In last session of Introduction to Ethics we were introduced to many of the world’s religions and faiths. We got a brief knowledge on those major or minor religious beliefs. Then I choose to know more about a specific religion: Taoism. Actually I didn’t have much idea about this. I just saw the South Korean national flag bears emblem of Taoism, and also widely used in martial arts films. What I know now is this:
The founder of Taoism is believed by many to be Lao Tse. He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant medieval warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religious faith later on. The Tao is the natural order of things. Tao literally means “way”, but can also be interpreted as road, channel, or path. It is a force that flows through every living and conscious object, as well as through the entire universe. When the Tao is in balance it is possible to find perfect happiness.
Taoism/Daoism became an organized religious tradition which has its various forms in China, and elsewhere. Today Taoism can be called a world religion, with followers from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Tao practices focus our awareness on the flow of qi (life-force) through our bodies. Taoist practice which reconnects human with a child-like curiosity and playfulness, at the same time teaching how to communicate with the spirits of trees, rocks, mountains and flowers. Simply amazing and sounds magical, isn’t it?
The most common graphic representation of Taoist doctrine is the circular Yin Yang figure. It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is imbalanced by the other, there is chaos. Taoists believe that nature and the earth is constantly in change. When individuals learn that growth and movement are natural, they can become balanced. The concepts of Yin Yang is rooted to all Tao ideology and practices. For every object, there are something opposite of that; such as Male-Female, Water-Fire, Calm-Anger, Static-Dynamic and so on. Thus, balancing of the opposite is the ultimate peace. The equilibrium then creates ‘Circle of Eight’ encircling Yin Yang; which are Wealth, Fame, Family, Spirituality/Knowledge, Career, Service, Future, and Relationships.
The ambiguous term ‘wu-wei’ constitutes the leading ethical concept in Taoism. ‘Wu’ carries the meaning of “effortless action” or “action without intent”, while ‘Wei’ refers to any intentional or deliberated action. Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts their will against the world, they disrupt that harmony.
Taoism encourages working with natural forces, never against them. Taoism teaches the path of wu-wei – the technique of understanding environments, not trying to control them. A Taoist would encourage an individual to work with their obstacles and problems instead of fighting adversity at every turn. Lao Tse stated- “Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.” Actually Tao itself is embedded and inseparable with nature and universe. The forces, synergy, teachings of nature and its elements are the basics of practicing and obtaining ultimate Tao.
The ‘Three Treasures’ or ‘Three Jewels’ are basic virtues in Taoism comprising Empathy, Equability, and Modesty. Like other religions, Taoist rules also support both ethics, i.e., the personal values of the individual and the communal norms and social values of the organization. From basic moral rules against killing, stealing, lying to behaviors on how to live, eat, and wash, Tao encourages the ‘Three Jewels’ to be followed.
Taoist ethics are concerned less with doing personal good than becoming a good person who lives in harmony with all elements in surroundings. So the philosophy is not do good things; but become a good person. Taoist ethics and Taoist spirituality – both contains this idea. Taoists thus always do what is required by incidents and their situation, but not more than it is required. Thus, Taoists try not to initiate action, but wait for events to make action needed, and avoid letting their own desires push them into doing things.
The Taoist ideal goal for a person is by changing themselves, and thus becoming an example of the good life to others. Changing in that way will make the world a better place, because as a person behaves well towards other people and the world, the community will respond by becoming better itself.