Taoism began with a man named Lao-Tzu, who lived during the time of Confucius. Not much is known about Lao-tzu, whose name means “Old Master.” Legend says that when he was a very old man, he grew tired of war and violence and decided to leave China. He drove an ox cart to the border of the country. But a guard there recognized the wise thinker and wouldn’t let him pass until he wrote down all his wisdom.

The Old Master quickly wrote his teaching in a short book that later came to be called the Tao Te Ching. For many centuries, the Tao Te Ching was one of the most important books in China.

The teaching of the Tao Te Ching concerns a mysterious force in the universe called the Tao. The word Tao means “the way,” or “the road.” The Tao is the infinite source of all life, and it is impossible to truly name. The more you try to name it, the more it escapes you. The Tao is often described as a flowing stream. Just as you cannot hold flowing water in your hands, you cannot grasp the Tao.

Taoism teaches that in order to live in harmony with the Tao, you should try to live a quiet and simple life close to nature. You should be humble and compassionate. You should do your work without seeking fame or fortune.

Lao-tzu wasn’t interested in creating a religion. But over time, his teaching were combined with Chinese folk religions – the ancient customs and religious practices of ordinary people. Taoism began to include beliefs in gods and goddesses, dragons and magicians, spells and charms. The ancient Chinese religion of ancestor veneration or respect, also became increasingly important in Taoism.

Folk tradition teaches that the ancestors connect the world of the living to the world of the gods. If people honor their ancestors, the spirits of the ancestors will protect them. During the Chinese New Year celebration, the most important Chinese religious holiday of the year, families gather to feast and honor their ancestors.

From “One World, Many Religions; The Way We Worship,” by Mary Pope Osborne

Artwork: “Lao-c 2” by Tomáš Páv (copy) – O Tau a ctnosti, Jar. Šnajdr, Kladno, 1920. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons