Central Beliefs

The Taoist philosophy is at once oblique and difficult, poetic and aphoristic. The Taoists rejected the Confucian idea of regulating life and society, saying it's better to be concerned with a contemplation of nature. They believed that by doing nothing they could accomplish everything and harness the powers of the universe. Here is another passage from the Tao Te Ching:

The Tao abides in non-action,

Yet nothing is left undone.

If kings and lords observed this,

The ten thousand things would develop naturally.

If they still desired to act,

They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.

Without form there is no desire.

Without desire there is tranquility.

In this way all things would be at peace.

The Taoist sage has no ambitions so he cannot fail.

Those who never fail always succeed.

And those who succeed are all-powerful.

The Tao has been described as the origin and mother of the Ten Thousand Things — a standard phrase to show that everything exists. One achieves without force. One gives life without possessing the things one has created. This is the essence of naturalness. One cannot grasp this philosophy with the intellect. One becomes aware, but unable to define.

At the main entrance of many Taoist temples is an elaborately colored container. It is for joss sticks (incense sticks), which are placed there to be lit. The rising incense symbolizes prayers offered to heaven. On either side of the container will be carved dragons; similarly, there will be dragons on the roof of the temple. These symbolize strength, energy, and life force.

The idea of a personal deity is foreign to Taoism, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. The Tao — a natural force — constrains the universe to act as it does. Yet nature is full of deities; the most familiar are those connected with childbirth, wealth, and health. But a Taoist does not pray as the Christians do, for they believe there is no god to hear the prayers or act upon them. On the contrary, the way to seek answers is through inner meditation and outer observation. Their beliefs can be summed up thus: The Tao surrounds everyone and everything so everyone must listen to find enlightenment.

Taoists have an affinity for promoting good health. They believe that there are five elements: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. Everything outside of and inside of your body belongs to one of these elements. When the five elements are balanced within your body, you are healthy, if they out of balance you will experience disease of some kind. Each person should nurture the chi (breath) that refers to the spirit, energy, or life force within everything. There are Yoga-style and Tai Chi exercises to help accomplish this.

The art of wu wei — action through no action or do without doing — should be practiced. One way of looking at this is to imagine standing still in a flowing river and letting what is opposing do all the work. By standing still, you appear to move against the current by not moving against it. To an outsider, it would appear that you were taking no action, but in fact, you have taken action before others have foreseen such a need. It follows that you should plan in advance and consider what to do before doing it.

The essential belief of Taoism is that the only permanent thing in life is change. Taoism says that because everything is changing, people are tempted to look ahead to find something that is permanent. Once they do that, a person ceases to be aware of the present. When that happens, the tendency is for the present to be interpreted in terms of the past. Taoism says a person should be in the reality of the now — the present moment.

Traditional Chinese medicine believes that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance of the body's chi. The practice of Tai Chi balances this energy flow. Through the gradual building of your inner energy you can discover how soft overcomes hard. Tai Chi is known as an internal art because of its emphasis on internal Chi power rather than on external physical power that helps restore balance.

The world is as it is. If it is perfect, then that is what is, not what people imagine it should be. That being so, any change will make things less than perfect. The enemy of human perfection is the unnatural, which includes the forced, premeditated, and socially prescribed.

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