Throughout history, Taoism has been one of the most influential

religions of Eastern culture. This is certainly one of the most unique

of all religions. Many Taoists, in fact, do not even consider it a

religion; and in many ways it is not. Taoists make no claim that the

Tao exists.1 That is what essentially separates Taoism from the rest of

the world religions: there is no heated debate or battle over Taoist

doctrine; there have been no crusades to spread the religion. The very

essence of Taoism is quite the opposite. Taoism?s uniqueness and

open-endedness have allowed the religion to flourish almost undisturbed

and unchanged for over two thousand years.

The founder of Taoism was a man named Lao Tzu, who lived around the

year 604 B.C.E. According to Chinese legend, Lao Tzu was an archivist

in the imperial library at Lo Yang was known for his knowledge, although

he never taught.2 When Lao Tzu left his position at the library, he

went to the Chinese province of Chou. At the border, however, he was

stopped and forced to write down his teachings. During this time, he

wrote the Tao Te Ching, the major scripture of Taoism.3

After Lao Tzu?s death, a man named Yang Chu (440-366 B.C.E.) took up

his teachings.4 A naturalist and philosopher, Yang Chu believed highly

in self-regard and survival as the core of human nature and direction.

His ideals were personal integrity and self-protection, and said that he

was unwilling to pluck one hair from his head even if all humanity were

to benefit from it.5

The next influential Taoist philosopher was Chang Tzu, who lived from

350-275 B.C.E. He defined existence using Lao Tzu?s teachings.6 He

wrote fifty-two books in response to the Tao Te Ching, thirty-three of

which still survive today.7 Using exaggeration and fantasy, he

illustrated Lao Tzu?s teachings and how the Tao acted in nature. His

theories spoke of a cosmic unity which encompasses all reality and

guides it naturally, without force, to its proper end.8

The Yin and Yang theory became part of Taoist philosophy around 300

B.C.E. when they were mentioned in the Hsi tz?u, an appendix to the I

Ching.9 Yin and Yang are defined as the two forces in nature. They are

often called the two ?breaths? or ch?i.10 Yin is the feminine

principle, representing darkness, coolness, and dampness; Yang is the

masculine principle, representing brightness, warmth, and dryness.11

Neither principle is good or bad; they are not opposites, but each is

needed to maintain stability in the universe.12 This belief holds that

everything is defined through opposition; consequently, the virtues of

balance and understanding are highly valued.13

Taoism became an official religion between 100 and 200 C.E.14 Due to

competition from Buddhism, Taoists adopted many Buddhist beliefs.

During this pivotal point in the religion?s history, searching for

self-knowledge and wisdom were replaced by searching for solutions to

sorrows and other physical problems.15 Alchemy and superstition became

highly popular during this period of time, as Taoists tried to escape

reality rather than to control the artificial and unnatural. Many

Taoists used magic and the concept of Tao to try to extend the physical

life rather than to focus on the afterlife.16 Gradually the religion

becomes more complicated, with a wide pantheon of gods and a ruling


The leader Chang Ling took the title ?Heavenly Teacher? in 200 C.E. He

created a dynasty of high priests who manipulated Taoism to support a

superstitious doctrine of magic and mysticism.18 Seizing higher power

as a religious leader, he pioneered a merging of Taoism and

Zoroastrianism into a system called Five Bushels of Rice Taoism.

Eventually this developed into a society based on Mazdaism, a

Zoroastrian sect, where every believer was charged five bushels of

rice.19 Although the believers followed the basic Zoroastrian worship

format, they worshipped different gods: the Tao instead of Ahura-Mazda,

and the various Chinese folk gods in place of the Persian Angels.20

Three hundred years later, the philosopher Honen moved away from

Mazdaism and combined Taoism with Buddhism. This simplified religion he

created became known as the Pure Land School, or Amidaism. Gradually,

however, Taoism again became tied to magic, and it failed as a

religion.21 Today, only its original philosophies survive and there are

very few followers of Taoism, mostly found in Taiwan.22 Although

Taoism?s religious practices deteriorated with advancing Western

influence, its philosophical aspects have outlasted those of

Confucianism and Zen Buddhism.23

For centuries, Taoism has been known as the Way of Harmony.24 This is

because Taoists believe that the Tao leads all nature toward a natural

balance. The Tao, however, is not considered to be a deity or a ruler:

it may reign but it does not rule.25 This is reflected in seven basic

statements.26 The first states that the Tao is nature.