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Switch to Forum Live View Religion or Philosophy?
10 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2008 - 4:47PM #1
paulisue
Posts: 9
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?
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2008 - 4:47PM #2
paulisue
Posts: 9
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?
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2008 - 6:41PM #3
SChapman
Posts: 7
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
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2008 - 9:43PM #4
steve220
Posts: 35
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).
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 13, 2008 - 7:55AM #5
stardustpilgrim
Posts: 5,664
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
Roses always come with thorns. Sometimes, thorns first, sometimes roses first, and, sometimes, thorns outside, roses inside, sometimes roses outside, thorns inside.

Someone who dreams of drinking wine at a cheerful banquet may wake up crying the next morning. Someone who dreams of crying may go off the next morning to enjoy the sport of the hunt. When we are in the midst of a dream, we do not know it's a dream. Sometimes we may even try to interpret our dreams while we are dreaming, but then we awake and realize it was a dream. Only after one is greatly awakened does one realize that it was all a great dream, while the fool thinks that he is awake and presumptuously aware. Chuang Tzu
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 18, 2008 - 9:03PM #6
MengTzu
Posts: 110
[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.
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 19, 2008 - 3:04PM #7
MengTzu
Posts: 110
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.
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 27, 2008 - 8:27PM #8
kilgoretrout2006
Posts: 202
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.
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 27, 2008 - 8:27PM #9
kilgoretrout2006
Posts: 202
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.
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10 years ago  ::  Jan 28, 2008 - 2:21PM #10
MengTzu
Posts: 110
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.
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