Before talking about Taoism beliefs, we must know that Taoism has never been a unified religion but has rather consisted of numerous teachings based on various revelations.
The core of the basic belief and doctrine of Taoism is that “Tao” is the origin and law of all things in the universe. Taoists believe that people can become deities or live forever by practicing certain rituals and austerities.
Different branches of Taoism often have very distinct beliefs. Nevertheless, there are certain core beliefs that nearly all the sects share.
Taoism beliefs principles
Taoist theology emphasizes various themes found in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi, such as naturalness, vitality, peace, “non-action” (wu Wei, or ‘effortless effort’), emptiness (refinement), detachment, flexibility, receptiveness, spontaneity, the relativism of human ways of life, ways of speaking and guiding behavior.
A basic belief of Taoist teachings uses the universal energy of chi, the life-giving force drawn from the dynamic interchange of polar forces yin and yang. The flow of chi as considered as an essential element of life’s flow or continuity, it is believed to support and give prosperity, good fortune, and health, whilst it simultaneously blocks sickness, conflicts, and difficulties. Most of the Taoists believe that it is the constant flow of chi that guarantees the welfare of individuals and the world around them by using the combination of Taoist doctrine with an active expression of Chinese spirituality. The effects of Tao (the way) creates the origin by generating duality that is yin and yang, light and shadow, as every action creates a counter-action by itself, it is a natural and unavoidable movement.
The word “Tao” is usually translated as road, channel, path, way, doctrine, or line. Wing-Tsit Chan stated that Tao meant a system of morality to Confucianists, but the natural, eternal, spontaneous, indescribable way things began and pursued their course to Taoists. Hansen disagrees that these were separate meanings and attributes. Cane asserts Tao can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order, equating it with the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered.
A Taoist Temple in Taiwan, showing elements of the Jingxiang religious practice and sculptures of Dragon and Lion guardians.
Martinson says that Tao is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. The flow of qi, as the essential energy of action and existence, is often compared to the universal order of Tao. Tao is compared to what it is not, which according to Keller is similar to the negative theology of Western scholars. It is often considered to be the source of both existence and non-existence. LaFargue asserts that Tao is rarely an object of worship, being treated more like the Indian concepts of atman and dharma.
Wu Wei in Taoism beliefs
Wu Wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無爲; pinyin: wúwéi) is a central concept in Taoism.
The literal meaning of wu Wei is “without action”. It is often expressed by the paradox Wei wu Wei, meaning “action without action” or “effortless doing”. The practice and efficacy of wu Wei are fundamental in Taoist thought, most prominently emphasized in Taoism. The goal of Wu Wei is alignment with Tao, revealing the soft and invisible power within all things. It is believed by Taoists that masters of Wu Wei can observe and follow this invisible potential, the innate in-action of the Way.
In ancient Taoist texts, Wu Wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Water is soft and weak, but it can move earth and carve stone. Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts that harmony. Taoism does not identify man’s will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that man must place his will in harmony with the natural universe.
P’u translates to “uncarved block”, “unhewn log”, or “simplicity”. It is a metaphor for the state of wu Wei (無爲) and the principle of Jian. It represents a passive state of receptiveness. P’u is a symbol of a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice. In this state, Taoists believe everything is seen as it is, without preconceptions or illusion.
P’u is usually seen as keeping oneself in the primordial state of tao. It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge or experiences. In the state of p’u, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. There is only pure experience, or awareness, free from learned labels and definitions. It is this state of being that is the goal of following Wu Wei.
De OR Te
Tao is also associated with the complex concept of De (德) “power; virtue; integrity”, that is, the active expression of Tao. De is the active living, or cultivation, of that “way”.
De is a key concept in Chinese philosophy, usually translated “inherent character” or “integrity” in Taoism beliefs, “moral character” or “virtue” in Confucianism and other contexts, and “merit” in Chinese Buddhism.
Salvation in Taoism beliefs
Taoists do not believe in salvation and they do not have any salvific practice. They believe that there is nothing that one should be saved from and the belief in salvation means that one believes in damnation in the same manner as the belief in good results in the belief in the evil. They believe that not excessively pursuing material wealth or prestige will lead one to a joyful life.
The man’s will is not considered as the root problem in Taoism. Rather, it is believed that the man must place his will in the harmony with the natural universe. Taoist philosophy believes that the Universe already works in harmony in its own ways but if a person exerts his will against the world then he would disrupt the harmony that already exists so he should go with the flow of life.
Taoists believe that man is a microcosm for the universe. The body ties directly into the Chinese five elements. The five organs correlate with the five elements, the five directions, and the seasons. Akin to the Hermetic maxim of “as above, so below”, Taoism posits that man may gain knowledge of the universe by understanding himself.
In Taoism, even beyond Chinese folk religion, various rituals, exercises, and substances are said to positively affect one’s physical and mental health. They are also intended to align themselves spiritually with cosmic forces or enable ecstatic spiritual journeys. These concepts seem basic to Taoism in its elite forms. Internal alchemy and various spiritual practices are used by some Taoists to improve health and extend life, theoretically even to the point of physical immortality.
Immortals in Taoism beliefs
The primary importance of all spiritual beings is given to the Immortals or Xian as known in Chinese. In the Chuang-Tzu, these perfect beings are known to dwell far away in an untroubled place, where they experience an effortless existence. They are believed to be ageless and are believed to eat nothing but air, drink nothing but dew, and enjoy the power of flight. These powerful beings are believed to be revered in the group of Eight Immortals, who are said to have been born in the Tang Dynasty.
Belief in Deity
Taoists believe that the supreme being (ultimate truth) is beyond words or any conceptual understanding but they name it’s as the Tao or the Way. The power of this way is referred to as the Te. These Tao and Te are the central concepts of Taoism. Tao is described as the divine way of the universe. Te is the power of Tao and it is the power to bring Tao into realization. It includes the belief that human interference can be damaging.
The primary focus of Taoism is based on the man’s spiritual existence where his humanity is believed to be like a bamboo stick as it is straight and simple by design but has a vacant center that yearns to be filled, yet it is flexible enough to overcome resistance and to resist the blows of nature.
Incarnation and Death in Taoism beliefs
Taoists do not believe that God resembled a human and neither do they have any particular meaning for death. Taoism teaches that humans should accept life and death as complementary and important aspects of the Tao or the Way. Death should not be feared but it should also not be desired. Life and Death in Taoism are like yin and yang that is from being to non-being.
Three Jewels of Tao or Three Treasures
1- Moderation, simplicity, and frugality.
2- Humility and modesty.
3- Compassion, kindness, and love.
Five basic movements
In classic Taoism matter and energy are considered to be governed by five basic movements. The strength and influence of these movements wax and wane over the course of a year with wood peaking during the spring, fire during the summer, metal in the autumn, and water in the winter and finally the earth asserts its presence most powerfully during the periods of the start of each season.
Good and Evil in Taoism beliefs
Good and evil do not have any particular position in the eyes of Taoism rather Taoists see the interdependence of all the dualities. To understand the notion of good and evil like Taoists does, one needs to be able to differentiate between the “concept” of evil and the “reality” of evil. Taoists believe that when someone labels something as being good then they automatically create evil. Any action as expected to have some negativities (yin) and some positivity (yang).