Ancient Man’s Cults, Sects, and Religions:
Taoism (8 of 8)
Taoism, founded by Lao-tse (604-531 B.C.), is one of the three great religions of China, along with Buddhism and Confucianism.
Though classified as a religion, initially Taoism was a philosophy and did not become organized into a religion until 440 A.D. when it was adopted as a state cult.
The word tao has no direct English equivalent but roughly corresponds to such terms as way, truth, or path.
Its philosophy underlies many of the currents of modern cultic movements and has itself undergone many changes since the time of Lao-tse.
Much of the life of Lao-tse is unknown. What is known is that he was an archivist for the state but dropped out of public service and went into seclusion, living like a hermit in a small hut on the side of a mountain.
Chuang-tzu (3rd century B.C.), author of the work that carries his name, the Chuang-tzu, is the first to mention Lao-tse, describing the latter as being one of his great teachers.
The Chuang-tzu contains much of Lao-tse’s teachings and also describes a meeting between him and Confucius.
Lao-tse was originally regarded as being a great teacher and philosopher. Centuries after his death, however, he was deified by those who developed his philosophy into a ritualistic religion.
Lao-tse is also credited with writing the classic Taoist text, Tao-te-Ching (The Way of Power), in which he describes the basic principles a ruler should be guided by.
During the period of Chuang-tzu, an era known in Chinese history as the period of “Warring States” (475-221 B.C.), Taoism began to imbibe elements not original to its teachings, chiefly from Buddhist thought.
A modem rendition of Taoism is said to have been founded by Chuang Tao-ling in the first century A.D. Here, syncretism with the Occult, superstition, and the elevation of the Three Pure Ones (Lao-tse being one) to a position of deity comes to the forefront.
A plethora of deities for everything imaginable was adopted with accompanying priests, sacrifices, and temples. Many of these practices remain intact today. Taoism has influenced Chinese thought and culture tremendously.
There are many Taoist communities throughout the world, but because of its antiquity in multicultural settings, there is no single world headquarters. In the contemporary world, Taoism is advocated in self-help and New Age books, with millions of followers.
One revivalist community is the Taoist Restoration Society (TRS), with headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii. This organization is run by a board of directors, which elects an executive director.
The society conducts projects around the rid of various sorts. They are rebuilding a T’ang Dynasty monastery in China to house Taoist nuns. Also China, a Dongba Training Center is being built as a place to study Buddhism and Taoism.
All Taoist communities offer classes and courses on a regular basis.
Taoism was born in China at a time of great intellectual activity. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) also lived at this time and developed his great system of thought. Lao-tse regarded the Tao as the first cause of all reality.
The total quest of the human race is to become one with the Tao. The Tao transcends all matter in the universe. It lies beyond it, yet embodies the forms for the phenomena that are perceived.
This idea is somewhat similar to Plato’s notion of the world of the forms that are the archetypes of lesser realities in the universe.
Reality, as represented in the macrocosmic universe, finds a correspondence in the specific life forms, particularly human. For example, human beings behave and function, act and react, in much the same way as nature does.
To understand humankind is to understand the structure of the universe (microcosm-macrocosm). Blood, which is the fount of life, circulates throughout the body as the waters of a river flow out from its source.
Lao-tse had a cyclical view of history. He saw that all that flows out returns to its starting point. Life comes from nonlife and returns to nonlife again.
Therefore, true wisdom becomes a matter of attuning oneself to the rhythm of the universe, which corresponds strictly to the rhythm of life.
Five main orifices and organs of the body mirror the “five directions,” or as they are alternately called, the “five parts of the sky” or the “five holy mountains.” They are water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.
These correspondences and rhythmic movements became characterized by the concepts of yin and yang (dark side-sunny side).
* Yang is the breath that transcends the world and formed the heavens.
* Yin is breath that formed the earth.
All of reality operates according to the principle of yin and yang. The two bipolar forces— good/evil, light/darkness, male/female, and so on (all paired opposites in the universe)—constantly react to and with one another.
Human intervention in these forces displaces universal rhythm and results in an improper balance between them. Civilization is therefore not a positive factor, but one that has upset the balance of yin and yang.
Thus, an agrarian society is seen as being one most in harmony with nature and the universe.
Lao-tse stressed the character of the individual and his ethical conduct and development. The cultivation of virtue is the chief end of humankind.
The “three jewels” of life are compassion, moderation, and humility. Yet to actively seek virtue is to display a lack of virtue; “the man of superior virtue never acts (wu-wei), and yet there is nothing he leaves undone.”
The deposit of human intervention is always upsetting to the natural course of events. The Taoist would relate that a tree does not interfere in the process of growing or shedding its leaves.
There is no trace of its own activity left visibly behind. “The man of superior virtue is not virtuous, and that is why he has virtue.”
The concept of ch’i (air, breath) is related to yin and yang. Ch’i is the cosmic energy or breath that is given proportionately to every man. The lifelong task is to nurture this energy and to strengthen it.
The martial arts have been greatly influenced by the Taoist concept of ch’i. The expert in the martial arts is able to harness the cosmic energy of ch’i and deprive or empty his or her opponent of the same.
The deities of Taoism include:
* Sanching (“the three pure ones”),
* San-yuan (“the three primordials,” creator deities), and
The harsh criticism leveled against Taoism by its opponents has long been that it is a religion that rejects human activity at every level, whether it be political, social, familial, or the like.
At the same time it venerates weakness, passivity, receptivity, uselessness, emptiness, and so on. Taoism rejects all forms of government, elevating as its hegemonic concern the nurturing of a life of bliss and ease. These criticisms are not unjustified.
For human beings to intervene in any way with the laws of the universe is to upset the intricate balance of yin and yang.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the Chinese government in the twentieth century tried to stamp out Taoism because it reinforced laziness, noninvolvement, and apathy—problems that a communist regime is faced with anyway, without having a religion to reinforce such ideals.
In many ways, the inactivity and passivity of Taoist thought is comparable to the ideals of the Buddhist quest for nirvana through the cultivation of the Middle path, and indeed “Buddhism found no difficulty in adapting it to its own way of life and thought.”
Both religions have been labeled as atheistic in that in their original forms they were philosophies that proffered no particular deities. Taoism became a religion rapidly during the Han dynasty, however, when Lao-tse himself became venerated as a deity.
The basic worldview of Taoism stands in contrast with the worldview of traditional Christianity. The latter makes bold claim to the fact that God is “Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” (Apostles’ Creed, Appendix 1).
Moreover, Christianity maintains that far from being an impersonal force, God is personal in Jesus Christ. In addition, Jesus did not merely philosophize about virtuous living; he claimed to be the “only-begotten Son of God” (Nicene Creed, Appendix 1).
In that all of the human race has fallen into sin and active rebellion against the living God, Christianity places central focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ to atone for such sin by dying on a cross, shedding his blood, and subsequently being raised up by God, thereby assuring the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who are penitent.
While it is true that both Christianity and Taoism reject such vices as hedonism and materialism, the latter seeks to overcome them through inactivity (wu-wei).
While the former insists on the necessity of activity— God’s activity to forgive for the sake of Jesus Christ and our activity as sinners (e.g., hedonism and materialism) to repent of sin and receive the forgiveness offered through Christ.
In 440 A.D., Taoism became an official cult of the state. It is interesting to note that only one century earlier Christianity was recognized as the “official” religion of the Roman Empire.
The basic motifs of Taoist philosophy are found in the many Eastern cults that have migrated to the West. Taoism itself, however, is practiced chiefly on the island of Taiwan, where its greatest concentration of devotees reside.
This concludes the eight Ancient Cults that I know of. Today there are hundreds and hundreds of cults, but they all more-or-less are built from other.
For example, even the Catholic religion came from Christianity. The Catholics altered the meaning of “faith”, assuming that faith is faith, rather than clinging to the faith of God as HE demands it:
But WITHOUT faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him: for he that cometh go God MUST BELIEVE that HE is, and He is a rewarder of them that DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM (Heb 11:6).