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Taoism is the one and only recognized religion indigenous to China. Its origins trace back to ancient shamanic practices of the Central Plains peoples, where the worship of celestial phenomena, the land, and the spirits of their ancestors was common. These customs became a framework where deities, nature, spirits, and human beings coexist and interact.


Hundreds of schools of thought contended during the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Periods, and philosophical theories flourished and developed. Among them, the Taoist teachings—the Tao Te Ching, represented by the legendary philosopher Laozi—was the most prominent, laying the theoretical foundation for the formal establishment of Taoism. 


During the Eastern Han Dynasty, Taoism was formally organized and founded by the Heavenly Master Zhang Daoling, establishing Laozi as the ancestor of Taoism and the Tao Te Ching as its doctrine. The main purpose as led by Master Zhang was to cultivate oneself, pursue the way of nature, and bring salvation to the world and its people.


Over the many dynasties from ancient to pre-modern China, Taoism became inseparable from Chinese culture itself. Numerous new thoughts and reforms during the Southern and Northern Dynasties were ushered in by Taoists thinkers. As Buddhism spread eastward, many of its theories in astronomy, arithmetic, and medicine were incorporated into Taoism, bringing innovation and differing perspectives into China. These changes also saw Taoism mature as a religion, with relatively complete scriptures, religious laws, rituals, and institutions.


Taoism was also widely practiced among the population and closely integrated with daily life,  local customs, and mythology. Taoist ideas seeped into all aspects of society and culture, as seen by martial arts, magical elixirs, sanity pursuits, and other tropes described in literature. Taoist rituals and teachings continue to influence the many aspects of Chinese life and culture today.

Taoist Teachings

The word "Tao" means the path that people walk. There are many paths, but only ones that extend in one direction are called "Tao." Rules, regulations, and purpose are thus derived from this original meaning. The universe follows certain laws, so it would be referred to as the “Tao” of heaven and earth. 


Taoism is a religion with "Tao" (roughly translated as The Way) at its core. The Tao is the origin of all existence and is all that is the case. It is a supreme, independent, and eternal entity. In the Tao Te Ching, Laozi describes it as void, silent, and mysterious yet endlessly changing and ultimately indescribable. Having no form or appearance, the Tao is a paradox: it is nothing but at the same time the source of all things and changes in the world. 


Laozi calls this function of the Tao "Te," or virtue, in the Tao Te Ching. Tao is the total source of existence, and Te is the embodiment of the Tao in all things. It is how the of Tao is manifested in a specific instance. Tao and its expression Te are intangible and can be better understood as an underlying structure—the truth—of the world. Therefore, the complementary concepts are often referred to together as the most profound source of all things. Taoism encourages practitioners to live in unity with Tao and cultivate Te by striving to be virtuous in thought, speech, action, and living in harmony with society and nature.


Taoist practice can be loosely understood as the practice of regulating the energy flow between the body, community, and the universe. Through meditation practice, the body's functions can be revitalized and enhanced to achieve longevity and spiritual transcendence.

Taoism holds a holistic view of the human body. Our job is to maintain optimal harmony within for good health. Taoist health-preserving techniques inherit and develop traditional Chinese medicine, in particular meridian science, a complex internal system of pathways where "Chi" (energy) is dispersed. Each meridian is associated with different organs: heart, liver, lungs, spleen, kidney, etc. When Chi flows smoothly, our body is healthy. In addition, many Taoists studied various medical techniques and contributed greatly to a systemic view of health throughout Chinese history.

The Taoist application of "Chi" is also reflected in the practice of martial arts and Chi Gong. Some sects in Taoism pass down martial arts and Chi Gong from master to apprentice. For example, the Wudang Sect, which is very famous in martial arts, is said to be the martial arts inherited by the Taoist priests on Wudang Mountain. Taoist martial arts is also different from many martial arts. It emphasizes softness and delayed striking, which fully embodies the teachings of Taoism. Among them, martial arts forms such as Tai Chi have gradually become a part of daily fitness activities. 

Most importantly, Taoists believe in accumulating merit through good deeds and upholding morals and values. Taoism emphasizes the well-being of individuals and groups, teaching people to live harmoniously: personally, through a healthy, balanced mind and body; societally, through preventing conflict and dispelling chaos. 

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