Introduction to Taoism
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
– Lao Tzu
Taoism is a philosophical and religious tradition that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. It is based on the Tao (The Way), which is the creator and sustainer of all things in the Universe, and the practice of doing by nondoing (wu-wei) that enables the disciple to unite with the Tao.
The Tao Te Ching is a book, written 2500 years ago by Lao Tzu, that builds the philosophical foundation of Taoism. It contains 81 verses on the Tao.
The Tao is nameless, formless, timeless, infinite, and unchanging.
Taoist philosophy was influenced by observations of nature. The ancient philosophers determined that everything has its complementary opposite—Yin and Yang. They saw that everything can only be understood by comparing it to its opposite. Day is only day in relation to night, cold only cold in relation to heat, and soft only soft in relation to hard. Looking deeper still, they realized that these relationships are in a constant state of flux: day flows gradually into night and back again. All things, then, are interdependent. By observing the processes of nature, the Taoists say, we can come to some understanding about the meaning of our lives and about our place in the world. These concepts are the cornerstone of Taoist philosophy.
Taoist philosophers also noticed that what happens in nature is effortless. Consider the life of a plant. The seed falls onto the ground. If the soil is fertile, and if it receives warmth, light, and water, it may emerge as a seedling. It does not require instruction to know how to take nourishment in through its roots or how to photosynthesize light and unfold into a mature plant. Given the knowledge it contains, the plant is complete within its own nature. The Taoist asks: why should life be different for people? Why not allow situations to unfold as they may rather than trying to manipulate others and control events?
This belief in Taoist philosophy is known as the doctrine of doing-by-not-doing (wu-wei), and it lies at the heart of Taoist practice. Nature is complete without us. We must recognize this fact and begin to participate with nature as a partner in the universal scheme. Our mission, according to Taoist philosophy, is to return to a natural way of life.
The Taoist Approach to Life
A Taoist remains a witness, simple and pure awareness. He understands the effortless nature of the world, and therefore aligns himself with the Tao. He does not see himself separate from the world, because he understands the creative intelligence, interdependence, and oneness of the Tao. Therefore, he is in constant gratitude for everything. He trusts and moves with the flow of the Tao, rather than against it. He is centred and calm, unaffected by the outer senses. He does nothing in extremes, including talking, because it is not natural.
He has the greatest treasure within himself. Nothing can be stolen from him, he lives without attachment.