What is Taoism? by Eva Wong
Two thousand and five hundred years ago, a Chinese sage taught a philosophy that would influence not only Chinese culture, but the Western world. His name was Lao Tzu (the Ancient One), and the philosophy was Taoism.
Today Tao has become a household word. However, to truly understand the teachings of Taoism and its meaning for our world and everyday life, we need to look at the philosophical and spiritual roots of Taoism and see how this spiritual tradition is practiced today
Eva Wong's Taoism Continued
Taoism is rooted in the cultural experience of the Chinese people, and for centuries influenced the philosophy, art, literature, science, statecraft and the military arts, medicine, the martial arts, divination, and especially the arts of spiritual cultivation in china.
My own experience with Taoism began in my childhood in Hong Kong, when my grandmother told me stories of Taoist immortals, those enlightened beings who had attained union with the Tao. At fourteen, I learned feng-shui, the Taoist art of terrestrial divination, from my granduncle, and Tai-chi Chan, a form of Taoist martial arts, from my uncle. Later I was introduced to the Taoist arts of longevity.
The Tao is the origin of all things. It is the undifferentiated energy that underlies both creation and transformation. Formless, invisible, and intangible, the Tao can only be understood through intuition. Nature and humankind both originate from the Tao. Yin and yang are the basic forces of the Tao that create and transform all things. These complementary opposites interact and balance each other to maintain stability and harmony in the universe.
When the yin and yang interact, the five elements and the eight trigrams (pa-kua) are born. The five elementsmetal, wood, water, fire and earthand the eight trigramssky, earth, fire, water, thunder, wind, mountain, and lakeare the building blocks of the universe. Nourishing, controlling, and balancing each other, they ensure that all things follow the natural way.
Humankind also has its origin in the Tao. We are the products of the interaction of yin and yang procreative energies of our mother and father. When we are born, we are filled with the primordial energy of the Tao. This energy is manifested in our body as generative (ching), vital (chi) and spirit (shen) energy. The three energies are called the Three Treasures because they embody the precious life energy that is the foundation of our health, longevity, and well-being. When the level of these energies is high, we are healthy; when it is low, we become ill; and when it is gone, we die.
The goal of Taoist spirituality is to be united with the Tao. One way to achieve this union is to preserve the three treasures of the Tao within us and prevent them from leaking out of the body. Generative energy is dissipated when sexual desire is aroused. Vital energy is drained when aggressive emotions arise. Spirit energy is weakened when the mind is occupied with thoughts.
Attachment, desire, and general neglect of physical health can also deplete internal energy. Therefore,
Taoists have developed techniques to cultivate, conserve, and purify the three treasures in the body
There are two aspects of cultivating the mind; they are taming the mind and stilling the mind. Taming the mind includes non-interference, yielding, decreasing self-importance, knowing ones limits, and living a simple life. Stilling the mind involves emptying the mind through silence until no desire, emotion, and thoughts arise.
Stilling the mind requires rigorous and disciplined training. Today, the techniques of stilling the mind are known as meditation.
Cultivating the body involves strengthening bone, muscles, tendons, spine and internal organs, as well as cultivating and circulating internal energy. The techniques used for cultivating the body include Taoist Calisthenics, chi kung (methods of cultivating and circulating internal energy), and the internal martial arts.
When the mind is empty and the body is cleared of blockages, the three energies, ching, chi, and shen, will flow unhindered, and we will enjoy a healthy, contented, and long life.
From the Spring 2000, Shambhala Publications Catalog