world Taoism

Q. Offer a brief summary of Taoism. What areas raise questions or difficulties for you, and why? What has been the impact of Euro-centered colonialism on this (set of) religion?


One of the revered religions of the world and one of the oldest religions of the world Taoism has its own essence and charm, which has through decades, nurtured the human mind with both philosophical and spiritual perspectives. It must be noted that to East Asian intellectual history, Taoism is of great importance. The intellectual history of East Asia has witnessed the deep seated significance and an all encompassing influence of Taoism. It covers a huge range of cultural goings-on beginning from art and cosmogony to political and health affairs. The gamut of Chinese scholars have remained close to Taoism for more than two thousand and five hundred years which establishes the fact that it should follow and the history should be unchangeable but surprisingly, the history of Taoism reveal, through recent Western researches, the philosophical Taoism in the most non conventional terms. Having its expected birth in the 6th century BCE, Taoism has its spirit engrossed in the harmonisation of the humans with nature and believe that every particle has to revisit to the source. Thus, Taoism recognises passivity, peace and meditation as the nucleus and has emerged as one of the three most popular religions of China. Lao-tzu is a teacher figure which is often associated with Taoism.
Taoism is placed on an equivalent altar with Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, where it envelopes the coarse and contemporary nature of Confucianism and the philosophical system of all three having Hinduism predating them all. Taoism is believed to be founded by Lao Tzu who is expected to have been born around 604 BCE yet it is not established whether Lao Tzu actually existed or the persona is a complete manifestation of imagination to supply an author to the book called Tao Te Ching which means ‘the way and its power’ and speaks of the fundamental philosophy of Taoism. If Lao Tzu had existed, then he had lived even before Buddha or Confucius. Over several centuries, various monks have made efforts to implement I Ching into the cultural and social aspects in several groups and organizations, business transformation and even to improve personal and romantic connections but the classic I Ching took its matured form around 2500 BCE. The interpretations of I Ching can be implemented to improve the present and restructure the future as the Matrix consisting of sixty four figures take into account both individual and collective span and depth of human society.
The expression “Tao” refers a ‘pathway’ which happens to be the ultimate reality of life and it is beyond human dictionary to describe Taoism in words and ahead of human rationality to comprehend its immensity. Taoism has evolved in the distinct three forms which include Philosophical, Religious and a bunch of beliefs that is known as Vitalising Taoism. Actionwise, all these three forms attempt to deal with energy (chi) in order to harness power (te) to foster success in an individual which is accomplished with the application of balanced food, right exercise, meditation and yoga. The essence of Taoism lies in the fact that it is an eternal quest for absolute self knowledge which when attained bring an all pervasive power over both animates and inanimates that propel actions done without application of violence, cruelty of compulsion.
Yet there is a marked differentiation between the Taoist philosophy and Taoist religion that invokes the dilemma as few Western scholars have analysed them as distinct while some find it similar. According to H. G. Creel, the philosophical and religious Taoism have proved to be conflating as he finds that the “immortality cult” was in dire need of a shelter of an already respected philosophy and it has been found that although Taoism was placed in high respect during the Han period yet there came multiple interpretations of Lao Tzu’s words which proved to be ambiguous. This caused misinterpretation by many who considered it as provocative. Conversely, Laurence Thompson opposes Creel by saying that Taoist religion and philosophy cannot be scanned as two distinct ‘animals’ and this idea actually demeans the ‘Chinese phenomena to intelligibility’. Henceforth, it might be opined that Taoism is a balanced blend of religion and philosophy. 

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Nevertheless, colonialism has exerted immaculate influence on Taoism and gamuts of Chinese scholars have put immense effort to understand and explain the truth of Taoism and have reached the conclusion that Taoism has been formulated as a rubric that simplifies the study of  the common concepts of the ancient Chinese texts as written by Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. “Lao-Chuang is nothing but the modern Chinese terminology for the set of concepts and the particular set contains the so called Taoism as interpreted by the Westerners. But the Western scholars of 1970s found this definition as ambiguous because their studies had already confirmed that Taoism cannot be understood by reading the conventional chronicles and written history of China. Till date, most of the Western scholars, while reading or teaching about Asian religions have marked a sharp distinction between the ideas propagated by the traditional Chinese people about Taoism and the one said by the Taoists. To state in examples- as per Creel’s explanation, Taoism was composed of only the pure elements of the speculative philosophy are recorded in Chuang Tzu. On the other hand, the Western philosophers have traced that the concept of creating a new beast by the conventional Chinese idea should be assigned the name of ‘Chuang-Lao thought’. This expression may be considered ironic as the traditional Chinese people hardly offer any significance to Chuang-tzu. There are still some ambiguities since the Americans who have gained knowledge about Taoism reading texts about world religion or the works of the translators or pseudo-translators are actually half learned about Taoism and much oblivious about the true essence of it.
Concisely, Taoism can be considered as a living ideology for an individual, particularly an American because for centuries the Americans have remained oblivious to the truths of Chinese culture. These half learned Americans may be identified by the nature that they tend to publish large volumes of books and market them immaculately that defame Taoism, for instance, Benjamin Huff releasing a book named “The Tao of Pooh”. Hence, a truth about the latest 20th century America is that their knowledge about Taoism has no connection to real Taoism and it is sad that a large number of Americans are in delusion about the essence of Taoism which used to be an integral part of traditional China for more than twenty centuries (Kirkland, 1997).


Kirkland, R. (1997). The Taoism of the Western Imagination and the Taoism of China: De-Colonializing the Exotic Teachings of the East. University of Georgia. Retrieved February 5, 2018, from

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