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Taoism (from Chinese 道, in pinyin dao4, and thus sometimes spelled Daoism, q.v. Dao vs Tao) is an Asian philosophy and religion, though it is also said to be neither but rather a way of life. Translated literally it means "Way" or "Path". The Dao is the natural order of things. It is a force that flows through every living or sentient object, as well as through the entire universe.
Daoism is a tradition that has, with its traditional foil Confucianism, shaped Chinese life for more than 2,000 years. Daoism places emphasis upon individual freedom and spontaneity, non-interventionist government and social primitivism and ideas of self-transformation, and so represents in many ways the antithesis to Confucian concern with individual moral duties, community standards, and governmental responsibilities.
Traditionally, Taoism has been attributed to three sources: The oldest, the mythical 'Yellow Emperor[?]'; the most famous, the book of mystical aphorisms, the 'Dao De Jing' (or in Wade-Giles spelling, 'Tao Te Ching'), said to be written by Lao Zi (Wade-Giles, Lao Tse), an older contemporary of Confucius; and the third, the works of the philosopher Zhuang Zi (Wade-Giles, Chuang Tse). Additionally, the original source of Taoism is often said to be the ancient 'I Ching', The Book Of Changes.
The Dao De Jing (《道德經》 in pinyin: dao4 de2 jing1, in Wade-Giles: Tao Te Ching, which is almost always used as the title of English editions of the book) was written in a time of seemingly endless feudal warfare and constant conflict. The literal meaning of the title is "Way Virtue Classic" (see Dao De Jing for more on the issue of translating the book's title into English.)
According to tradition, the book's author, Lao Zi, was a minor court official for an emperor of the Zhou dynasty. He became disgusted with the petty intrigues of court life, and set off alone to travel the vast western wastelands. As he was about to pass through the gate at the last western outpost, a guard, having heard of his wisdom, asked Lao Zi to write down his philosophy, and the Dao De Jing was the result. Lao Zi was reflecting on a way for humanity to follow which would put an end to conflicts and strife. He came up with a few pages of short verses, which became the Dao De Jing. This is the original book of Daoism.
For complete or partial Dao De Jing, access the external links at the bottom of the page.
wu wei[?]' (action through inaction). This does not mean, "sit doing nothing and wait for everything to fall into your lap." It describes a practice of accomplishing things through minimal action -- by studying the nature of life, you can affect it in the easiest and least disruptive way. It is the practice of working with the stream rather than against it; one progresses the most not by struggling against the stream and thrashing about, but by remaining still and letting the stream do all the work.
The Taoist Religion Though specific religious aspects are not mentioned at all in the Dao De Jing, as Taoism spread through the population of China, Taoist priests appeared and more ritualistic elements became associated with Taoism, especially among the peasantry. Practices such as ancestor worship, alchemy, and magic spells became common. Attempts to procure greater longevity were a frequent theme in Taoist alchemy and magic, with many extant spells and potions for that purpose. An entire pantheon of deities was created, with Lao Zi and other famous personas elevated to the status of gods.