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Taoic religions

Taoism has a long history

Taoism has a long history

pronounced dow’-ic, dow’-izm

Taoism and Confucianism – Chinese folk religions

the problem is chaos; the solution is social order

If Dharmic religions can be difficult for a Westernized Christian to understand, Taoic religions are even more so.

A Taoic religion focuses on the East Asian concept of Tao (“The Way”).

Tao is the flow of the universe, the force behind the natural order. Call it energy, being, essence, Tao,



Brahman, God — these terms are just linguistic and cultural variations of humans’ desire for self-knowledge and an experience of unity with all life. The Tao inspires us morally, socially, and culturally.

To that end, Confucianism is more of a complex, law-ridden ethical system, and Tao is a way of behaving. Neither of them are religions in the sense of the Abrahamic religions’ “faith in God” or the Dharmic religions’ view of liberation from the sufferings of the physical world.

The founders, Lao Tzu and Confucius, lived at the same time, perhaps as master and student, though Lao Tzu may be a composite or mythic individual. Taoism and Confucianism arose during the Hundred Schools of Thought period of Chinese history. Both philosophies encourage seeking order and harmony in life and in your relationship with society and the universe.

While they have ancient figures of veneration that seem to function as deities, these deities are not gods in the sense of masters of the universe who demand worship. The trio above left are the Three Pure Ones. According to Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

  • The tao produced the one: Tai Chi
  • The one produced two: yin and yang
  • The two produced the three: The Three Pure Ones
  • The three produced all the myriad beings: all of existence

In most other ways, they are very different. Confucianism is an authoritative focus on human social responsibilities. Humans have a natural capability for goodness that will lead to social harmony. A “superior person” does what society expects of him or her. They improve through orderly adherence with codes of behavior and respect for elders. The reward is achieved in this life.

I Ching table

I Ching table

Yin Yang

Yin Yang

Lao Tzu was much more laid back. A romantic, he promotes spontaneity and naturalness, transencendance beyond the human.

I Ching (left)     |     Yin Yang (right)

Taoism places much more focus on the relationship of the individual with himself, on achieving an inner harmony. Taoism is much less earthly in nature and places importance on “coming into harmony” with the Tao – the ultimate reality that formed the universe and everything around us.

The individual improves himself through contemplation of himself and universal energy, and the reward (while also in this life) is mainly in the next life (i.e., through reincarnation). However, in both philosophies, the end result of this self-improvement is an improved social order that benefits all.

Taoist propriety and ethics place an emphasis on the unity of the universe, the unity of the material world, and the spiritual world, the unity of the past, present and future; Three Jewels of the Tao; love, moderation, humility.

Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought governing duties and etiquette in relationships. Confucian ethics focus on familial duty, loyalty and humaneness. Confucianism recognizes the existence of animistic spirits, ghosts and deities. It advocates paying them proper respect, but paradoxically also encourages avoiding them.