Taoism  «TOW ihz uhm or DOW ihz uhm», is a philosophy that began in China, probably during the 300's B.C.  The word tao (also spelled dao) originally meant Road or The Way. The Tao, or The Way, represents the characteristics or behaviors that makes each thing in the universe what it is. The word is also used to mean reality as a whole, which consists of all the individual "Ways."

Taoism as a philosophy. The beliefs of Taoism as a philosophy appear in two books, the Lao-tzu (later renamed the Tao Te Ching, The Classic of the Way and the Virtue) and the Chuang-tzu. The Lao-tzu is a collection from several sources and its authors and editors are unknown. The ideas were partly a reaction against Confucianism, a philosophy that developed in China beginning in about 500 B.C.

According to Confucianism, people can live a good life only in a well-disciplined society that stresses attention to ceremony, duty, morality, and public service. The Taoist ideal, on the other hand, is a person who avoids conventional social obligations and leads a simple, spontaneous, and meditative life close to nature.

Taoist philosophy has had a great influence on Chinese spirituality. It expresses a distaste for worldly affairs and a yearning for a life in harmony with nature.

Taoism as a religion was influenced by Chinese folk religion. In folk religion, most of the gods are human beings who displayed exceptional powers during their lifetimes.

Taoism has a hereditary priesthood. The priests conduct public rituals, during which they submit the people's prayers to the gods of folk religion. The chief priest, who is in a trance, prays to other divinities on behalf of the worshipers. These divinities are not former human beings but represent aspects of the Tao.

The members of the Taoist seek wisdom  through magic, meditation, special diets, breath control, or the recitation of scriptures. The Taoist search for knowledge of nature has led many believers to pursue various sciences, such as alchemy, astronomy, and medicine.

 Lao Tzu

Laozi, according to legends, wrote the Laozi, the basic books of the Chinese philosophy called Taoism, also spelled Daoism. This book is often called the Tao Te Ching (The Classic of The Way and the Virtue). Laozi's name is also spelled Lao Tzu.

Laozi lived during the 500's B.C. However, the Tao Te Ching, made up of 81 brief sections, and probably compiled and revised during the 200's and 100's B.C. More than half its sections are in rhyme. The remainder of the book includes popular sayings and Taoist teachings in prose.

The Tao Te Ching describes the Tao or The Way, as the unity of nature that makes each thing in the universe what it is and determines its resulting behavior. This unity can be understood only by mystical intuition. The book teaches that, because yielding eventually overcomes force, a wise man desires nothing. He never interferes with what happens naturally in the world or in himself. One passage says: "The highest good is like water. Water excels in giving benefit to all creatures, but never competes. It abides in places that most men despise, and so comes closest to the Tao." The Tao Te Ching also teaches that simplicity and moving with the flow of events are the keys to the wise.

• N. Sivin, Ph.D., Professor of Chinese Culture and of the History of Science, University of Pennsylvania.
N.  "Taoism," World Book Online Americas Edition,

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