Background: Based on the teachings of one man, Lao Tze. The first mention of Lao Tze is found in an early classic of Taoist speculation, the Chuang-tzu (4th-3rd century BC), so called after the name of its author. Since Lao Tze, many other Taoist writers have been recognized.
Sacred Book: Tao-te Ching or the “Classic of the Way of Power” by Lao Tze is the basic text of Taoists. Taoism also recognizes the Chuang-tzu, the Lieh-tzu, and related writings.
The Nature of God: The Dao (Way) is not a personal god, but a force which exists over all. It is something “formlessly fashioned, that existed before Heaven and Earth;” “Its name (míng) we do not know; Tao is the byname that we give it. Were I forced to say to what class of things it belongs I should call it Immense.” Tao is the “imperceptible, indiscernible,” about which nothing can be predicated but that latently contains “the forms, entities, and forces of all particular phenomena.” “It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang; the Named is the mother that rears the Ten Thousand Beings, each after its kind.”
Human Condition: At birth a person is nearest its perfection; it is free of rules and compulsions, not restricted by morality, and has no sense of obligation to society; it is in the undiminished vitality of the newborn state. Taoists think of the newborn as an “Uncarved Block (p’u) of wood.” “P’u is uncut, unpainted wood, simplicity.” After birth, however, society and government “tamper” with the original nature. Society carves this wood into specific shapes for its own use and thus robs the individual piece of its original totality. “Once the uncarved block is carved, it forms utensils (that is, instruments of government); but when the Sage uses it, he would be fit to become Chief of all Ministers. Man should equally renounce all concepts of measure, law, and virtue.”
Eternity: Life and death are but one of the pairs of cyclical phases, such as day and night or summer and winter. “Since life and death are each other’s companions, why worry about them? All beings are one.” Man “goes back into the great weaving machine: thus all beings issue from the Loom and return to the Loom.”
What is Salvation? To return to the simplicity of the newborn – unfettered, uncluttered, and unfashioned.
How is a person saved? A person returns to the Way by means of quietism: variously called “non-intervention” (wu-wei), “inner cultivation” (nei yeh), or “the art of the heart and mind” (xin-shu). Whereas worldly ambitions, riches, and (especially) discursive knowledge scatter the person and drain his energies, the saint “embraces Unity” or “holds fast to the One.” That is, “he aspires to union with the Tao in a primordial undivided state underlying consciousness.” “Embracing Unity also means that he maintains the balance of Yin and Yang within himself and the union of his spiritual (hun) and vegetative (p’o) souls, the dispersion of which spells death.”
Notes: Taoism has a multitude of expressions and teachings, some of which are quite divergent from others. In this short capsule Taoism is presented in its most basic, oldest form.