We explain what Taoism is, its principles and its symbols. In addition, how was its origin and how is its practice today.

A woman lights incense in a Taoist temple.
The ethical and spiritual values ​​of Taoism spawned numerous schools of thought.

What is Taoism?

Taoism or Daoism It is both a religious and philosophical tradition typical of Chinese culture, whose fundamental precept is the CAT either dao (in Chinese characters: 道), that is, the “path”, and is interpreted in different ways, mystical and philosophical. The body of beliefs and principles of Taoism is gathered in the Tao Te Ching either Tao Te Chingthe book of the teachings of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu (s. VI or V a. C.).

Taoist tradition It is central to the philosophy and religion of ancient China., since its ethical and spiritual values ​​engendered numerous schools of thought. It is considered a tradition inheriting the thought of the Chinese Naturalist Schools and the I Chingwhose observations of the world emphasized the relationship of opposites (Yin Yang) and the five natural elements.

In its subsequent journey through history, Taoism was mixed with elements of Buddhism, Confucianism and Chinese traditional religion, which allowed it to become even more unorthodox.

Broadly speaking, the philosophy of CAT proposes the virtues of balance with nature and inaction or involuntary action. Through this state of grace with the environment, it is assumed, the human being could achieve immortality, although this last concept should not necessarily be interpreted in a literal sense, but as a mixture of “fullness” and “longevity”, or just self-improvement. That did not stop many Taoist sages from effectively pursuing immortality, through external alchemy procedures (Neidan) and inner (waidan).

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The most prominent Taoist philosophers in Chinese history were the “Heavenly Masters” of the Taoist school. tianshithe first Taoist school to exist, as well as the later He Yan, Wang Bi, Ge Hong, Guo Xiang, and the so-called Seven Sages of the Bamboo Forest that existed during the Jin Dynasty (3rd century AD).

Together with the writings of Lao-Tzu, these ancient Chinese sages also read the Book of Zhuangzi, attributed to a certain “Master Zhuang”, which contains different anecdotes, parables and fables that illustrate the moral point of view of Taoism, with the binary notions of good and evil, big and small, life and death, and above all human beings and nature.

Commonly Two aspects of Taoism are distinguished: the religious and the philosophical, although it is a later and debatable distinction, since both things are sustained based on a similar set of ideas and perspectives on life and existence, and they are not always easily distinguishable. In the Taoist religion, born from the fusion between Taoist philosophy and traditional Chinese religion, ancestors are also venerated and folkloric heroes, great Chinese thinkers and famous generals are exalted as divinities.

See also: Cultural identity

Origin and founder of Taoism

Lao-tzu is remembered with a great monument in the middle of the forest.
Taoism has its roots in the 4th century BC. C., in ancient China.

Taoism has its roots in the 4th century BC. C., in ancient China, but it acquired its name and its formal consistency thanks to the writings of Lao-Tse, released long after his death. That means that the founder of Taoism is unknown in a strict sense, as well as his founding date, since Taoism It was recognized as a religious system from the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. c.

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Nevertheless, The first philosophical school to recognize itself by that name appeared in AD 142. c., after the revelation of the works of Lao-tzu to the first Celestial Master, Zhang Daoling, creator of the first organized school of Taoist thought. Taoism was the semi-official religion of the Tang and Song dynasties of imperial China, and was eventually displaced by Confucianism, thus playing a rather popular and folkloric role.

principles of taoism

The fundamental principles of Taoism are:

  • The CAT It is an indecipherable and eternal natural order, which contains and sustains everything, and contains the harmony of things. The Taoist’s mission is to observe the balance of the world and accept it as it is, since the transcendent Tao is unknowable, that is, it cannot be rationally understood.
  • The universe is made up of opposite but complementary forces., some active (yin) and others passive (yang), which are interdependent. This is not to be confused with irreconcilable opposites (such as good and evil). The Taoist’s mission is to understand these two vital aspects simultaneously, like someone looking at the dark side and the light side of the same mountain.
  • The eternal and unknowable Tao engenders the religion of Taoism; the everyday tao and linked to existence engenders the philosophy of taoism. The first cannot be discussed. Of the second, yes. The Tao does not speak of laws, but of order. When you abandon the confusion of the world and move towards the eternal, you are on the path of the Tao.
  • The Tao relativizes moral concepts and seeks to transcend human desire and simplistic considerations of good and evil, in order to perceive the underlying order of things. In this sense, he proposes inaction or involuntary action, that is, that things happen in themselves.
  • Disapproves of personal desires, such as greed, envy, and indulging in worldly desires. It encourages introspection, meditation, contemplation and analysis, an attitude of greater detachment towards life.
  • Its main author is Lao-Tse, but he is not a prophet, nor a messiah, but in his work the precepts of the Tao were formulated for the first time. Taoism does not believe in deities in the style of traditional monotheisms, nor does it propose dogmas to which the faithful should limit themselves, but instead proclaims the need to seek balance.
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Taoism symbols

The yin-yang is one of the symbols of Taoism.
The complement of opposing forces is the center of the Taoist philosophical doctrine.

taoism identifies most with the taichi either taijitualso known as the symbol of Yin Yangwhich consists of a circle inside which you can see two intertwined shapes, one black and the other white, inside which there is a small circle of the opposite color.

This symbol represents the complementary opposites of the universe: the active forces and the passive forces, around which Taoism builds its philosophical doctrine. It is also possible to represent Taoism with the Chinese pictogram for the word dao (道), which can be translated as “path”.

Taoism today

Since its ban by the Communist Republic of China, the practice of Taoism has suffered a noticeable setback among the Chinese population, especially after its practitioners were re-educated and their temples destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Nowadays its majority presence occurs on the island of Taiwanas part of traditional Chinese beliefs and religions.

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  • “Taoism” on Wikipedia.
  • “Taoism” in World History Encyclopedia.
  • “Taoism” in National Geographic.
  • “Taoism” on BBC.
  • “Daoism” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.