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Taoism has been described by Benjamin Hoff [1] as the story of Winnie the Pooh:  “It’s about this dumpy little bear that wanders around asking silly questions, making up songs, and going through all kinds of adventures, without ever accumulating any amount of intellectual knowledge or losing his simpleminded sort of happiness.”  

That’s about it, folks.  Winnie the Pooh, Forest Gump, a wandering minstrel, whatever.  It’s about the Kiss Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  It’s Taoism.  It’s the wisdom of childlike innocence, the faith in a universe with an outrageous sense of humor.  

But if you need more, Hoff [1] does write that “When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.”  

In Buddhism, there is the concept of the Bodhisattva, those who take a vow to forego nirvana in order to assist others to get there.  In Taoism, while fully respecting the goals of the Bodhisattva, one might instead take “Bozo-Sattva” vows -- in the manner Evan Hodkins <http://www.schoolofalchemy.com> suggests, i.e. -- “asking spirit to guide us in the anonymous “blissipline” (NOT discipline) of love-mischief.  We no longer deliver altruistic service, which has a tendency to exhaust us, causing us to suffer from terminal seriosity.  We are [instead] dedicated practitioners of levitational tomfoolery.  We travel light.  Our work is happy work.”  “We splash in the ocean of God’s love.  It is plentiful and surrounds us.  We are God-intoxicated people.” [2]  

What could be called “the most characteristic element of Taoism-in-action is Wu Wei,” also known as “the Pooh Way.”[1]  Wu Wei literally means “without doing, causing, or making.  But practically speaking, it means without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort.”  “No Monkeying around.”  

“Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don’t belong.  Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit round holes, but not square holes.  Wu Wei doesn’t try.  It doesn’t think about it.  It just does it.  And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything.  But Things Get Done.”  

In his companion volume, The Te of Piglet [3], Hoff goes on to describe Taoism as “a way of living in harmony with Tao, the Way of the Universe, the character of which is revealed in the workings of the natural world.  [As in the Tao de Ching.]  Taoism could be called either a philosophy or a religion, or neither, since in its various forms it does not match up with Western ideas or definitions of either one.”  

“In China, Taoism is what might be called the counterbalance of Confucianism, the codified, ritualized teachings of K’ung Fu-tse, or ‘Master K’ung’, better known in the West as Confucius.  Although Confucianism is not a religion in the Western sense, it could be said to bear a certain resemblance to puritanical Christianity in its man-centered, nature-ignoring outlook, its emphasis on rigid conformity, and its authoritarian, No-Non-sense attitude toward life.  Confucianism concerns itself mostly with human relations -- with social and political rules and hierarchies.  It’s major contributions have been in the areas of government, business, clan and family relations, and ancestor reverence.  Its most vital principles are Righteousness, Propriety, Benevolence, Loyalty, Good Faith, Duty, and Justice.  Briefly stated, Confucianism deals with the individual’s place in the group.  

“In contrast, Taoism deals primarily with the individual’s relationship to the world.  Taoism’s contributions have been mostly scientific, artistic, and spiritual.  From Taoism came Chinese science, medicine, gardening, landscape painting, and nature poetry.  It’s key principles are Natural Simplicity, Effortless Action, Spontaneity, and Compassion.  The most easily noticed difference between Confucianism and Taoism is emotional, a difference in feeling: Confucianism is stern, regimented, patriarchal, often severe; Taoism is happy, gentle, childlike, and serene -- like its favorite symbol, that of flowing water.”[3]  

Another view <http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/taoism/ttcstan2.htm>, which is a bit more traditional on the subject of Taoism, notes that Taoism can be described in terms of three activities, or practices: “Philosophical or speculative Taoism, Religious or esoteric Taoism, and Alchemical or ‘debased’ Taoism.  

“The earliest of these is Philosophical Taoism (Tao-chia), which is believed to have developed between the sixth [600 B.C.E.] to the second century before the Christian era, from the earlier ‘Yin-Yang’ school of philosophy, whose teachings it inherited and integrated into its own ‘philosophical system’ through the ‘I Ching’, now (unfortunately) most widely known as a work of ‘divination’.  Philosophical Taoism is generally thought to have been based on the Tao Te Ching of the possibly legendary Lao Tzu, and the work of his follower, Chuang Tzu, which is known through the book which bears his name, and is otherwise without title.  

“The major development and establishment of Religious Taoism (Tao-chiao) took place during the two Han dynasties (from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D.), and considered the Tao Te Ching as divine teaching, using specific interpretations of Lao Tzu’s work as one of its own primary scriptures.  The Religious Taoists deified Lao Tzu, describing him as the “T’ai Shang Lao-chun’.  In later centuries, Religious Taoism was to become a very powerful movement throughout China, where it was widely practiced, at least until the middle of the twentieth century.”  

“The earliest known reference to Alchemy (in Eastern and Western Literature) is in the ‘Shi-chi’, written about eighty-five B.C., but the ‘Chou’-i ts’an t’ung ch’i’ of Wei Po-yang (c.200 A.D.) was probably the first major Alchemical text to use a Taoist work to this end, some authorities believing the treatise to be a derivation of the I Ching. This form of alchemy was referred to by the Philosophical Taoists as ‘debased Taoism’.”  

[“Debased” should not necessarily be used as a derogatory term implying a lack of worth.  If metals low in value are considered “base”, then “debase” might easily be thought of as a process to obtain “noble” or “precious” metals, elements which have been transmuted.  In terms of Alchemy, the “debased Taoism” might simply be a reference to the use of Alchemical techniques to transform the base into the precious.  If this suggest transmuting lead (a base metal) into gold (a precious metal), then certainly, such metallurgical activities may still be thought of as “base” in their attitude of what is to be gained.  But in the other areas of Alchemy in which it is the soul of an individual being transformed from base to noble or precious...  then such “debasing” may be fundamentally a good thing.]  

Taoism’s major precept is that “all things are always in a state (or process) of change (‘I Ching’ means ‘Book of Changes’).”  The I Ching is used as a means of communicating with one’s subconscious, as well as “divination”.  It derives from the principles of Yin and Yang, together representing “the dynamic interaction that creates all of reality.  The ancient Chinese say about this: ‘From the Creative (yang) and the Receptive (yin) emerge the ten thousand things.’” [4]  By further splitting the positive yang and the negative yin into “T’ai Yang (summer) and Shao Yin (spring), as well as Shao Yang (autumn) and T’ai Yin (winter), and once again into: Ch’ien (heaven), Tui (lake), Li (fire), Chen (thunder), Sun (wind), K’an (water), Ken (mountain), and K’un (earth), eight “trigrams” are formed.  Their attributes include:  

            “Ch’ien:      firmness, creativity, strength, force, power

            Tui:             joy, openness, pleasure, satisfaction, excess

            Li:               illuminating, clarity, intelligence, dependence, attachment

            Chen:        arousing, movement, activity, shock, growth

            Sun:           gentle effects, small efforts, penetrating work

            K’an:          mysterious, profound, meaningful, dangerous, difficult

            Ken:           still, resting, meditating, tranquil, immobile,

            K’un:          yielding, receptive, responsive, devoted, and submissive” [4]  

The trigrams can then be combined to form 64 “Hexagrams”, which a further divination tool -- and, as it turns out, the inspiration for the TimeWave theory, which reckons an end date for this particular age around 2012 A.D..  Hey!  Whatever happens, happens!  

It might also be important to note the “historical and philosophical relationship between Taoism, Ch’an and Zen.  The word ‘Zen’ is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese ‘Ch’an’, the system attributed to the ‘Bodhidharma’ (in Japanese ‘Daruma’), described by followers of Zen Buddhism as the twenty-eighth Buddhist Patriarch, who is said to have arrived in China in 526 A.D.  Although well known to followers of Zen, it is not always known to others that the Bodhidharma then spent nine years in the earliest Chinese Buddhist temple, which had by that time been in existence for over four hundred years.  Furthermore, during that period, the original Buddhism of India had undergone many changes in China, much of its teaching having been adapted (Tibetan Buddhists might claim, ‘adulterated’) by its proximity to Taoism.” [1]  

“Today, in the West at least, the most widely known sects of Zen are Buddhist.  However, even before its acceptance by Buddhists, Ch’an (or ‘Zen’) was accepted by the Chinese followers of Philosophical Taoism (Tao Chia) as an adjunct to their own philosophy and practices.  So it was that the ‘non-religious’ aspects of Zen and Taoism became integrated into the system known in China as ‘Ch’an Tao-chia’.  

“It is probable that we will never know all the reasons for this two-way integration which occurred between Tao-chia and Ch'an, but some of the reasons become apparent when we learn something of the similarities between the philosophies underlying the two systems. It will hopefully suffice to mention that the practitioners of each group probably felt an affinity with the ‘fluidity’ of thought and action of the practitioners of the other, recognizing this as stemming from the same philosophical source as their own.  Similarly, it is very likely that the members of both groups appreciated the ‘ethics’ of the other, since both philosophies emphasize the development of the individual as a prerequisite to the development of society.  [emphasis added]  

“Notwithstanding any inaccuracies in my own interpretation of events, of even greater historical significance is the fact that from about six hundred A.D., the survival of Philosophical Taoism was made possible only through its adoption by Ch’an.  Had it not been for this fact, the antagonistic attitude of the Religious Taoists, combined with their growing governmental power, might easily have resulted in the forceful demise of Taoist Philosophy as it is known today.  

“As to the continued integration and co-existence of Taoism and Zen, we fortunately need look no further than the words of the great Zen scholar, Professor D.T. Suzuki, who said,  

            “To ask a question about Zen is to ask a question about the Tao.”  


Hinduism         Chinese History         600 B.C.E.

Forward to:

Lao Tzu, et al         Tao Te Ching         History 009



[1]  Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh, Penquin Books, Middlesex, England, 1982.

[2]  Evan Hodkins, “The School of Heartbreak”, The Alchemist, Vol 2, No. 3, 2002.

[3]  Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet, Penquin Books, Middlesex, England, 1993.

[4]  R. L. Wing, The I Ching Workbook, Doubleday, New York, 1979.



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