undone. If kings and lords observed this, the ten thousand things would develop naturally"[9]
  • Yin-Yang (Dark and Light): The imagery of the Yin-Yang represents the corresponding opposites in life, as in male and female, hot and cold, and sun and shadow. However, the Tao Te Ching recognizes the Relativity of the Yin and the Yang, as one cannot be experienced without knowing the other. The Tao Te Ching calls for this knowledge, as in Verse 28 "Know the white, but keep the black"[10] Taoism also attemps to create a balance between these two elements, as Verse 44 states, "The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang, they achieve harmony by combining these forces."[11]

Taoism and Theosophy

The Tao is mainly regarded by H. P. Blavatsky as a substance synomous with Anima Mundi, the world soul. She writes:

All that lives and is, was born in it, from the "Principle which exists by Itself, developing itself from Itself", i.e., Swabhâvat. As its name is unknown and it essence is

unfathomable, philosophers have called it Tao (Anima Mundi), the uncreate,

unborn and eternal energy of nature, manifesting periodically.[12]

Taoism also regards the duality of the Manifested Te and the Unmanifested Tao. Dr. Annie Besant recongizes this fact:

In the Tao Te Ching the teaching as to the Unmanifested and the Manifested comes out very plainly. "The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.(Page 8) The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name. Having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth, having a name, it is the Mother of all things…Under these two aspects it is really the same ; but as development takes place it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery."[13]

Principles and Triads

Taoism contains five principles, which overlap with the seven principles in human beings from Theosophy. The five principles which he includes are similar to the principles of Vitality (Prana), Astral Body (Linga Sharira), Animal Soul (Kamarupa), Human Soul (Manas), and the Spiritual Soul (Buddhi). H. P. Blavatsky comments:

Lao-Tze, in his Tao-te-King, mentions only five principles, because he, like the Vedantins, omits to include two principles, namely, the spirit (Atma) and the physical body, the latter of which, moreover, he calls "the cadaver."[14]

There is also an emphasis on the triad in the Tao Te Ching. The triad is not specific to man or the cosmos, but rather stands for the Universe in its entirity. Dr. Annie Besant remarks:

In the lofty philosophical system known in China as Taoism, a trinity also figures: ' Eternal Reason produced One, One produced Two, Two produced Three, and Three produced all things,[15]

Online resources





  1. Tao Te Ching at Reference Online
  2. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) v.
  3. Zhang Daoling at Britannica Online
  4. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 62 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 64.
  5. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 16 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 18.
  6. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 1 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 3.
  7. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 51 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 53.
  8. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 54 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 56.
  9. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 37 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 39.
  10. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 28 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 30.
  11. Feng, Gia-Fu, and English, Jane. Tao Te Ching Verse 42 (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 44.
  12. Blavatsky, Helen Petrovna. Theosophical Glossary (Los Angeles, CA: Theosophy Company, 1973) 320.
  13. Besant, Annie. Ancient Wisdom (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1939), 8.
  14. Blavatsky, Helen Petrovna. Key to Theosophy (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1972), 117.
  15. Besant, Annie. Esoteric Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2006), 138.