The Essence Of Taoism: Main Ideas And Beliefs

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Ultimate Meaning-

The ultimate meaning in Taoism is the Tao, or the Way. The Tao is described as the enigmatic essential structure of the universe. The Tao has no qualities, but it is not nothingness. It is better understood as ‘everythingness,’ because it encompasses in itself all possible attributes. The Tao is further characterized by tzu-jan, which typically means ‘spontaneity’ or ‘self-so.’ The self-so is absolute and neutral; it is nothing other than itself. In Confucianism, the most imperative features are the five principles, Jen (humaneness), Chun-tzu (being an ideal person), Li (the right pattern), Te (devotion to family), and Wen (respect for age). (, notes and lecture)


Confucianism is often characterized as a system of order rather, than a religion. In fact, Confucianism is built on an ancient religious base to establish the social ideals, establishments, and transcendent principles of traditional Chinese society. There is really no spiritual aspect of Confucianism, so I’m not sure if there could be a traditional transcendent aspect to it. Taoism, which takes the Tao of Laozi as its highest principle whose central purpose is to help seekers earn transcendence. (,, and our lecture/notes)

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The 7th verse of the Tao says that the secret of the Tao is in serving. The reason that both heaven and earth last forever is because they do not serve themselves, but serve others. It is a simple message and transcript for happiness. For this reason, the sage puts himself last and then ends up first. Serve the needs of others, and all your own needs will be fulfilled. Through selfless action, gratification is attained. 7th Verse Tao Te Ching. For Confucianism, service is best described by Shu-the silver rule. It states something along the lines of don’t do unto others what you don’t want done to you. (, lecture)

Personal Identity-

For Taoism, you must accept yourself in order to achieve inner peace. You are called to live life and discover who you are. Your core is ever changing but is always the same. Don’t try to resolve the distinct contradictions in life, instead learn to accept them. In Confucianism, the journey for the human self, the search for what it means to be human, does not exist. Confucius discusses this through personality. Personality is not seen as internally existing, but as something that is being created through training and environment. The human being is seen as a social being. Accordingly, every person is born with four beginnings, which do not enclose a concept of self, but which together, if put in the western mindset of thinking, may be called ‘pre-self’, or ‘potential-self’. (,


Confucius is known as the first teacher in China who wanted to make education widely available and who was vital in making the profession of teaching as a vocation as a way of life. Before Confucius, upper class families had hired tutors to teach their sons in specific arts, and government officials had taught their subordinates in the required techniques, but Confucius was the first person to dedicate his whole life to learning and teaching for the purpose of changing and bettering society. He believed that all humans could benefit from developing the mind. For Confucius, the main function of education was to administer the right way of training honorable people (junzi), a process that involved continual self-improvement and regular social interaction- the Five Principles. For Taoists, the priest’s vocation is not hereditary, they are actually recruited from the lowest classes. (,, lecture)

Belief system-

Confucianism and Taoism’s belief systems interact closely. They are the yin yang- the yin is Taoism and the yang is Confucianism. Taoists believe in the timelessness of the spiritual body and that is derived from the idea of living a plain and balanced life in sync with nature. Confucianism believes that humans are born good, teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal workings. (,, and notes from class)

Central Myth-

Taoism’s central myth is about their founder, Lao Tzu. He was trying to leave China on an ox when the governor stopped him and begged him for his teachings. This is depicted in a famous Chinese painting. (From our class lecture)


Taoist rituals involve absolution, meditation and offerings to deities. Most rituals are done by priests because many of them are quite complicated and technical and therefore require training. The rituals involve the priest and their assistants chanting, playing instruments, and dancing. These rituals in Taoism are executed to please their gods and create unity and happiness within their lives. Confucius created rituals based on Li, which is translated as ‘rites’ or ‘propriety’. Its purpose is to place the insight of proper behavior in particular situations, and to maintain healthy and caring relationships between people. There is a wide array of things that are included in proper Li, such as bowing and being reverent to elders, writing gratitude notes to people who have helped you, and even taking off ones shoes before stepping into a house. (,


Mountains are thought to be sacred in Taoism, as they were normally the site of withdrawal and crusade. Taoist sages would travel to the mountain for long periods of fasting and concentration. Taishan mountain in Shandong is the easternmost of China’s five sacred mountains and has been a location of Taoist expedition and meditation. The focus of Confucianism is in basic human communication, so the normal spaces of daily life becomes sacred. The most sacred spot for Confucians may also be the most common: the family home. In the home, all the family generations gather together and help eachother along on the path toward a spiritual self-transformation. (,


Community was difficult to find for both religions. From past readings, I believe that for Confucianism, community revolves closely within the family, as the family home is where family members work together to progress in their spirituality. For Taoism, I have seen that in the past, they have been very accepting for anyone who wants to be a Taoist, no matter age, ethnicity, or gender. So, I think that community in Taoism is anyone who is a Taoist.


There are five main principles of Taoism: non-action, non-violence, control of senses, wisdom, and detachment. They also have a value in which a person is to alter themselves and become an example of the good life to others. The main principle of Confucianism is humaneness, to exhibit admirable character, be loyal to your own true essence, reciprocity, and filial piety (relating to your own family members). (,,

Characteristic Emotional Experiences-

The characteristic emotional experiences for Taoists are harmony, balance, and peace. (,

Material Expressions –

The yin yang (as previously stated) could be categorized here for both Taoism and Confucianism. Taoist temples can fly square or triangular flags with arcane writings or diagrams in order to fulfil a function. A zigzag with seven stars may also be displayed, which represents the big dipper because Taoists once thought it to be a deity during the Han dynasty. (from our notes,,


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