Some Principles of Taoism

TAOISM is based on the Tao Teh Ching, a slim work dated to the fourth century b.c., but attributed to the legendary mystic Lao Tzu, who was born about two hundred years earlier, around 604 b.c.

Tao means The Way. Taoism was expanded upon by various sages. It provided a metaphysics that was lacking in Confucianism and

Lao Tzu

facilitated the emergence of neo-Confucianism during the Sung Dynasty from 960 to 1279. It also helped the entrance of Buddhism into China and the development of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. With Confucianism, Taoism forms the foundation of Chinese thought. Little is known about Lao Tzu. Whether or not he even existed is controversial among scholars. According to the biographer Ssuma Ch’ien (145–86 b.c.), Lao Tzu came from the southern state of Ch’u, which is now the provinces of Hunan and Hupei. His family name was Li, his personal name was Erh, his courtesy name was Po-yang and his posthumous name was Tan. He worked as custodian of the imperial archives of the Chou House in the city of Loyang. He reportedly granted an interview to Confucius, who was some fifty years younger and came to him with questions about rituals. Lao Tzu’s cultivation of Tao allegedly enabled him to live for more than two hundred years, outliving Confucius by 129 years, according to Ssuma Ch’ien. He retired from his job when the Chou House began to decline. As he took the pass westward, Hsin Yi, the warden of the pass, asked him to write a book for his enlightenment. Lao Tzu agreed, and wrote a two-part book on the meaning of the Tao (The Way) and the Teh (Virtue or Power), totalling 5,350 words. Initially, the book was called Lao Tzu. The name was changed to the Tao Teh Ching, or “Classic of the Way of Its Virtue,” sometime during the Western Han dynasty, 202 b.c. to a.d. 9. Approximately one thousand commentaries have since been written on the Tao Teh Ching, the most notable by Han Fei Tzu (died 233 b.c.), Chuang Tzu (369–286 b.c.), Ho Shang Kung (died 159 b.c.), and Wang Pi (a.d. 226–249). Ho Shang Kung’s commentary was the first in detail and comprehensiveness and was a major influence in the later development of the religion of Taoism.

Key Principles of Taoism

Taoism is permeated with mysticism, which makes it an ideal medium for dreamwork. Tao is the Absolute Truth, the Ultimate Reality, the Eternal Ground of Being. It is the origin of all temporal phenomena, including the One, which is the creative principle of Tao and preceded all other things. Unlike Logos, the personal Godhead of Christianity, or Heaven, the remote but purposeful Supreme Being of Confucianism, Tao is impersonal. Tao has a dual nature. The Eternal Tao is unnameable, indescribable, and beyond discussion. It is the mysterious essence of the universe, unborn, nonbeing, above and beyond heaven, above and beyond the universe. Manifest Tao is the named, the being.

Within Tao are two complementary principles, the yin, or passive/ female/earth principle, and the yang, or active/male/heaven principle. Yin and yang are in constant interaction, ebb and flow, and their balance governs the harmony and well-being of all things. To be “in the flow” of the Tao, one shifts in accordance with the ebb and flux of yin and yang, both in terms of one’s interior life and one’s exterior life. This key principle of Taoism is expressed in its symbol, the T’ai Chi T’u (“Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate”): two fishlike figures, one black and one white, contained in a circle. The white figure represent yang and the black figure represents yin. Within each figure is a dot of the opposite color, the lesser yang and lesser yin, demonstrating that each opposing force contains its opposite. The figures are separate yet originate from each other and flow into each other in a perpetual cycle. The T’ai Chi T’u shows that these fundamental forces are in continual opposition and interaction, which nourishes all things. The T’ai Chi T’u also represents the human being, who is comprised of light and dark.

According to legend, the symbol originated in prehistoric times, though there is no evidence to support that contention. The earliest written description of yin and yang is found in the I Ching, which tells of the Great Primal Beginning generating two primary forces, which in turn generate four images, which in turn generate the eight trigrams upon which the I Ching is based. Lao Tzu was inspired by the I Ching in his writing of the Tao Teh Ching. Diagrams to express the concept yin and yang appeared by the time of the Sung Dynasty. An important work was the T’ai chi t’u shuo (“The Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained”) of the neo- Confucian philosopher Chou Tun’i (1017–1073), who said the diagram symbolized the production and evolution of all things. More about yin and yang and how they are expressed in dreams is discussed in Chapter 4, “Balancing Your Yin and Yang.”

Teh, the virtue or power of Tao, is expressed in Wu-Wei, which is nonaction in terms of noninterference. Nature is spontaneous and effortless, and Wu-Wei constitutes going with the flow. Thus in Taoism, one avoids aggression and challenges, and instead seeks passivity. Toughness and aggression may be overcome with softness, gentleness, meekness, and humility: yang is countered and balanced with yin. Tao is often identified with Nature, and the same passive principle is applied. One does not seek to control Nature, but to have respect for it and bend to its forces.


Spiritual purification in Taoism comes through purity of heart and avoidance or elimination of desires, which enable the seeker to embrace the One. The best way to accomplish this is through meditation. Taoist meditation is characterized by several features: 1) concentration; 2) breath control; 3) purification of heart and mind; 4) practice of Wu-Wei in daily life; and 5) the ability to play the female, or yin, role during mystical union with Heaven, the yang principle.

Breath control is of great importance, as it is in yoga. Lao Tzu favored natural breathing, which induces tenderness, the essential characteristic of life (as opposed to rigidity, the characteristic of death). Lao Tzu considered the infant to be the perfect symbol of Tao and said it was highly desirable to breathe as an infant does. Later Taoists advocated “fetus breathing,” which is so faint that it is nearly extinguished, and which when done precedes the mystical state of samadhi. The return to a newborn state as a way to Tao is expressed in Taoist yoga, which advises (for men) the sublimation of the vital male force at age sixteen, when it is at its apex of strength, into hsien t’ien, the prenatal vital force, which leads to spiritual immortality. Lao Tzu wrote that he saw immortality in spiritual terms, but some later Taoists looked for physical immortality. From the time of Chuang Tzu to the century following, there was great interest in alchemy and in the search for an elixir or yoga of immortality. The elixir specialists, Fang Shih, enjoyed great prestige.

From: Tao of  Dreams

About zayya
Just Be. That's Enough! Shared words with Silence.

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