My Zen Today

We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance, and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in the Tao, that we may live in peace and balance with the Universe, both in this mortal life and beyond.”

The founder of Taoism is believed by many to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius. (Alternative spellings: Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, Laozi, Laotze, etc.). He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching (a.k.a. Daodejing). Others believe that he is a mythical character.

Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religious faith in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became one of the three great religions of China. With the end of the Ch’ing Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next period of warlordism. After the Communist victory in 1949, religious freedom was severely restricted. “The new government put monks to manual labor, confiscated temples, and plundered treasures. Several million monks were reduced to fewer than 50,000” by 1960. 3 During the cultural revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, much of the remaining Taoist heritage was destroyed. Some religious tolerance has been restored under Deng Xiao-ping from 1982 to the present time.

“The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.”

The priesthood views the many gods as manifestations of the one Dao, “which could not be represented as an image or a particular thing.” The concept of a personified deity is foreign to them, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life’s problems through inner meditation and outer observation.

Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.

Taoists strongly promote health and vitality.

Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.

Each person must nurture the Ch’i (air, breath) that has been given to them.

Development of virtue is one’s chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.

A Taoists is kind to other individuals, in part because such an action tends to be reciprocated.

Taoists believe that “people are compassionate by nature…left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward.”

The Yin Yang symbol:

This is a well known Taoist symbol.

“It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray.” 4 One source explains that it was derived from astronomical observations which recorded the shadow of the sun throughout a full year. 5 The two swirling shapes inside the symbol give the impression of change — the only constant factor in the universe. One tradition states that Yin (or Ying; the dark side) represents the breath that formed the earth. Yang (the light side) symbolizes the breath that formed the heavens.

One source states: “The most traditional view is that ‘yin’ represents aspects of the feminine: being soft, cool, calm, introspective, and healing… and “yang” the masculine: being hard, hot, energetic, moving, and sometimes aggressive. Another view has the ‘yin’ representing night and ‘yang’ day. 5

Another source offers a different definition: A common misconception in the west is that “…yin is soft and passive and yang is hard and energetic. Really it is yang that is soft and yin that is hard, this is because yang is energetic and yin is passive. Yin is like a rock and yang is like water or air, rock is heavy and hard and air is soft and energetic.” 8

Allan Watts, describes the yin and yang as negative and positive energy poles: “The ideograms indicate the sunny and shady sides of a hill….They are associated with the masculine and the feminine, the firm and the yielding, the strong and the weak, the light and the dark, the rising and the falling, heaven and earth, and they are even recognized in such everyday matters as cooking as the spicy and the bland.” 9,10

However, since nothing in nature is purely black or purely white, the symbol includes a small black spot in the white swirl, and a corresponding white spot in the black swirl.

Ultimately, the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ can symbolize any two polarized forces in nature. Taosts believe that humans often intervene in nature and upset the balance of Yin and Yang.

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