Discovery of Taoism (principles, practice, history)

We live in a funny world.

Everything is going faster and faster, and it continues to accelerate. Never has humanity lived so out of balance with its environment. The exploitation of natural resources is soon coming to a forced end and the vitality of the world is only decreasing.

Everyone's health is no longer ensured by a correct lifestyle but by medications, stimulants and other devices. Everything is stressful, tons of stimuli (visual, auditory and others) continuously bombard our brain.

In short, in such a world, could it be that an age-old philosophy could be a form of solution?

This is precisely what we will try to discover together today.

Contents :

Introduction: what is Taoism?

Taijitu, official symbol of this religion

Practice of Taoism: discovery of some major principles

History and origin of Taoism

Taoism and other religions

The Tao as a magical and esoteric path

Conclusion: be a Taoist today?

Chinese art print that depicts a Taoist scene.

Introduction: what is Taoism?

Taoism (also sometimes called Daoism) is a religion born in China thousands of years ago and which profoundly marked the culture of this country... and more broadly that of all of Asia.

Based on simple, almost intuitive principles, but of which ultimately few of us are aware, this philosophy has stood out from others by things like the rejection of veneration, that of the concepts of good and evil or even by the promise of possible immortality.

Don't worry, we'll cover all of this (and more) together in a few moments.

In short, the origin of Taoism makes it one of the five great religions of China.

If you are interested in the culture of this ancient country, take a look at this collection of Chinese lucky charms. You will find there something to arouse your curiosity.

In short, without too much surprise, the largest Taoist community is found in the Middle Kingdom, with an estimated number of practitioners of around 300 million people.

Just as logically, the other centers of influence of this religion are also found in Asia, notably in Taiwan, Vietnam or Tibet, but also more recently in Europe and the United States where the Chinese diaspora has established itself..

Some 40 million additional people are joining the ranks of Taoists.

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Taijitu: official symbol of this religion

Like most major religions, Taoism has an official symbol.

Known under the name of taijitu, it is in fact this famous “ yin and yang symbol ” used to express the notions of balance and harmonies so dear to practitioners.

If we go back even further than the origins of Taoism, it would seem that taijitu came from a book over 3,500 years old known as the “ Book of Transmutations ” or, in Chinese, “Yi Jing ".

Our symbol was therefore already there, and was described there as the “diagram of the ultimate supreme”. This clearly foreshadowed what was to come.

In short, explaining the meaning of taijitu in detail is no easy task and, to help you, it is good to understand the idea behind yin-yang.

The yin (represented in black on the taijitu) represents:

  • Sweetness
  • Calm
  • The darkness, the moon
  • Femininity

Yang (represented in white on the taijitu) is associated with:

  • Fire
  • The movement, the agitation
  • The light, the sun
  • Masculinity

One half of the circle is therefore black, representing yin, while the other half is white, symbolizing yang. The two halves, however, are intertwined in a sort of great infinite movement and, more interestingly, each part contains a little of the other.

This symbol of Taoism teaches us how harmony is created between two poles that are opposite but complementary and dependent on each other.

When we think about it, this idea can help us understand great truths about the world, and about humans, and about existence as a whole.

Truly, the symbol of taijitu carries absolutely capital ideas.

It is therefore not for nothing that this taijitu amulet or this bracelet bearing the same symbol are so appreciated by our community and, in particular, by individuals sensitive to the mysteries of the Far East.

Taoist temple with statuettes covered in gold.

Practice of Taoism: discovery of some major principles

Each principle of Taoism can be understood in different ways. As we said in the introduction, there are as many practices as there are practitioners.

The explanations of concepts that follow will therefore necessarily be marked by the author's bias, and in no way constitute an absolute truth.

That being said, we can now discover what is behind the practice of Taoism!

The Tao, the way of the Taoists

Simply put, The Tao (sometimes also written Dao) is the absolute principle that underlies everything in the universe, the very essence of the world that connects everything that exists and constitutes the path that everything must take.

If this seems difficult to imagine, it is completely normal: according to the Taoists themselves, the Tao is by nature something indefinable.

Although Taoism recognizes the existence of many spirits and higher entities, the Tao is not one of them. Given his character as absolute and truthful, it could be tempting to see him as a sort of “god of Taoism”.

That would be a mistake.

The Tao is much more to be seen as a path (this is its best translation in French), a direction or a vector.

Wu Wei, laissez-faire through inaction

Another great principle of Taoism is that of “Wu Wei”.

Often translated as “letting go” or “not doing,” Wu Wei could seem to be a kind of renunciation, a non-being. Again, that's not quite right.

Wu Wei is actually more of a choice of action over inaction. This concept may seem paradoxical but, if we think about it, it makes perfect sense. Indeed, isn't the path of emptiness and immobility the one that thousands of wise people around the world have chosen through meditation?

The celestial bodies seem immobile, and the ego is always in motion.

A notion of central harmony

This principle of Taoism is already found in the symbol we talked about, taijitu.

If we talk about it again, it is because it is absolutely central to our philosophy, a just and harmonious life being the main quest of its followers.

More particularly, the goal of living in balance with the natural order of things, existence itself being seen as a series of transformations, transmutations and changes of pre-existing things.

More than ever with the practice of Taoism, “Nothing is created. Nothing is lost. Everything is transformed. »

The three Taoist jewels

The three Taoist jewels form an idea dear to the hearts of many Taoists.

A bit like Christianity with its seven virtues or Islam with its five pillars, compassion, humility and moderation constitute three pillars of Taoist thought. We could of course cite others, such as righteousness or spontaneity, but these three are really central.

Daily practices of meditation, contemplation or simply life will often aim to develop one of these three traits.

Neither good nor bad, but a necessary balance

Yin and yang are sometimes unfairly equated with our Western concepts of good and evil. This would once again be an error of judgment because the practice of Taoism does not in fact recognize either good or evil.

Yes, rather than a value judgment, this philosophy prefers to talk about balance (a notion, you will have understood, really very important) and interdependence between the poles constituting the very essence of each thing.

The P'u, interior and exterior unity

P'u is often seen as the Chinese term for Zen, unity and peace resulting from union with oneself.

A literal translation of P'u could be " uncut set ". We see clearly here what we want to talk about.

This great principle of Taoism thus emphasizes the need to be in synchronicity with the world, yes, but also with one's inner being.

The P'u also covers a notion of understanding, of pure perception of what is. Thus, the Taoist will seek (through meditation, trance, etc.) to move away from the artifices of perception to finally see reality, and therefore be able to rejoin his unity.

The concept of immortality in Taoism

If you've ever heard of our Chinese philosophy, you've definitely heard of immortals!

Indeed, Taoist doctrine claims that it would be possible to achieve the state of immortality through good practices.

While other religions that speak of eternal life do so in an allegorical or spiritual way, the practice of Taoism could apparently allow one to achieve very physical immortality.

According to tradition, several men and women who then became legendary even succeeded in this quest.

The Yellow Emperor or the Jade Girl, but also philosophies like Zhuang Zhu or Lao Tzu have thus apparently become literally immortal...

More than a simple human, an immortal is seen as a god. This is for example the case of the 8 immortals, which you will find described here by the site chine.in.

Some other thoughts typical of this philosophy

Here we have seen some main principles of Taoism. These are the main ones or, at least, the most iconic.

You must suspect: given the richness of this religion, there are hundreds of others that we do not have time to describe here.

Here is a list of some other thoughts or philosophical concepts that you can find there:

  • Taoists advocate a sober and simple life, sometimes even frugal.
  • Despite the absence of notions of right and wrong, practitioners are encouraged to act justly and cultivate world peace.
  • Wu Hei's notion of passivity does not come without great optimism and a smile towards the world.
  • We must treat the world the way we want to be treated.
  • It is useless to try to understand what the Tao is. The answer to this question will come by itself when you are ready.
  • Excessively strong emotions, both positive and negative, are obstacles to the calm and balance that Taoist principles promote.
  • An unbalanced life and disharmony (internal or with the world) are the cause of all evils, especially illnesses.
  • Life energy can be cultivated.
  • Demons exist in certain forms, but kindness allows them to be fought.
  • Heaven and earth can be united in human spirituality.

Yi Jin compasses, a bracelet with the symbol of Yin and Yang and a Feng Shui bagua mirror

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History and origin of Taoism

The origin of Taoism is inseparable from the history of China.

Indeed, this philosophy appeared there and was influenced by the various political upheavals that took place there throughout history.

In short, we will now retrace together the main stages underlying the creation of today's Taoism.

A shamanic breeding ground

Before the arrival of this religion, the Chinese people (or rather their ancestors) practiced shamanism based on the veneration of nature spirits. Obviously, this influenced Taoism which, from its origins, included the existence of legendary gods and goddesses with superior powers.

Thus, in many points, this doctrine can be seen as a form of shamanism. A form undoubtedly more philosophical and intellectual, but a form all the same.

When we also know the importance that oral transmission had in the transmission of such ancient religions, we understand how other beliefs that were contemporary could have influenced it.

Lao Tzu, recognized founder of this doctrine

Lao Tzu, sometimes also called Lao Tzu or Lao Zi, is arguably the greatest Taoist thinker of all time. Born around 500 BCE, Lao Tzu lived the life of a sage and created a community of followers who were able to receive some of the most valuable teachings possible from him.

Unless you are Taoist (and again, this will depend on your school), you will have difficulty accessing these precious messages which are necessarily transmitted orally. No worries: Lao Tzu also wrote a major philosophical work, the Tao Te Ching, or “The Book of the Way and Virtue”.

A central book in the construction of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching is a collection of poems and quotations constructed in such a way as to guide the actions and lives of practitioners of Taoism.

If you are curious to discover this reference work, here is a site that provides free access, in many formats.

A destiny linked to China

It was only a few centuries later, around the 2nd century AD, that the Taoist movement took on the magnitude we know it today, with dozens of schools and organizations emerging.

With monasteries built all over China, Taoism quickly established itself as the philosophy of reference (alongside Confucianism, but we will address this in the next point). Under the Ming, Han, Tang or Zhou dynasties: the precepts of this great Chinese wisdom gave birth to numerous schools, but also to more occult sects and groups.

Gradually, therefore, a sort of institutionalized monasticism emerged with very hierarchical Taoist organizations, developing doctrines that were sometimes very different, even contradictory.

However, they all shared the same principles... and the same goal: to help people live justly. Clearly, here we were already far from Taoism with origins closer to animism and magic and the life of a monk.

Taoism versus Chinese communism

If the origin of Taoism is imbued with a certain poetry, the past century is much more tragic. Like many countries, China saw a communist government placed at its head, a government for which radical atheism was to be imposed on the people.

Thus, from the cultural revolution of 1949, Chinese traditions and ancient culture suffered attacks from Mao, who wanted to destroy them in order to build a new nation on the ashes of the old.

For decades, many Taoist temples and places of worship were destroyed by the Communist Party, monks were arrested and works were burned. Many practitioners thus had to abandon their religion or go into exile (which was unfortunately only rarely possible).

Taoist monks from Taiwan in traditional attire.

Taoism and other religions

In itself, the practice of Taoism moves it away from what we imagine to be a religion.

Strictly speaking, it would be more of a philosophy, a vision of the world, or even a “simple” body of advice and practices aimed at helping us.

In our minds, a philosophy is based on a fixed system of thought, a set of dogmas and principles on which we build the rest of our thinking.

Here again, Taoism is different, and rather offers a way of understanding existence, without necessarily requiring too fixed rules.

Throughout history, this doctrine has been able to mix with others without necessarily there being conflict.

Taoism and Confucianism

Taoism and Confucianism are the two greatest philosophies of Chinese culture. For many of us, their fusion is even the source of the Chinese spirit (organized and rigorous, but also spiritual and ethereal) as we know it. It is often said that Chinese religion is halfway between Confucian thought and the mysticism of Qi-gong.

With several millennia of common life, these two doctrines must necessarily be able to agree... Yes, that is indeed the case.

Their vision of the world and of human beings are roughly the same. It is in fact in their way of dealing with the question of life and their mode of action that they will differ.

While the thought of Confucius deals with social issues, Taoism is concerned with a more abstract quest for meaning.

While Confucianism places the greatest importance on ethics, Taoism promotes non-action and a kind of letting go conducive to greater freedoms.

Taoism and Buddhism

Buddhism originated in India around 500 BCE, when the Buddha experienced enlightenment and then passed on his teachings to a small group of disciples.

It did not take long for this religion to conquer the whole of Asia… and therefore also China. As with Confucianism, Taoism therefore had to live alongside Buddhism.

Despite many points in common, a major difference makes them quite difficult to compatible: while Buddhists will see life as a suffering from which one must escape, Taoists see it rather as the possibility of happiness and goodness, which 'we must then cultivate.

To go further, here is an interesting article comparing Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.

Taoism and Christianity

It is only recently that Christianity has taken root in China. Today's Taoism, however, shares many points with the religion of the Gospels!

In many points, the teachings of Lao Tzu and those of Jesus Christ can overlap. Some historians have even gone so far as to speak of the practice of Taoism as a “Chinese-style proto-Christianity”.

Asian thinkers prefer to speak of Jesus as a being who perfectly accomplished the Tao. Obviously, there are still differences that distinguish these two religions, the first having been born before Jesus Christ.

We can thus speak of the existence of a creator God (absolutely central in Christianity and denied in Taoism) or of the notion of good and evil (evil being fought by Christians, and "ignored" by Taoists).

Alone tree in the middle of a mystical, magical landscape.

The Tao as a magical and esoteric path

This facet is undoubtedly the one that most fascinates the curious, esotericists and other mystics.

The practice of Taoism indeed covers a large part of oral, discreet, secret transmission... in short, esotericism.

With allegorical images (for some at least, and real for others) such as the creation of ethereal bodies, longevity or immortality, the development of extra-sensory abilities through internal practices, spiritual trance or even total union with the world or others, we are here faced with an ideal subject for practitioners of magic.

Concretely, the practice of magic in Taoism can be divided into two distinct paths: exterior magic, or waidan, and interior magic, or neidan.

Rather than magic, some like to talk about alchemy because Taoist esoteric practice is so close to traditional Western alchemy.

In short, the practical application of Chinese magic does not necessarily differ from other forms of witchcraft in its essence, with rituals, ceremonies, energetic practices and codified spells.

If this type of practice (folkloric for some, but very operative for others) speaks to you, you should be interested in the part of our site dedicated to magic and esoteric arts. You will find many tools there that are, to say the least… astonishing.

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Be a Taoist today?

Taoism is one of the many philosophies that humanity has produced.

Over the millennia, millions and millions of individuals decided to adopt it, seeking through it a way to live serenely and, above all, in the best possible way.

According to many followers, there are as many forms of Taoism as there are practitioners. This is not necessarily false, but the fact is that this religion still has a history as well as general principles that all Taoists follow.

With derivatives as varied and exciting as acupuncture, feng shui, dozens of martial arts and even Chinese medicine, this philosophy is certainly interesting.

To summarize what we have seen today together, we can say that the practice of Taoism could well bring us :

  • Health
  • Vitality
  • Longevity
  • Inner peace
  • Detachment
  • Reconnecting to the essence of things

It seemed obvious that all of this could be useful to us today.

Life can easily get complicated, but sometimes you just need to get back to basics.

When you're feeling overwhelmed, the advice and principles of Taoism might just help you in ways you didn't even expect

Lucky charms featured in this article

Taijitu amulet

Taijitu amulet

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Taijitu Bracelet

Taijitu Bracelet

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author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.