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HANDOUT 1: Taoism Fact Sheet

Founded/Created: It is estimated that the Tao Te Ching (DOW duh jing) was written in China in 550 BCE; however, the origins of Taoism go back hundreds of years before that.

Adherents: 20 million—predominately in Asia but distributed worldwide.

Ranking: Seventh in size, behind Christianity, Islam, Atheism/Agnosticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.

Prophets: Lao Tzu (LAU tsuh), who is often considered the father of Taoism because he authored its primary text; also Chuang Tzu (JWONG tsuh) and Chang Tao-Ling.

Texts: There are many, but three key texts are the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu by Chuang Tzu, and The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Symbols:

  • Yin/Yang: The yin/yang (shown on Handout 2, Yin/Yang Symbol) depicts a seamless interconnectedness of opposites, the perpetual flowing together of the elements of existence. Each is necessary to create the whole; each part flows into the other, equal in strength and influence. Each is contained within the heart of the other.
  • Water imagery: These images remind us that humans are part of Nature; water illustrates the concept of flow and of great power deriving from softness, adaptability, responsiveness, and balance.

Terms and Fundamental Precepts:

  • Tao: This translates as "the Way" or "the Path."
  • Balance: This is maintained by accepting what is—flowing with reality rather than fighting it.
  • Emptiness: The ideal internal state to maintain in order to be ready for truths as they present themselves. This pertains to ego as well as ideas: If people are full of their own ideas or importance, they will not be able to recognize or absorb truth as it emerges around them.
  • Chi: The natural energy of the universe that permeates all things, including the human body. A key concept associated with chi (chee) is harmony.
  • Harmony: Most difficulties in the universe, or in the heart, from the largest to the smallest scale, are caused by imbalance and disharmony and will be aided or resolved by restoring harmony and attaining equilibrium.
  • Nature: Human beings are part of the natural order and will be guided in their spiritual growth and personal harmony by paying attention to and experiencing nature and by recognizing their own energy—their chi—that flows with that of all living things.

Shared with Unitarian Universalism:

  • One's personal responsibility for their spiritual journey—no dogma or set of fixed beliefs that people must accept without question
  • The importance of nature and human beings' place in the natural order
  • The interconnectedness of all things (the interdependent web—the seventh UU Principle)
  • Acceptance of all people and all occurrences (acceptance of one another—the second UU Principle)
  • Many songs and readings—for example, in Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: UUA Publications, 1993), Readings 600—604 and 606 and Hymn 186 are from the Taoist tradition.

A Taoist Riddle

What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it, you die?

Answer: Nothing.

Why can this riddle be seen as Taoist? Because the "nothing" in this riddle is an active principle, not a passive one. It speaks not to the absence of something but to the presence of Nothing. It is not that the rich do not want for anything; it is that people who have too much could use more emptiness and would benefit from embracing the idea of Nothing. They need to empty their cups.

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Last updated on Tuesday, November 1, 2011.

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