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Introduction, Workshop 8: Taoism

In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program

Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,

but it is the center hole

that allows the wheel to function.

We mold clay into a pot,

but it is the emptiness inside

that makes the vessel useful.

We fashion wood for a house,

but it is the emptiness inside

that makes it livable.

We work with the substantial,

but the emptiness is what we use. — Tao Te Ching, translated by J. H. McDonald

This session introduces Taoism (DOW-iz-uhm), an Eastern faith more than 2,500 years old. Taoism arose from indigenous Chinese religion. Its unique approach to the spiritual journey was first recorded in approximately 550 BCE, when Lao Tzu (LAU tsuh) wrote the Tao Te Ching (DOW duh jing), Taoism's most important text. Taoism does not usually refer to "God." It teaches instead "the Tao," which translates as "the Way" or "the Path." The Way is indistinct and incorporeal, it has no personality, and it is infinitely soft and infinitely powerful.

The engagement activity will deepen participants' understanding of Taoism and is encouraged; however, if no engagement takes place outside of workshop time, consider using Alternate Activity 2 to provide an experiential component. Further, consider holding the entire workshop outdoors, to express Taoism's connection with the natural world.

The basic concepts of Taoism are supremely simple, yet its very simplicity can be a trap—if something is "simple," it seems like it should be easy! The tendency to underestimate the depth of Taoism is the biggest pitfall in understanding it. You may need to remind participants that Unitarian Universalism looks simple to people, too: Most people agree with the values inherent in the seven UU Principles. However, living those principles—just like living Taoism—is not easy. Nondogmatic religions (those with no specific doctrine relating to such matters as morality and faith) ask followers to bear a huge responsibility for their own understanding of what is true and good.

If anyone in your congregation is Taoist or has a Taoist background, consider replacing an activity with a guest to speak with the group.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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