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Flag paulisue January 10, 2008 4:47 PM EST
Hi,

I'm still learning about taoism.  I heard Dr. Wayne Dwyer once speaking about Lao Tzu and said that he would be shocked if anyone called taoism a religion.  It is solely philosophy.

So I was curious what the rest of you though.  Is taoism a religion or a philosophy.  Are there solidly religious aspects in taoism?
Flag paulisue January 10, 2008 4:47 PM EST
Hi,

I'm still learning about taoism.  I heard Dr. Wayne Dwyer once speaking about Lao Tzu and said that he would be shocked if anyone called taoism a religion.  It is solely philosophy.

So I was curious what the rest of you though.  Is taoism a religion or a philosophy.  Are there solidly religious aspects in taoism?
Flag SChapman January 10, 2008 6:41 PM EST
I like your question, and I read the Tao daily, and also several other books(writings) including the Bible, I am a Methodist by choice,
I feel the Tao is a philosophy, because it points to God,(the Way,Path), yet it offers a way of living,which is a philosophy,, not a required acknowledgment  or declaration of only one understanding or interpretation.,
The Bible says,"God is Love", and for me I don't see conflict, simply because if it encourages Love, seems God is in it.
You might like a book called, "Sermon On The Mount" by Emmet Fox.
-S
Flag steve220 January 10, 2008 9:43 PM EST
I agree.  I think at its core, Taoism is a philosophy but with some spiritual undertones.  The Tao Te Ching speaks volumes about how cultivate integrity or virtue in life, and living simply, humbly, and compassionately.  However, the arguments seem to appeal more to reason and logic as opposed to a deity's will or supernatural forces.

I think the Way of the universe that Lao Tzu describes is something "he" (if the author was one person) observed in his life and then extrapolated to a universal principle.  Of course, I'm mostly theorizing here so take me with a grain of salt.

However, given it's age and simplicity, Taoism has been combined with Chinese folk religion, alchemy, and Buddhism. 

Then again, our current distinctions between philosophy, science, and religion probably mean more to us now than to people 2200 years ago (give or take a few centuries).
Flag stardustpilgrim January 13, 2008 7:55 AM EST
Taoism is a view of what the universe is like. Lao Tzu was very clever to say that when you describe the universe, that, necessarily, isn't IT, "the word is not the thing". He saw principles operating, probably partially derived from study of the I Ching. For people who see these principles and live from them, Taoism is a philosophy of life.

I think religion constitutes worshiping God, gods or forces. There is folk Taoism which is religious in nature.
sdp
Flag MengTzu January 18, 2008 9:03 PM EST
[QUOTE=paulisue;203734]
So I was curious what the rest of you though.  Is taoism a religion or a philosophy.  Are there solidly religious aspects in taoism?[/QUOTE]

Please note that I"m not giving you a black or white answer.  This is something you need to figure out yourself.  The following is drawn from what I know, and may they guide you to your answer.  Read the short response first.  If you find it wanting, continue to the longer explanation.

Short explanation:  It is neither, and it is both.  It is ultimately a lost cause trying to categorize it as one thing and not the other.  At the core of Daoism is the concept of Dao.  Dao is beyond words and descriptions, as such it is neither religious nor philosophical.  It is at once rational and intuitive, immanent and completely transcendant and mystical.  It's absurd to try to coin the traditions regarding the Dao as strictly philosophical or religious.  It is absurd, in fact, to think of only two possible categories, because Daoism is not just religion and philosophy, it is also music, dance, art, science, medicine, literature, etc.  Take a look of the Daozang (Daozang is the collection of Daoist texts; the traditional version of the Daozang spans about over 60 volumes): it contains philosophical texts, extensive commentaries on Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi, as well as manuals teaching methods of achieving mystical experience, liturgies, poetry, etc.  To focus on one aspect and not the other misses the big picture and full beauty of this body of ancient traditions.

Long explanation:

It is a philosophy with mystical religiosity.  It is a religion with philosophical discourses.  As moderners we find Daoism at a peculiar time: because the traditional social structure that once supported Daoism has by now collapsed, Daoism in modernity has fragmented into many broken pieces rather than a coherent body of pluralistic ideals.

Historically speaking, philosophical discourses and religious mysticism intertwined with each other throughout the history of Daoism.  Even the earliest schools of Dao taught philosophical concepts, but also contain what we today would consider typically religious: gods, spirits, immortals, mystical creatures.  Much of the Dao De Jing is neither philosophical nor religious: it is first and foremost concerned with practical living, a matter essential to both religion and philosophy.

When we think of "religion" and "philosophy", we have preconceived notions about the familiar ideologies like Christianity and Platonism.  But traditional Daoism, like most other Eastern religions/philosophies, and even many ancient Western religions/philosophies, do not neatly separate elements into distinct spheres.  But because of our preconception that religion and philosophy are such distinct concepts, modern scholars prefer to emphasize one aspect over another.  Some are perhaps worried that mentioning the religious aspects of Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi will downplay the philosophical aspects and create an impression of a superstituous tradition.  Some are perhaps worried that downplaying the religious aspect will create the impression of a purely secular way of thinking and losing its transcendant, mystical side.

The best way to go about with this is to let go of these categories.  Daoism is Daoism.   Historically it is a 2500+ years old collection of pluralistic traditions, ranging from religious millenianism on one end to logical, syllogistic discourses on the other.

There was a time when this makes more sense.  There was a time when Daoist orders had great influences.  They taught philosophies as well as performed religious rites.  They wrote philosophical commentaries as well as studied mysticism.  There was a body of pluralistic orders practicing Daoism seamlessly and coherently.

Daoism began to decline after Ming, and by the end of the dynastic era, it was no longer what it used to be.  The Communist government dealt the most devastating blow when the majority of Daoist clerics were forced to become laymen.  With the establishment in sharp decline (the orders still exist, but they have far, far less popularity than most religious/philosopical organizations), there end up being a lot of individual Daoists, from purely academic scholars, to folk practitioners who don't understand the rationale behind the religious practices.

There is nothing wrong with this development.  In my opinion, it's not good, it's not bad, it's just the way it is.  But keep in mind that even back in the days when Daoist orders were influential, they did not result in one set of universal belief system.  Among the orders there was a pluralism of philosophies, beliefs, and ideologies, and the various orders were integrated into one coherent system during the peak of Daoism's development.

Today, another cause for the kind of fragmentation mentioned above is the lack of information.  There are a lot of Daoist texts not translated, and even many Chinese never heard of them.  However, with technology, we can begin to live in the best of both worlds: rediscovering the seamless, coherent system of traditional Daoism, but maintain our modern view of Daoism.  The modern edition of entire Daozang can be downloaded online.  They are all written in ancient Chinese, and it is my hope that they can be extensively translated and studied.  I have made a few translation in the old Bnet board.

One thing to keep in mind is that many folk Chinese religious practices are not purely Daoist.  Folk Chinese religiosity is a mix of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.  It's just as valid to say that these folk practices are Buddhist or Confucian.  To say that folk Chinese religion is Daoist is somewhat like saying Santeria is Catholic.  Many have branded folkish Chinese religiosity as "religious Daoism," but that is inaccurate.  Daoist religiosity cannot be truly separated from its theoretical, philosophical constructs.

P.S.: many do argue, though, that one can study only the philosophies without the religiosity.  I agree.  However, I prefer to study the big picture of Daoism that contains not only religiosity and philosophy, but also the artistic, mustical, and other aspects of Daoism.  Remember, philosophy and religion are intertwined in Daoism.  The philosophical elements have religious aspects, and the religious elements have philosophical aspects.  Despite my preference for the big picture, I nonetheless personally lean toward emphasizing the philosophical elements of Daoism and the philosophical aspects of Daoism's religious elements.
Flag MengTzu January 19, 2008 3:04 PM EST
Addendum:

Daoists have historically, at least on a conceptual level, distinguished Dao Jia (School of Dao) and Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao).  Some have identified Dao Jia as philosophical Daoism, and Dao Jiao as religious Daoism.  The recognition of distinction is correct, but the characterization of one as philosophical and the other as religious is inaccurate. 
Dao Jia literally means “School of Dao,” while Dao Jiao literally means “Teaching of Dao” (though “Jiao” is often taken to mean “religion” today, it has a broader meaning.  How “Jiao” evolved into its present day meaning involves a complicating history that is beyond the scope of this post.)  It is not accurate to translate Dao Jia simply as philosophical Daoism and Dao Jiao simply as religious Daoism.
Dao Jia (School of Dao) emerged around the 4th century BC as a way of thinking.  While philosophical concepts are essential to the school, it also contains elements that are often characterized as religious.  Much of Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi discuss everyday living, meditation, mysticism, and especially in Zhuangzi, stories of immortals and extraordinary creatures.
As to when Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao) emerged:  Some consider the mystical practices that predated Laozi as the beginning of Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao).  One may argue that Dao Jia (School of Dao) itself is the beginning of Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao).  Some say that Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao) is subsequent development of Dao Jia (School of Dao).  In any case, Dao Jia (School of Dao) is a part of Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao), much like scholasticism is a part of Catholicism.  While one can conceptually separate the two, in reality, Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao) contains every text and concepts of Dao Jia (School of Dao) as a part of its larger, more extensive body of pluralistic traditions of texts, philosophies, methodologies, etc.
Since Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao) contains Dao Jia (School of Dao), it also contains all the philosophical concepts of the Dao Jia (School of Dao).  Additionally, Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao) also developed additional philosophical concepts.  It is therefore inaccurate to distinguish Dao Jiao (Teaching of Dao) as religious as opposed to philosophical.
Flag kilgoretrout2006 January 27, 2008 8:27 PM EST
Here's my take on this. Taoism, now, in the United States, isn't a religion but it's not because of anything that inherently is or isn’t Tao. It’s because there’s no structure and no leadership. No rules. Religion is “an organized system of faith and worship.” [Merriam-Webster.] You can’t make up your own rules as you go along and call something a religion. And yet that’s pretty much what people do with Tao. That’s really the only choice most people have. There aren’t churches out there to go to and there aren’t teachers to learn from. (With maybe a few rare exceptions.) Even with something like Buddhism, which completely sidesteps the issue of God, there are specific rules and ceremonies you need to comply with to become a Buddhist. We have nothing like that here in the states for anyone wanting to become a Taoist. There’s no structure, no foundation, and hence no building.
Flag kilgoretrout2006 January 27, 2008 8:27 PM EST
Here's my take on this. Taoism, now, in the United States, isn't a religion but it's not because of anything that inherently is or isn’t Tao. It’s because there’s no structure and no leadership. No rules. Religion is “an organized system of faith and worship.” [Merriam-Webster.] You can’t make up your own rules as you go along and call something a religion. And yet that’s pretty much what people do with Tao. That’s really the only choice most people have. There aren’t churches out there to go to and there aren’t teachers to learn from. (With maybe a few rare exceptions.) Even with something like Buddhism, which completely sidesteps the issue of God, there are specific rules and ceremonies you need to comply with to become a Buddhist. We have nothing like that here in the states for anyone wanting to become a Taoist. There’s no structure, no foundation, and hence no building.
Flag MengTzu January 28, 2008 2:21 PM EST
Dear Kilgoretrout2006.

That's exactly right.  We even see this with Buddhism in the west -- there is a 2500 year body of traditions of Buddhism, much of which become did not carry over or at least did not become as popular in the West as some core ideas of Buddhism (although generally Buddhism has been more successful in carrying over some of its religious structures than Daoism in its East to West spread.)  A big, big reason that so much of "structural Daoism" did not carry over is that among the Chinese themselves, Daoism's structures have been in sharp decline (see my posts above.)  The lineages and traditions play a much smaller role in Chinese culture now than they used to centuries ago.  The Daoist orders and their priests and priestesses do not have as much an impact anymore as they used to when Daoism was at its peak in cultural influence in Chinese society.

The good news though is that the great spiritual and intellectual wealth of Daoism is increasingly available despite the decline of.  The entire modern version of the Daozang (Daoist canon/collection of texts) is available online.  Hopefully more texts will become translated into other Western languages, so the West can enjoy texts beyond the few core texts like Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi.
Flag Starjumper_7 February 13, 2008 12:13 AM EST
Taoism is a religion and a philosophy.  It has many segments that blend the two to various degrees.  Your indoctrination into Western religions has probably narrowed your view as to what a religion can be because in Taoism some ypes of Chi Kung cultivation with meditation is considered to be part of the religious aspect.

Those who only look at the philosophy, who think they can learn what Taoism is about by only reading about it, are really missing the boat.  This too is a result of Western religious indoctrination.

Wayne Dyer is fool, don't believe him here on beliefnet.
Flag Starjumper_7 February 13, 2008 12:15 AM EST
"We have nothing like that here in the states for anyone wanting to become a Taoist. There’s no structure, no foundation, and hence no building."

This is incorrect.  There are Taoist churches here although they are very rare.  In some of the big Seaport cities there are some Taoist societies and the idly curious are not invited.
Flag sensoryfusion February 13, 2008 2:25 PM EST

Dr. Wayne Dwyer once speaking about Lao Tzu and said that he would be shocked if anyone called taoism a religion. It is solely philosophy.



I'm shocked that anyone considers religion as other than philosophy.

Flag MengTzu February 14, 2008 1:40 PM EST
[QUOTE=Starjumper_7;285056]This is incorrect.  There are Taoist churches here although they are very rare.  In some of the big Seaport cities there are some Taoist societies and the idly curious are not invited.[/QUOTE]

Unfortunately there are so few of these that organized Daoism becomes virtually inaccessible to the majority of the people in the US.  There are local temples in Chinatown and some other areas around Los Angeles (where I live), but many of these temples are more accurately described as Chinese folk religion than Daoism.  The only Dao Guan (i.e. Daoist monasteries/temples) I know in the US are in San Francisco, Hawaii, and Arizona.  (I'm not sure if the one in San Francisco is really a Dao Guan).

Seems like for most of us in the US, the best way to learn about Daoism is through the texts.
Flag MengTzu February 14, 2008 2:20 PM EST
[QUOTE=paulisue;203734]I'm still learning about taoism.  I heard Dr. Wayne Dwyer once speaking about Lao Tzu and said that he would be shocked if anyone called taoism a religion.  It is solely philosophy.[/QUOTE]

Depends what one considers "philosophy" and what one considers "Daoism."  Dr. Dwyer spoke as though Daoism had only one text, but even if we are talking about the early forms of Dao Jia (School of Dao) before the rise of organized, institutional Daoism, Dao De Jing was not the only text.  There is no reason to limit Daoism only to the Dao De Jing.  Zhuangzi, for example, has quite a lot of ideas that are at least partly religious (such as the existence of spirits, immortals, and supernatural creatures, humans travelling in the air -- LIezi -- and trancending the confines of their natural existence, etc.), even though it doesn't teach that people should organize into a religion institution, or demands belief or faith in any of these religious ideas.  Even if one were to say that Zhuangzi used these ideas merely to illustrate parables, it is different to say that Zhuangzi did not contain religious ideas.  To the extend that concepts may be viewed both philosophical and religiously, it is an illogical claim to say that these early Daoist texts are purely philosophical.

But even within the Dao De Jing there are ideas that are both philosophical and religious.  For example, the idea that Heaven saves those who are compassionate (ch. 67).  The concept of Dao itself transcends beyond the categories of philosophy and religion.  The experience of Dao is partly a mystical one, an experience that many would place in the area of religiosity.

Perhaps another point, then, is that it is one thing to say that something is not a religion (i.e., instituionalized religion replete with organization and ceremonies) and it's another thing to say that something is not religious (i.e., containing certain themes characteristic of religions.)  Daoism probably did not become organized into a formal institution that one would expect of a religion until, at the latest, the early 3rd century C.E., but before that time the Dao Jia, School of Dao, already contain many religious ideas in their texts.  Also, even if there was no Daoist institutional that resembles what we expect of a religion, there was at least some form of organization even before the 3rd century C.E.  We know of at least one community in those early days that practiced both Daoism and Mohism.  The longevity practices of cultivation in early Daoism can also be said to have religious purposes.  In addition, there was no need for a separate body of religious ceremonies before the 3rd century, as the ceremonial aspects of Chinese life at the time were continued from ancient rites of the Zhou dynasty that continued to develop through the Han dynasty, rites that were practiced generally throughout society regardless of which school one belonged to, so that if the early Daoists were to practice religion, they probably practiced those rites (such as ancestral rites), keeping in mind that not all followers of Daoism in those early days were hermits.  After the fall of Han in the 3rd century, however, the cultural landscape began to change.  The rise of organized Daoism was precisely to address the issue of establishing a new world order (which includes new rites) after the fall of Han.
Flag RevKeithWright February 27, 2008 10:42 PM EST
A Deist simply believes in the Creator.  We don't believe in prayer, intercession, the attempts to change others by indoctrination/intimidation or harassment or the need for a heaven or hell.  We are simply in awe of creation and the beauty of nature.  It is this natural revelation which confirms our belief in, for lack of a better term and for the sake of communicating concepts to each-other, God.

Taoism confirms some personal beliefs about the universe which came naturally to me.  I was surprised when I found out that those beliefs which I held for many years had a name. 

I feel that the basic concepts of Taoism are natural to someone who rejects the Western concepts of power, the accumulation of wealth, control, and greed.  Once you abandon these pursuits, you begin to see the universe in a new way.

Taoism as a religion goes against what Taoism is as a philosophy.  When The Tao becomes a religion, it ceases to be a religion.  A footstep never becomes the path but the path would never be without the footstep.  Taoism is a path but it isn't a religion (the footstep).  The two cannot exist as one.

Someone asked me about prayer, meditation , and God.  Meditation is about  letting go of everything and not seeking God for when you truely let go of everything, you see that God isn't there.  When you meditate on God, you are presented with an illusion.  An illusion that you can summon God on a whim and that creation is there for you to control through prayer.  When you abandon prayer, you accept the Tao implicitly as if you have fallen into a beautiful, swift river.  You cease to fight the current, which could sap every last bit of strength which you have, and instead, enjoy the rush of going with the flow.
Flag MengTzu February 28, 2008 2:59 PM EST
[QUOTE=RevKeithWright;318783]
Taoism as a religion goes against what Taoism is as a philosophy.  When The Tao becomes a religion, it ceases to be a religion.  A footstep never becomes the path but the path would never be without the footstep.  Taoism is a path but it isn't a religion (the footstep).  The two cannot exist as one.[/quote]

You said that when Dao becomes a religion, it ceases to be a religion, but I suppose you intended to say that when Dao becomes a religion, it ceases to be a philosophy.  But Dao is beyond religion and philosophy.  It encompasses both, and is at the same time neither of them.  It is also beyond only two constructs -- it is art, music, and simple living.  It also is in constant motion yet nothing changes, it doesn't become one thing and cease to be another.  Furthermore, because it is one harmonious whole, there's no reason to pit one of its aspects against another.  If existence and non-existence, something considered so diametrically opposed, are in fact one and the same within Dao, then, unless one's mind insists on remaining on the level of the superficiality of words and constructs (and some can probably argue that such apparent contradictions on the word/construct level exists even within the same text of the Dao De Jing), there ultimatley cannot be any real contradiction between the religiosity and the philosophy of Daoism.  This can be perhaps summarized in the phrase "Yuan Rong Wu Ai" -- well-rounded harmony without obstruction -- "obstruction" refers to barriers, such as those existing between constructs, and in other words, distinction.  (Rong can literally mean "to melt", so the kind of harmony here is more than co-existence, but a melting together into one unified reality.) 

Perhaps nothing is more evident than the historical examples of Daoists throughout the ages.  The Dao De Jing, itself encompassing and transcending religiosity and philosophy, has always been a major text of the various Daoist groups.  The Shangqing Daoists were priests as well as profound philosophers.  The development of Chong Xuan Xue in particular brought together the most sublime aspects of the religiosity and philosophy of Daoism together.  Neidan continues this fusion through its lexicon of a plethora of concepts and practices that encompass both religiosity and philosophy.
Flag Starjumper_7 February 29, 2008 4:40 AM EST
[QUOTE=MengTzu;288527]Unfortunately there are so few of these that organized Daoism becomes virtually inaccessible to the majority of the people in the US.  There are local temples in Chinatown and some other areas around Los Angeles (where I live), but many of these temples are more accurately described as Chinese folk religion than Daoism.  The only Dao Guan (i.e. Daoist monasteries/temples) I know in the US are in San Francisco, Hawaii, and Arizona.  (I'm not sure if the one in San Francisco is really a Dao Guan).

Seems like for most of us in the US, the best way to learn about Daoism is through the texts.[/QUOTE]

I don't like that idea because so many people filter the texts through their own beliefs and indoctrination most miss it by a mile.  Western religion is all about texts and beliefs but Taoism has so much more and there is a lot of it here in the USA.

the best way to learn about Taoism is to meet a Taoist master and learn whatever art he is teaching.  Easiest is Tai Chi.  It is much harder to find a real Chi Kung master who can show you the Way, but they are around.  Feng Shui is another art, and so is calligraphy.

Study the art, be with the master, and you won't learn ABOUT Taoism, you will do much better than that.  You will learn to BE Taoism. Give it a couple of decades though.
Flag MengTzu March 3, 2008 4:50 PM EST
[QUOTE=Starjumper_7;321668]I don't like that idea because so many people filter the texts through their own beliefs and indoctrination most miss it by a mile.  Western religion is all about texts and beliefs but Taoism has so much more and there is a lot of it here in the USA.

the best way to learn about Taoism is to meet a Taoist master and learn whatever art he is teaching.  Easiest is Tai Chi.  It is much harder to find a real Chi Kung master who can show you the Way, but they are around.  Feng Shui is another art, and so is calligraphy.

Study the art, be with the master, and you won't learn ABOUT Taoism, you will do much better than that.  You will learn to BE Taoism. Give it a couple of decades though.[/QUOTE]

I prefer the middle way here.  I know some Daoists insist on the significance of having masters, while some vehemently reject the necessity of masters (some even seem to view the whole idea of having masters as negative.)  My position is in the middle of the two opposing views.  I think it is important to keep one's own individuality and become able to understand the texts oneself.  On the other hand, having master becomes important in certain practices.  For example, the practice of neidan without supervision might lead to psychological or perhaps even physiological harms, and having masters is a safety provision.  Ultimately, I don't think the two positions are in true contradiction, because even if one were to have masters, one still needs to ultimately realize the truth on her own, as a Daoist text says, and she must cultivate herself through her personally practicing the methods herself.

Regardless of what position one were to hold, there's a practical problem: there are not many masters around anyway.  This is not just true in the US.  Daoist masters are far less available than the clerics of many other religions.  I think the problem that some might take Daoism out of context can be remedied in a different way.  The main source of problem is the lack of available information.  This is certainly true in the US, as the majority of Daoist texts have not yet been translated into English.  But even the Chinese themselves are not well informed about Daoism.  I think the first task is to make Daoist texts more readily available.  When most of the information is out there, I believe most people can become more capable in seeing a more complete picture of Daoism through reading the texts.
Flag 1ndhcw March 18, 2008 12:29 PM EDT
Does it matter whether it is an actual religion or philosophy?  Is one so much better than the other?  If the message learned from the Tao [and I'm confused now, which is it Tao or Dao?] if it helps someone find their path, fulfill some meaning isn't that what's important? I'm for anything that helps someone live a better, happier, more fulfilled life which in turn brings peace or contentment to the home. 
Good thoughts to all,
Nancy
Flag MengTzu March 18, 2008 7:29 PM EDT
Both Tao and Dao are fine.  They are different ways of romanizing the word.  The Wade-Giles method romanizes it as "Tao," while the Pinyin method romanizes it as "Dao."
Flag Dragonheart June 25, 2008 1:52 PM EDT
I don't know but I like it better than anything else I have ever come across.

I have a problem with gods but not with processes or metaphors of gods.

I am strongly attracted to Taoism
Flag theseedoffaith July 30, 2008 11:36 PM EDT
Hey guys, I'm new and I love reading here and learning. Please check out this website of mine where I make philosophical haiku and attempt to make modern analogies to Taoism. http://alaymansphilosophy.wordpress.com/ I'd love some comments and feedback!!! Thank you & peace~
Flag n0m1nd January 12, 2009 7:36 PM EST
One translation of the Tao Te Ching begins "The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao." Similarly, I would argue, "The Taoism that can be named [philosophy, religion] is not the true Taoism."
Flag Whisperingal January 14, 2009 12:36 AM EST
Jarrod--nice answer.

That's close to what I was going to say--only you said it more briefly than I was going to.


"Call it a religion, a philosophy, a cult, a whatever ... doesn't really matter.

Keep the labels off and keep focused on the natural principles as you flow along the path."

Very Taoist as far as I'm concerned.
Flag eteune February 15, 2009 8:34 PM EST

Starjumper_7 wrote:

Taoism is a religion and a philosophy.  It has many segments that blend the two to various degrees.  Your indoctrination into Western religions has probably narrowed your view as to what a religion can be because in Taoism some ypes of Chi Kung cultivation with meditation is considered to be part of the religious aspect.

Those who only look at the philosophy, who think they can learn what Taoism is about by only reading about it, are really missing the boat.  This too is a result of Western religious indoctrination.

Wayne Dyer is fool, don't believe him here on beliefnet.


I would have to disagree that Chi Gung and Daoist meditation are religious. You can practice these in many Chinese martial arts schools (the good ones!) without any belief in God or the supernatural at all.
But, yes, Daoism is something to practice, to experience to really understand. But religious belief is not necessary to practice.

Flag Wake2sleep February 28, 2009 10:19 AM EST

For starters, I'm not even sure if Religion and Philosophy are mutually exclusive.  For example a Taoist philosophy is to simplify.  Lots of religions have that philosophy.


But I think the reason this question comes up all the time is because Taoism is GENERALLY a lone path - a search for God within oneself.  But we here in the West GENERALLY consider the search for God to be done in organized groups (i.e. thru religion). 


So people in the West can't understand how the search for God can be focused within. 


BTW, sure Taoism has Masters and it's a good way to learn, but a Master doesn't lead you thru the gate to God.  The Master shows you the gate, but you must ultimately pass thru yourself.   And I'm sure there are Masters who would have you believe your knowledge of God must come thru them.  Likewise, I'm sure there are organized Taoist churches, but personally I don't think of them when I think of Toaism - to me "Taoist Church" is a term like "Hot Water Heater" or "Military Intelligence"!


So, because most Westerners can't comprehend how a search for God could possibly take place outside of some organization of high learners, the question of is Toaism a philisophy or a religion frequently comes up even though it's not important to the Taoists!


Anyway, just my opinion (which could change at anytime) and just words (which frequently miss the mark).


 

Flag MengTzu February 28, 2009 1:35 PM EST

Hey Wake2Sleep,


I tried to quote you but the quotes come out all messed up.  Seems like the new system is different from the old one.  So I'm just going to respond to you without the quotes, but I'll indicate what I'm addressing to in the text of my post.  I hope it's not too hard to read.


I have been stressing the same point many times on this board: that traditionally, Daoist philosophy is an integral part of Daoist religion.  So we are complete agreement here.  While one may choose to practice only Daoist philosophy apart from its various religious practices, I don't think one can truly appreciate Daoist religiosity apart from its philosophy.


There is some truth to saying that Daoism is more individualistic and that Western religions are more communal, but it's important to recognize the communal element of Daoism and the individualistic element of Western religions.  While a main focus is on the individual's cultivation, it is significant that traditional Daoist cultivation is carried out in the forms of communities, such as monastic orders.  In addition, there has also been a stress of service to community under various forms: from the communes of early Tian Shi Dao, to the goal of universal salvation of Ling Bao Pai, to the general community services provided by various monastic groups, such as the Quan Zhen order.  I was particularly impressed by the elderly care provided by a Quan Zhen monastery I visited in Hong Kong.


It's also important to note that there is an individual component to Western religions.  Medieval Christianity stressed the importance of mysticism, and this continues today in the Catholic and Orthodox monasteries.  The Evangelicals today often speak of personal relationship with God.


I think "looking within" is something that is often de-emphasized in modern Christianity, but Medieval Christian mysticism certainly stresses a very introspective form of spirituality.


The organization model of Daoism is different from that of Western religions.  Since a long time ago in Daoist history until today, there are only priestly orders and no real denominations in traditional mainstream Daoism, and there appears to be no strict requirement of formal lay membership in order for one to practice Daoism.  Lay participation range from very loose (such as asking Daoist priests to perform funeral services) to very strict (such as becoming an initiated lay practitioner, known as Ju Shi, of a particular order.)  There is also a high sense of inclusivity -- it was not uncommon to have a Buddhist service and a Daoist service for the same deceased person.  This inclusivity can potentially reach even the level of the monastics -- Tao Hong Jing, one of the most influential Daoist masters of all times, was also a Buddhist monk!  Of course, Tao Hong Jing's situation seems to be quite unique, and is probably one of the few cases, if not the only one, but even one such incident is remarkable enough: it might probably be the equivalent of a Catholic bishop being simultaneously a Jewish rabbi.  It is also important to point out that there had been periodic hostility between Buddhism and Daoism in China.  However, their level of mutual inclusivity is something seemingly unheard of in Western religions.


The bifurcation of Daoist philosophy and Daoist religion in the West is a very complex issue.  When I have time, I will give it a fuller treatment.  In a nutshell, there are many factors, including four major ones: 1) some Chinese intellectuals going back as far as the 8th century has valorized the philosophical elements of Daoism over its more religious elements, and this phenomenon seems to have also crossed the cultural border when Chinese cultural was brought to the West, 2) the European Enlightenment movement dichotomized between religion and philosophy, 3) some Western Daoists are liberal Christians who seek to reconcile Daoism with Christianity, and obviously they would hesitate to accept many Daoist religious views, and 4) many Western Daoists are atheists and agnostics who have issues with some of the supernatural elements of Daoism.


I'm particularly interested in the last one, because I'm myself an agnostic.  However, I don't think it is necessary to accept any religious elements literally by faith.  I may be mistaken, but I think a layman can probably look at them metaphysically or symbolically.  There are tremendous metaphysical and symbolical value in matters such as Daoist deities and immortality.  In fact, some Daoist teachings suggest that the Daoist deities are transformations of metaphysical energies, and are ultimately manifestations of Dao.  In addition, the teaching about immortality can be applied to everyday life to improve our overall well-being here and now, even if you don't believe in literal immortality.


A lot of what you said seems to be on the mark.  Keep it up =)

Flag Wake2sleep March 7, 2009 8:51 AM EST

MengTzu,


First, I thank you so much for taking the time to make this post.


There is some truth to saying that Daoism is more individualistic and that Western religions are more communal, but it's important to recognize the communal element of Daoism and the individualistic element of Western religions. 


I haven't learned as much about Daoist monastic orders as I probably should have.  That path is one that I can't take at this point in my life, but there must be something to learn there, maybe about the sticking point that I am currently at in my own practice - how to  integrate into society.  Service is one part, and really the easy part!  But I can't serve all the time - I have to pay the bills.  And of course family "obligations", but to be honest, I think that knowledge of the love of a woman and children make me a better, more knowledgable Taoist and are an integral part of the path that I am on.


Tao Hong Jing, one of the most influential Daoist masters of all times, was also a Buddhist monk! 


I definitely believe this.  I found myself reading a lot of Zen Buddhist texts - there is so much good information out there and it seems like they have reduced the art of meditation down to a science.


Also, i too feel that spirit of inclusivety is important - to see the underlying Tao in all paths.  There's a Taoist saying (?) - "you can learn something from everyone".  THat person doesn't have to be another Taoist, right?


 


The bifurcation of Daoist philosophy...


There's a lot here to chew on and I could probably think about it for a couple weeks - thanks again for taking the time.


Ultimately, I'm probably the closest to 4) and I agree with you totally (re: interpretation of Daoist supernatural elements), so much so that I hesitate to use the word "supernatural".  I think there are elements to the universe that we (humans) have been modeled in various ways.  I use the term "model" here the way a statistician would - we (statisticians) model a real-world scenario because it gives us an idea of the probability of events happening and we can make use of that.  Where a statistician may model with math, we (philosophers?) are just modeling the universe with words.  They are only an approximation, but just because they aren't exactly right doesn't mean they aren't very useful.  Likewise, since the words are only an approximation we must always be willing to tweak our model or even throw it out if necessary in favor of a better model if "the data" supports it.


That's the beauty of Taoism (and several other spiritual paths, like Zen Buddhism I believe) - the realization that the map is not the territory.


That's also the ugliness of many religions and/or spiritual paths - the insistence that the map IS the only territory and if it's not on the map - DIE DIE DIE!!!


Just kidding there.  Hope i didn't scare you with the caps...


But seriously, thanks again MengTzu.  I'm fairly knew to the beliefnet boards, but it seems like there's a lot of good viewpoints out there.  I'll probably go back and read your posts - i don't know if we're on the same path, but i don't think our paths are that far apart (right now anyway!).


 

Flag Nancygreen March 16, 2009 2:58 PM EDT

I have recently discovered the Tao...and find it very clean, clear and beautiful. I thought I might join some posts, but I can see that it may be the same as with Christianity and other systems that human beings are involved with...they mess it up and make the truth of it muddy and legalistic. How to keep it pure and yet discuss from a clear perspective.  

Flag koala972 March 16, 2009 11:55 PM EDT

Mar 16, 2009 -- 2:58PM, Nancygreen wrote:


I have recently discovered the Tao...and find it very clean, clear and beautiful. I thought I might join some posts, but I can see that it may be the same as with Christianity and other systems that human beings are involved with...they mess it up and make the truth of it muddy and legalistic. How to keep it pure and yet discuss from a clear perspective.  




 


I haven't figured that out.  From a purist point of view the phrasing 'those who speak don't know those who know don't speak' rings very true for reasons the Tao Te Ching states over and over...  but people aren't satisfied with that because they want to communicate with each other.  Unfortunately when you communicate with others you are brought to whatever the common denominator between the two of you is, and also unfortunately for most the common denominator is the known secular and/or religious worlds people generally inhabit.  People catch a glimpse of something deep but can't escape the known because others won't go with them and they refuse to go alone...


I suppose the trick would be finding someone who is at your own level of understanding to communicate with, so that both sides would be comfortable in the communication.  And ditch everyone else...  but I don't know how to do that.


 


 

Flag Leonette March 17, 2009 8:13 AM EDT

Mar 16, 2009 -- 2:58PM, Nancygreen wrote:


I have recently discovered the Tao...and find it very clean, clear and beautiful. I thought I might join some posts, but I can see that it may be the same as with Christianity and other systems that human beings are involved with...they mess it up and make the truth of it muddy and legalistic. How to keep it pure and yet discuss from a clear perspective.  




I think the way to keep it pure it to keep things simple. Don't get carried away in the little bits and pieces. Look at the bigger picture.


Also, look at each discussion as a learning experience. Even if you do not agree with the things being discussed, you can learn things about yourself by your thoughts and reactions to a discussion. I don't necessarily walk away from a discussion with a new opinion on my beliefs, but I do walk away with a better sense of my self and my own beliefs.


 

Flag Leonette March 17, 2009 8:17 AM EDT

Feb 15, 2009 -- 8:34PM, eteune wrote:

I would have to disagree that Chi Gung and Daoist meditation are religious. You can practice these in many Chinese martial arts schools (the good ones!) without any belief in God or the supernatural at all. But, yes, Daoism is something to practice, to experience to really understand. But religious belief is not necessary to practice.



I think that the religious aspect comes from the individual practicing. It comes from the thoughts, feelings and intentions of the individual, not of the practice itself.

Flag Leonette March 17, 2009 8:22 AM EDT

Mar 17, 2009 -- 8:17AM, Leonette wrote:


Feb 15, 2009 -- 8:34PM, eteune wrote:

I would have to disagree that Chi Gung and Daoist meditation are religious. You can practice these in many Chinese martial arts schools (the good ones!) without any belief in God or the supernatural at all. But, yes, Daoism is something to practice, to experience to really understand. But religious belief is not necessary to practice.



I think that the religious aspect comes from the individual practicing. It comes from the thoughts, feelings and intentions of the individual, not of the practice itself.




After reading my own post, I think it may actually apply to the bigger discussion of Religion versus Philosophy and not just meditation.


The line that moves something from philosophy to religion is the intent of the individual. If you just think, "hey, that's a great way of looking at things" then it's probably just a philosophy to you. If you look at it in a spiritual way, as a way of life, something you're dedicating yourself to, then it's probably a religion.


 

Flag Leonette March 17, 2009 8:24 AM EDT

Dec 31, 1969 -- 6:00PM, Jarrod R wrote:

Look outside your window. Look at your family. Look at your pets. Look at your neighbors. Look at the seasons ... etc, etc. Look all around you and within you. That's the Tao. The attempt to get connected to that in it's natural flow along some sort of path is what I think of when I think of Taoism. Call it a religion, a philosophy, a cult, a whatever ... doesn't really matter. Keep the labels off and keep focused on the natural principles as you flow along the path.



Yup, pretty much :)


 

Flag Uncleev March 17, 2009 4:08 PM EDT

I agree that it doesn't much matter whether you call it a religion or not, the Tao still


functions under any title. But, in my opinion, a religion is simply the


system or language through which a person might choose to interface with the unknown.


Whether or not a philosophical outlook includes a belief in, or communication with, a


diety or dieties, I feel that a person's way of relating to the cycles of existence, and especially the


inevitability of death, would be that person's religion.

Flag Nancygreen March 30, 2009 5:33 PM EDT

Thank you for your words! Very good ones. You are right Leonette. I think sometimes we try to find something that "works" instead of just accepting what is...as it is. You are also very correct that we need to find people that we can also relate to on our own level. That is what I am working on finding. Not really on my own level, but that one can communicate with. I do think in all system of belief we impose certain "rules" on ourselves to follow our path. I think the issue becomes a problem when others start to impose their beliefs or practices on someone else. However, you made me realize that others find their path when they try to impose and meet resistance, so that is part of their learning and path that I should not take from them or try to stop. 

Flag Nancygreen March 30, 2009 5:41 PM EDT

Mar 16, 2009 -- 2:58PM, Nancygreen wrote:


From a purist point of view the phrasing 'those who speak don't know those who know don't speak' rings very true for reasons the Tao Te Ching states over and over.




 


Perhaps this is speaking of the same concept in the bible that says, not to cast our pearls before swine. It is not that we don't "speak" (or that people are "swine") but we keep silent when it is going to be a waste of effort. I understand from this also that sometimes we should just do the opposite of what we think we "should" do. 


So many words of truth were written metaphorically and possibly because each of us must find our own path. 

Flag Tealady April 24, 2009 3:21 PM EDT

Feb 28, 2009 -- 10:19AM, Wake2sleep wrote:


BTW, sure Taoism has Masters and it's a good way to learn, but a Master doesn't lead you thru the gate to God.  The Master shows you the gate, but you must ultimately pass thru yourself......


......So, because most Westerners can't comprehend how a search for God could possibly take place outside of some organization of high learners, the question of is Toaism a philisophy or a religion frequently comes up even though it's not important to the Taoists!




I believe once you explain what it is, it is no longer what it is.


 A good teacher (Master) will lead you to the gate but you need to find your own way through.


I cannot comment on what a true Taoist would say, or what an Easterner vs Westerner would say...but I can tell you what I feel and I feel that what ever you call , religion or philosphy it is a moot point....it is the way. 


 


 


 

Flag kbsjhd May 2, 2009 3:37 PM EDT

Daoism is a mystical, pragmatic philosophy. No, it is not. Yes, it is. Read poem#1 in the Dao de Jing. We cannot define the Dao, so we probably cannot define Daoism, except experientially. Very Zen, for obvious reasons.

Flag woody666 June 3, 2009 6:17 PM EDT

IMHO It's important not to confuse religion with theism, and particularly not to confuse it with the monotheistic abrahamic faiths.


While the majority (most?) of religious people can be considered theists in some form, the terms are not equivalent. There are non-theist religions and even in religions which appear exclusively theistic like Christianity, non-theistic traditions can be found. I believe Taoism is a non theistic religion.


Flag Chokmah June 7, 2009 12:15 AM EDT

Taoism is the Way of No-Way...


 



 


 


 

Flag kbsjhd June 28, 2009 12:49 PM EDT

I would beware Wayne Dyer. He makes a living at popularizing ideas that are probably best found by the individual's own effort. Taoism is too practical, beautiful, and big to popularize. It is all things and no-thing. Read Chuang-Tzu if you want to get a feel for the humanist, funny aspect, read the Dao de Jing for the mystical yet practical wisdom of very wise men and women.

Flag Raven.beliefnet.com July 15, 2009 2:00 PM EDT

I am a Taoist, but my religion is not what it seems.  The teachings of Lao-Tzu found its way into the British Isles and into the hands of Jessica Frodo (Ariel Merlin), into whom used the material to found her own version of Taoism.  Of course, the Taoism she founded is Celtic, which means the Chinese philosophy is also called Taoism.


So, as to answer your question, I would say that Taoism is both the Chinese philosophy and the Celtic religion.  The yin-yang symbol was drawn by Ariel Merlin so as to represent the paradox of duality -- that every male has a stint of the female and vice versa.  It is up to us to verify my claim.  Since you are wondering if the Taoist faith is real, let me put it this way: although the Chinese words remained intact, the faith of Taoism is based upon the philosophy.  Just remember: "The Tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao."

Flag Yamabushikaze August 11, 2009 8:49 PM EDT

Taoism finds its roots in tribal shamanism dating back to between 3000-800 BCE.  Curing the classical period 700-220 BCE it was a mixture of mystic beliefs and with the Lao tsu writing the Tao Te Ching in the Spring and Autumn period 770-460 BCE it was crafted into a philopophical lifestyle involing tribal mysticism and shamanistic beliefs.  It remained solely a philosophy until 206-208 BCE when Chang Tao-ling  in the Eastern Han Dynasty turned it into a religion. It became an orgainzed religion in 219 BCE when Lao Tzu and other Taoist  master were venerated as deities at least in a eastern religious sense. In other words unlike dieties in the west which are treated as gods in the east this takes the form of paying homage and remeberance of elders and ancestors. So this is why many get confused on the religious nature of Taoism.  You pay respects to elders, ancestors, spirits and nature but you do not "worship" them in the same sense as you would a judeo-christian God.  Like most honor and shame societies and cultures like china, it is a matter of paying respect.  A good book to read on the history and details of Taoism is The shambhala guide to Taoism by Eva Wong. This will clear any confusion you have about you Taoist spiritual and philoshophical practices as well any hindrances you may have about approaching such practices.

Flag random_wanderer July 24, 2010 5:01 PM EDT

Jan 10, 2008 -- 4:47PM, paulisue wrote:

Hi, I'm still learning about taoism. I heard Dr. Wayne Dwyer once speaking about Lao Tzu and said that he would be shocked if anyone called taoism a religion. It is solely philosophy. So I was curious what the rest of you though. Is taoism a religion or a philosophy. Are there solidly religious aspects in taoism?




There is a big paradox here, because the answer to this question depends entirely upon the interpretation of the meaning of the words religion and philosophy, where as much of the focus of Taoism is upon transcendance from the dualities created by words...perhap this question is irrelevent mind ramblings for irrelavent mind ramblers (referring most specifically to myself), but useless ramblings have their uses in the natural order of things. 


 


If it were to be catagorised as either religion or philosophy, then it would be limited to this particular polarity and therefore would not be Tao.  Therefore Taoism can neither be religion nor philosophy....or perhaps Taoism is irrelavant to the Tao! Laughing


 


The map is not the territory ~ Alfred Korzybski

Flag Eisenhans May 6, 2011 9:11 PM EDT

Jan 10, 2008 -- 4:47PM, paulisue wrote:

Hi,  I'm still learning about taoism.  I heard Dr. Wayne Dwyer once speaking about Lao Tzu and said that he would be shocked if anyone called taoism a religion.  It is solely philosophy.  So I was curious what the rest of you though.  Is taoism a religion or a philosophy.  Are there solidly religious aspects in taoism?



#1: Wayne Dyer is not an authority on Taoism -- not by a long shot.  At best, he is a new-age guru.


#2: There is no philosophical/religious split in a Taoist's mind.  Taoism is a practical system that yields tangible rewards in this life.


Eisenhans

Flag Mak_jo_si May 7, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

very straight forward.

Flag jbkranger May 9, 2011 12:06 PM EDT

My understanding is that there are two distinct "schools" of Taoism-Religious and Philosophical. That is one of the things that attracts me most. I am an agnostic and consider myself a Philosophical Taoist


Joey

Flag jbkranger May 9, 2011 12:06 PM EDT

My understanding is that there are two distinct "schools" of Taoism-Religious and Philosophical. That is one of the things that attracts me most. I am an agnostic and consider myself a Philosophical Taoist

Joey

Flag Freestyle March 18, 2014 11:14 AM EDT

Jan 10, 2008 -- 4:47PM, paulisue wrote:

Hi, I'm still learning about taoism. I heard Dr. Wayne Dwyer once speaking about Lao Tzu and said that he would be shocked if anyone called taoism a religion. It is solely philosophy. So I was curious what the rest of you though. Is taoism a religion or a philosophy. Are there solidly religious aspects in taoism?



Taoism is a Celtic religion based upon the Taoists led by Morgan LaFey (Mulan) in A.D. 1013 Ireland.  They were devoted to the Tao Te Ching and hence the name of the religion.  The philosophy of Taoism is just an aphormism.  Chinese philosophy is very paradoxial as found in the old proverb, "True words offend the ears."


Of course, Dr. Dyer is half-right.  Taoism is both a Chinese philosophy and a medieval Celtic religion.  Taoism as a philosophy is Eastern Taoism.  Taoism as a religion is called Western Taoism.


I went into the spirit realm and spoke with Lao-tzu one time and he said that he was not shocked to hear Taoism as a Western religion but rather surprised.  He laughed at the concept and said, "Raven, my friend, I am not the founder of a religion or a philosophy.  I am just the author of the Tao Te Ching."  I was fortunate enough to speak Chinese, so I spoke with him and Jesus.  I was surprised to hear what I already knew, that (1)the Tao Te Ching became the center of the Shang Tao, (2)the Shang Tao begat Western Taoism and (3)in order to be a Taoist, one must have God's permission since the teachings are esoteric and He is Gaia, a She.


Of course, the only religious discople who can stand up to Satan without Jesus is the Taoist such as myself -- the Freestyle (Raven).  All you have to do is ask God.

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