[extracted from the booklet - Knowing More about Taoism published by Taoist Mission(Singapore)]
What is Taoism?
Taoism is about learning, cultivation and practice, that is, learning about the ways of the Tao, self-cultivation to achieve Tao and practicing the teachings of Taoism. Its origins could be traced back to the time of the Yellow Emperor Huang Ti, thereafter it was promoted by the philosophical writing of Lao Zi and finally organized as a formal religion by Zhang Tao Ling, the religion's Celestial Master.
The Basic Tenets of Taoism
Taoism's main precepts
Taoism's main precepts are "loyalty" and "filial piety". In practice, it calls on its faithful to "respect heaven, honour ancestors, and be compassionate to man and all things under heaven". In promoting the learning and cultivation of Tao, it adheres to the principles of liberty, equality and peace. Personal cultivation in Taoism has two aspects to it: inner and outer. The inner stresses a state of truth to and authenticity within one's self. The outer requires one to be loyal, filial, benevolent and thrifty, all with the purpose of improving oneself and helping others. There is however no clear dividing line between the inner and the outer.
(1) Taoists take the Tao as taught by Lao Zi as its highest precept. Tao means the Way, the Reason. Everything in the universe has its Way and its Reason. As Lao Zi wrote : "The Tao that can be expressed is not Absolute. The name that can be named is not the name of the Absolute. Heaven and Earth originated from the nameless. All things have names as their mother". So the Tao that began with the heaven and earth is huge and borderless and without a name. That is the philosophical and religious meaning of the Tao that Taoism tries to express. Tao provides the rhythm and the rules of nature and life. Nature and life is perfect and peaceful. It embodies everything.
(2) Taoists worship many deities and so Taoism is polytheistic. The deities belong to three realms : Shen (Wu ji or the Limitless Realm), Xian (Tai ji or the Great Realm) and Sheng (Terrestrial Realm). They may be translated into the approximate English terms of gods, fairies, and saints.
The Tai Ji is a symbol of Taoism representing the forces of ying (negative) and yang (positive) which embody the Tao. These forces function in the form of the five basic elements : water, fire, wood, metal and earth. The movement and transformation of ying and yang are constant and spontaneous, producing cycles of changes. When these cycles reach an apogee, it will be, as Lao Zi put it : "The Tao produces the one. The one produces the Two. The two produces the three. The three produces all beings". The merger of ying and yang into
one circle called the Tai Ji, is the perfect stage of Tao also named "Tai Ping". The white half in the Tai Ji symbol represents Yang, Heaven, Day, Brightness, Heat, Extroversion, Masculine, etc. The black half stands for Ying, Earth, Night, Darkness, Cold, Introversion, Feminine, etc.
There are five main sects and two main branches.
The five sects are :
The two branches are :
- Merit-making Sect : performs good deeds to achieve holiness.
- Liturgical Sect : emphasizes self-cultivation through the sacred teachings of Taoism, and aims for a transcendental state of being.
- Alchemy Sect : devoted to alchemy to achieve supernatural powers.
- Talisman Sect : preaches ancestor and heaven worship.
- Divination Sect : practises oracle divination and read omens.
- The Southern Branch: the Zheng Yi Sect which worships the Heavenly Master Zhang Tao Ling; its clergy can be home-based and need not observe a vegeterian diet. The centre of this branch is the Home of the Heavenly Master, situated on Mt Long Hu in Jiang Xi Province, China.
- The Northern Branch : the Quan Zhen Sect which worships Lu Zu, its clergy is ordained and based in formal religious institutions and has to keep vegetarian diet. The centre of this branch is the Bai Yun Guan in Beijing.
Taoist Views on Life and Death
Man like all living things belongs to the world of nature and has limited life cycle. Hence, man should learn to love his body and develop both its physical and spiritual potentials. Whatever human desires should be kept in moderation. Man should perform charitable acts, be modest and thrifty, and love his fellow human beings in order to achieve an inner peace.
Taoism believes that man embodies the ying and the yang. The yang component comprises the three Hun and the ying component comprises the seven Po.
The three Hun are made up of Tai Guang, Suan Ling and You Jin. The seven Po are made up of Shi Gou, Fu Fu, Que Yin, Tun Zei, Fei Du, Chu Hui and Chou Fei. These are the filthy elements inside our body.
As recorded in the book Yu Yang Za Zhu, "The three Hun form the skeleton and the seven Po make up the flesh." Man is made by a process of ying and yang combining (a merger of heaven and earth) to give him a physical form, and that is when the three Hun are assembled. Thereafter, every seven days brings into the body a Po; and within a period of 49 days, all the seven Po would be assembled. That moment is called the Full-month.
Death is not the ending of life but the beginning of a next stage in life : the "spiritual stage". Taoists are therefore advised to undertake Chao Yu, a ritual that would allow the deceased's spirit (the three Hun) to transport itself from the realm of Jiu You to the Dong Hua Ji Le realm, the eternity of the other world.
However the seven Po linger after death and Taoists believe that each of these seven Po should be sent off by a ritual once every seven days. Only when that is done at the end of 49 days, is the deceased fully at rest and also capable of blessing living decendants from that other realm.