Taoism or Daoism refers to either a school of philosophical thought or to a religion; both share ideas and concepts of Chinese origin and emphasize living in harmony with the Tao (Chinese: pinyin: Dàolit. ‘Way’, ‘Thoroughfare’). The Tao Te Ching, a book containing teachings attributed to Laozi, together with the later writings of Zhuangzi, are both widely considered the keystone works of Taoism.

In Taoism, the Tao is the source of everything and the ultimate principle underlying reality. Taoism teaches about the various disciplines for achieving perfection through self-cultivation. This can be done through the use of Taoist techniques and by becoming one with the unplanned rhythms of the all, called “the way” or “Tao”. Taoist ethics vary depending on the particular school, but in general tend to emphasize wu wei (action without intention), naturalness, simplicity, spontaneity and the Three Treasures;, compassion, frugality and humility.

The roots of Taoism go back at least to the 4th century BCE. Early Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the School of Yinyang (Naturalists) and was deeply influenced by one of the oldest texts of Chinese culture, the I Ching, which expounds a philosophical system about how to keep human behavior in accordance with the alternating cycles of nature. The Legalist Shen Buhai (c. 400 – c. 337 BCE) may also have been a major influence, expounding a realpolitik of wu wei, or qualified inaction.

Taoism has had a profound influence on Chinese culture in the course of the centuries and Taoists ; dàoshi, “masters of the Tao”), a title traditionally attributed only to the clergy and not to their lay followers, usually take care to note the distinction between their ritual tradition and the practices of Chinese folk religion and non-Taoist vernacular ritual orders, which are often mistakenly identified as pertaining to Taoism. Chinese alchemy (especially neidan), Chinese astrology, Chan (Zen) Buddhism, several martial arts including kung fu, traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui and many styles of qigong have been intertwined with Taoism throughout history.

Today, the Taoist religion is one of the five religious doctrines officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including in its special administrative regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macau. It is also a major religion in Taiwan and has a significant number of adherents in a number of other societies throughout East and Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

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