Updated: Feb 2
Did you know that Taoism was the most prevalent school of thought among many other philosophical schools in China? Presently, there are around twenty million Taoists globally, mostly concentrated in China and Taiwan. Spelt also as Daoism, Taoism is a philosophy based on the writings of Lao Tzu or Laozi, who is said to have been a record keeper in the court of the Zhou Dynasty in China, in the 6th century B.C.
This article will talk about the origin, the meaning of Taoism, or Tao, and its three tenets, namely, The First Principle, Yin, and Yang, & the Wu-Wei.
As aforementioned, Lao Tzu was a record keeper in the court of the Zhou Dynasty. After working there for a considerable amount of time, he realised how morally corrupt that institution was. After ending his stint there, he hopped onto a water buffalo and landed on the western border of China. Although he was disguised as a farmer, the border keeper recognised him and proceeded to enquire about his learnings. What he told them was compiled as a sacred text called Tao Te Ching. It is said that after this incident, he crossed the border and vanished forever--no one saw him after that.
The Tao cannot be rationally explained. Any attempt to describe the Tao leads to the interpretation of anything other than the Tao. However, some have defined the term “Tao” as “the way” or “the path”. As per Lao Tzu, Taoism means living in harmony with the Tao. More specifically, the only way to attain happiness, serenity, and fulfilment in life, as per the Taoists, is not to try controlling the world. Rather, you go with the flow. It requires one to abandon superficialities and live naturally.
To be precise, learning to let go, accepting unfavourable circumstances as part of life, and not trying to transform yourself as the world changes are the fundamental ways to attain peace in life.
As Lao Tzu put it,
"In pursuing knowledge, one accumulates a little more each day. In pursuing the Tao, one takes away a little more each day."
The Three Tenets of Taoism
1.First Principle: Taoism defines the First Principle as the principle of “Oneness”. This means that our mind, body, and nature are one. We take birth, fulfil our duties, and then return to nature from where we evolved. Therefore, we all are one. Nature and we are not two separate identities; instead, both are related. We usually think that going to camps and keeping closeness with plants, trees e.t.c is being close to nature. However, Taoism is way more complicated than this. It says that We are the nature; nature is Us.
Oneness is fundamental in Taoism.
2. Yin and Yang: To sustain, we need balance in life. In Taoism, the concept of Yin-Yang states that opposites should co-exist to achieve serenity and tranquillity in life. Almost all of us are familiar with the symbol of Yin-Yang- the black and white circle. The symbol insinuates that the existence of two absolute counterparts makes life whole. When we observe the symbol, we notice there is an equal space allocated to both colours. No single colour takes up a larger area than the other. This means that harmony in life can be attained only if the extremes co-exist and partake equally. Some scholars have tried to explain the concept using the example of day and night. Both are extreme opposites. However, life would be incomplete if either one is missing. In simpler words, everything right and nothing wrong is also a bad thing.
3. Wu-Wei: In literal terms, Wu-Wei means “Do nothing”, “inaction” or “effortless action”. Believe it or not, there’s power in doing nothing. The concept emphasises that one needs to be liberated from any desires and act naturally. When one becomes trapped in desire, he/she deviates from their natural state. This unnatural state contradicts with the Tao, whereas being in a natural state complements it. In simple terms, Wu-Wei means not taking any action, living in peace and having no material urges in life is the only means to achieve serenity.
The practice of Wu-Wei in Taoism is considered as the highest form of virtue. This practice has been implied in various professional fields to achieve success and greatness.
Specifically, the sacred text - Tao Te Ching, suggests that when the Dao itself acts, it’s per Wu-Wei: “The Way never acts yet nothing is left undone” (XXXVII).
Verse 38 of the Tao Te Ching by Laozi tells us:
The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self
The highest kindness is to give without a condition
The highest justice is to see without a preference
When Tao is lost one must learn the rules of virtue
When virtue is lost, the rules of kindness
When kindness is lost, the rules of justice
When justice is lost, the rules of conduct.
Taoism or Daoism is indeed one great Chinese philosophy I’ve enjoyed coming across. Along with this being followed by the ancient Chinese, what remains most intriguing is that it still prevails in the modern-day world. Many people have followed this practice, not only in China but on a global level as well. It is practised in various aspects of people’s lives.
If we all incorporated some of its teachings in our daily lives, it is guaranteed that we would live in a much happier world than we do now. In a nutshell, the need of the hour is to accept the “Action by Non- Action”.