Brief History of Taoism

Brief History of Taoism

This morning I was reading the Straits Times and came across the report on the issue of religions in Singapore. It was reported that the number of Singaporeans turning towards Buddhism and Christianity has seen a rise in recent times. What does that mean? First, it mean that more people are turning towards religion which is good because turning your attention towards a faith will lend you the strength during negative periods.

Yet, it is bad news when it also mean that some have abandoned their original faith. It appears that Taoism has been the most affected religion given that many of the younger believers consider the faith as superstitious. The misconception here is that Taoists need to pray to the numerous mythological Gods and adhere to strict rituals and chanting. As someone interested in chinese Metaphyics, arts and culture, I am very affected by this thought and would like to share with you the actual practise of Taoism. ( I am a Catholic if readers may like to know)

The foundation of Taoism is ascribed to two mystics known as Lao Tsu and Chuang Tze (lived during 6th and 4th centuries b.c) Tao de Ching was believed to be written by Lao Tsu and the writings voice a growing concern of worldly values. In the writings, the inherent weakness of human emotion and their human judgement are questioned. In fact, Taoism can be said to be a constrast to the political and social ideas of the authoritarian or Confucian writers of that era. In fact, many confucian scholars have turned to Taoism during the Song dynasty when the country was constantly engaged in wars and politics. Famous poet like Li Bai considered themselves as Taoist and they live a secular life embracing arts and calligraphy.

Taoists constantly observe the nature to seek answers to solve problems inherent in the cosmic order and they often adopt a rational approach to these issues. In fact, the scientific searches of the Taoist naturalists could well have contributed to the study of the problems in physics and chemistry! One school of thoughts introduce by Taoism is the Yin Yang theory which is an attempt to explain the principles of cosmic creation and destruction. It was done so through the cyclic interaction of the five material elements of the material world ( Water, fire,wood,metal and earth) with the natural and complementary forces of Yin and Yang. And the principles of Chinese Metaphysics is based on this simple theory.

But, the yin yang theory had been abused as a political tool and it has departed far from a path that might led to rational and scientific investigation over the course of history.Furthermore, popular leaders were always ready to exploit the superstitious tendencies of the Chinese public by incorporating magical powers as part of the cult of Lao Tzu. This was especially popular with established government usurpers claiming authority or leaders of rebel groups have tried to associate themselves with taoist practises in a way to reach out to the public. Having said that, the established authority of the Chinese empires in the past have always regard Confucianism as the country faith and hence frowned on the cults since their practices were at a sharp contrast to the forms and orders of a disciplined society.

Hence, my conclusion is that we should seek to understand the world and its meaning first before making any choice in life. Sometimes, there is a likely hood of religious groups relying on mass media in a way to gain more followers. Does more followers mean that a particular religion is the better choice? Sometimes, the harder thing in life is to learn how to let go. And for a taoist, this is their way…