That's a tough questions to answer. Let's quote form "The Search For Tao", by Madelyn Hamilton..
"In a nutshell, Taoism is the consolidation of a number of concepts and practices that make up the "Path", or "Way", of living. The consolidation of ideas and concepts include basic principles or "theories" regarding the body, diet, breathing and physical exercises, uses of herbs, philosophical inquiry and, of course, meditation. All of which the Taoist feels brings a human being into closer alignment with the "natural order" of life and living - a pathway that humankind appears to have gotten derailed from."
That's a pretty complete definition. But it lacks the poetry inherent in Taoism. Let's quote straight from the source, Lao-Tze's the Tao Te Ching.
"The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.
The Name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
the named is the mother of all things."
Tao is a force. It's not a God, it's not some sentient being controlling the universe. It just IS. It's everywhere, all at once. It flows through the entire world, and we're all affected by it, even if we don't realize it. Here's an example of someone experiencing Tao.
A Boy throws a baseball into the air.
The baseball comes down and smaks said boy in the forehead.
That's Tao right there. Tao is everything that's natural, all the laws of physics, the laws of science, the nature of the world. It affects every squirrel, every raccoon, every person. In other words, Tao is the world and the way it works.
TaoISM is a way of getting along with Tao and not getting your butt kicked all over the spiritual playing field while you do it. ^_^
Taoism is split into two basic categories; Religious Taoism and Philisophical Taoism. In these pages, I'm going to be concentrating on philisophical Taoism, and some of it's basic concepts.
Taoism is a Chinese philosophy that first began, scholars believe, sometime around the time of Confucius, perhaps the most infamous Chinese philosopher, who lived around the years 500 to 600 B.C.E.
Around this time, many schools of thought were beginning to permeate China; so many, in fact,that they later became known as the "Hundred Schools" of Chinese thought. However, the two major contenders of this time were Confucianism and Taoism.
While the Confucians strictly adhered to certain rituals and social laws of etiquette, the Taoists were much more icnonclastic. They were different from everyone else. They holed up in mountain retreats, roamed the countryside, were said to be able to perform magic and unbelievable feats of martial arts. Some, it was rumoured, had even mastered the secret of life, and were immortal. (Chichiri, from the anime Fushigi Yuugi, was one of these wandering Taoists. See picture ot the right).
The Taoists were also scholars. They archived tome after tome of priceless information, which came to be treasured by modern scholars. Books of medicine, painting, sculpture, martial arts, literature, and countless other subjects have been attributed to Taoist authors.
Taoism slowly faded however, partially due to it's monastic nature and political strife in the country. As China experienced revolution after bloody revolution, Taoists found it harder and harder to practce their arts. The sage-like, mysterious Taoist of old has now all but disappeared from the world, but Taoism, and it's practices, are still being taught today, both in China and in other countries around the world.
Taoism in unlimited; there's so much to learn and explore that I haven't even started to scratch the very surface of the surface of the subject here. I highly reccomend that people read as much as they can, and apply what they read ot their daily lives.
Here are some books that I have found to be great introductory materials to Taoism and Chinese philosophy in general.
- The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff - Easy to read, humorous, and well written; this book has become the essential tool to introduce people to Taoism.
- 365 Tao, Deng Ming Dao - my favorite Taoist author, deng Ming Dao provides an easy to understand Taoist lesson for every day of the year.
- Chronicles Of Tao, Deng Ming Dao - An absolutely fascinating history of the life of Deng Ming Dao's master, Kwan Saihung. Read about Taoist monasteries, martial art exploits, and Saihung's own spiritual quest.
- The Illustrated Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tze - nothing beats the original script fo the Tao Te Ching, penned by the world's most renowned Taoist master. Even if you are just beginning to explore, the verse in this book is very inspirational, and the illustrations in this version are magnificent.