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Chinese Taoism

Taoism (dao jiao)
It is said that Taoism is the only true 'home-grown' Chinese religion - Buddism was imported from India and Confucianism is mainly philosophy. According to tradition, the founder of Taoism was a man known as Laozu(Laozi in Pinyin), whose name has been variously as Laotse or Laotze. He is said to have been born around the year 604 BC, but there is some doubt that he ever lived at all. Almost nothing is known about him, not even his real name. Laotzu translates as the 'Old One' or the 'Grand Old Master '. It is widely believed that Laotzu was the keeper of the government archive in the western state of China, and the Confucius consulted with him.

Chinese TaoismAt the end of his life, Laotzu is said to have climbed on a water buffalo and ridden west towards what is now Tibet, in search of solitude for his last few years. On the way, he was asked to leave behind a record of his beliefs. The product was a slim volume of only 5000 characters, the Tao Te Chinig (Dao De Jing) or They Way & Its Power. He then rode off on his buffalo.

It's doubly that Laotzu ever intended his philosophy to become a religion. Chuangtze (Zhuangzi), who lived between 399-295BC, picked up where the Laotzu left off. Chuangtzu is regarded as the greatest of all the Taoist writers and The Book of Chuangtzu is still required reading for anyone trying to make sense of Taoism. However, like Laotzu, Chuangtzu was a philosopher was not actually to establish a religion.

Credit for turning Taoism into a religion is generally given to Zhang Daoling, who formally established his Celestial Masters Movement in 143 BC.

At the center of Taoism is the concept of Dao. Dao can not be perceived because of it exceeds sense, thoughts and imaginations; it can be known only through mystical words. Dao is the way of universe, the driving power in nature, the order behind all life, the spirit which can not be exhausted. Dao is the way people should order their lives to keep in harmony with the natural order of the universe.

Chinese TaoismJust as there have been different interpretations of the "way", there have also been different interpretations of De - the power of the universe. This has led to the developments of the three distinct forms of the Taoism in China.

Taoism later split into two divisions, the 'Cult of the Immortals' and 'the Way of the Heavenly Teacher'. The Cult of the Immortals offered immortality through meditation, exercise, alchemy and various other techniques. The way of the Heavenly Teacher had many gods, ceremonies, saints, special diets to prolong life and offerings to the ghosts. As time passed, Taoism increasingly became wrapped up in the supernatural, self-mutilation, witch craft, exorcism, fortune telling, magic and ritualism. Taoists eventually produced a collection of over 1400 baffling scriptures known as Daozang.

Taoism today has been much embraced in the west by New Agers, parapsychologists and others who offer their own various interpretations of what Laotzu and Chuangtzu were really trying to tell us.

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