What I think of when I think of Taoism is this story from the Taoist tradition, an Eastern philosophy whose main image or metaphor is that of water that meets a rock in the river, and simply flows around it. Taoism suggests that a major source of our suffering is that we resist and try to control the natural movements of the world around us. The Tao literally means “The Way,” and it reminds us that the world is bigger than us, and we’ll enjoy it better if we humble ourselves to the natural flow of things.
You know: Go with the flow.
The video’s narrator, Jean Delumeau (born 1923) is a professor of history at the College of France in Paris and is widely regarded as one of the leading historians of Christianity. Sin and Fear, one of his books, is a monument of flawless scholarship, says Wendy Doniger for the New York Times
Delumeau says that Taoism was a philosophy and a religion, which offered salvation for the individual and responded to the need for the immortality of its followers.
Confucianism, however, was somewhat abstract and didn’t offer a reward of immortality since ancient China did not have a concept of a spiritual soul that survives a physical death. Confucius said, “The superior men are sparing in their words and profuse in their deeds.”
Taoism believed that the physical body only contains the personality. There were rules for food, hygiene, breathing techniques and different forms of gymnastics, which were designed to suppress the causes of death and allow each follower to create an immortal body to replace the mortal one.
After the mortal body died, the immortal body went elsewhere to live.
In ancient China, the pathway of sanctity preached by Taoism evolved in Chinese Yoga and was recognized some 500 years before the birth of Christ.
In the second century AD, Taoism became a true church venerating immortals as saints.
About 200 AD, a Taoist scholar taught that virtue, avoidance of sin, confessions of sins and good works were the most important aspects and took precedence over diet and hygiene.
The difference from religions in the West was that Taoism did not have leaders on a national scale and was more like a federation of linked communities.
In 110 BC, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty made Confucianism the state religion to strengthen and centralize his power.
Nevertheless, Taoism continued to be practiced as a parallel popular religion.
Religious Tolerance.org says there are about 225 million followers but the exact number is impossible to estimate since many Taoists also identify with other regions such as Buddhism and Confucianism.
Continued on February 27, 2012 in Taoism and Religion in Communist China – Part 3 or return to Taoism – Part 1
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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Note: This revised and edited post first appeared on December 5, 2010