Throughout history, Taoism has been one of the most influential religions of Eastern culture. This is certainly one of the most unique of all religions. Many Taoists, in fact, do not even consider it a religion; and in many ways it is not. Taoists make no claim that the Tao exists. That is what essentially separates Taoism from the rest of
the world religions: there is no heated debate or battle over Taoist doctrine; there have been no crusades to spread the religion. The very essence of Taoism is quite the opposite. Taoism's uniqueness and open-endedness have allowed the religion to flourish almost undisturbed and unchanged for over two thousand years.
The founder of Taoism was a man named Lao Tzu, who lived around the year 604 B.C.E. According to Chinese legend, Lao Tzu was an archivist in the imperial library at Lo Yang. He was known for his knowledge, although he never taught. When Lao Tzu left his position at the library, he went to the Chinese province of Chou. At the border, however, he was stopped and forced to write down his teachings. During this time, he wrote the Tao Te Ching, the major scripture of Taoism.
After Lao Tzu's death, a man named Yang Chu (440-366 B.C.E.) took up his teachings. A naturalist and philosopher, Yang Chu believed highly in self-regard and survival as the core of human nature and direction. His ideals were personal integrity and self-protection, and said that he was unwilling to pluck one hair from his head even if all humanity were to benefit from it.
The next influential Taoist philosopher was Chang Tzu, who lived from 350-275 B.C.E. He defined existence using Lao Tzu's teachings. He wrote fifty-two books in response to the Tao Te Ching, thirty-three of which still survive today. Using exaggeration and fantasy, he illustrated Lao Tzu's teachings and how the Tao acted in nature. His theories spoke of a cosmic unity which encompasses all reality and guides it naturally, without force, to its proper end.
The Yin and Yang theory became part of Taoist philosophy around 300 B.C.E. when they were mentioned in the Hsi tz'u, an appendix to the I Ching. Yin and Yang are defined as the two forces in nature. They are often called the two "breaths" or ch'i. Yin is the feminine principle, representing darkness, coolness, and dampness; Yang is the masculine principle, representing brightness, warmth, and dryness. Neither principle is good or bad; they are not opposites, but each is needed to maintain stability in the universe. This belief holds that everything is defined through opposition; consequently, the virtues of balance and understanding are highly valued.
Taoism became an official religion between 100 and 200 C.E. Due to competition from Buddhism, Taoists adopted many Buddhist beliefs. During this pivotal point in the religion's history, searching for self-knowledge and wisdom were replaced by searching for solutions to sorrows and other physical problems. Alchemy and superstition...