Philosophy of Taoism
Episode #3 of the course “Brief history of Ancient philosophy”
Taoism (or Daoism) is a philosophy that originated in ancient China and continues to be practiced today, mostly throughout Asia but in small numbers around the world. Tao means “the way,” and practitioners follow “the way” that is described in the central book of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. Reportedly written around 700 BCE by Lao Tzu, it describes the experience of living life in accordance with Tao. A series of poems, aphorisms, and meditations on various subjects, the book describes how to live a harmonious life and build a harmonious community of individuals. Taoism is often understood as valuing balance and a necessary unity of all extremes, symbolized in the black and white Yin Yang symbol.
Taoism can be difficult to understand because its central term, the Tao, is specifically defined as something which cannot be defined or described. The philosophy and central practices of Taoism focus on universal, holistic, and peaceful principles such as living in harmony with nature and natural order. The Tao is often described as the universe, and living under its laws of cause and effect is ideal for a life that leaves the most positive impact on the world.
Taoists see the Tao in every action, and in every non-action as well. The active expression of Tao is te (pronounced “de”), and the non-active expression of Tao is known as wu-wei (pronounced “woo-way”). Te is best defined by the ideas of “inner power” or “virtue,” and one scholar has compared it to a type of spiritual credit that a person earns by performing correct and moral actions. Wu-wei is best understood as “action through non-action” and is explained with the metaphor of river water wearing away a stone over time; although the water is not trying to erode the stone, its natural action has that natural consequence.
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