There is a dispute on the origins of Taoism. One theory is the earliest known Taoist text may be the work of a minister of the ruler of the Shang-Yin dynasty in the eighteenth century B.C. The other theory is that it was began by the mentor of the father of the Chou dynasty in the twelfth century. What is known is that, Li Erh (6th century BCE) who is better known as Lao Tzu (the Old Master), was the author of one of the most influential texts of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius, was the keeper of the imperial library, but in his old age he disappeared to the west, leaving behind him the Tao Te Ching (Book of Tao and Virtue). From this book, which is only about five-thousand words in length, Taoism gained it’s name.
Taoism believes “Tao”, or the way, to be the mystical, mysterious, and “ultimate principle underlying form, substance, being, and change”. Tao encompasses everything. It can be used to understand the human body, the universe and nature. The logic of Taoism encompasses the Yin and Yang forces, which represent all opposites. These two forces are complementary elements of all systems that thrive in an interdependent network and result in the harmony or balance of the system. The natural order of the tension between Yin and Yang forces in all systems results in a neverending process of change (production and reproduction and the transformation of energy). Taoism is based on the experience of ” this universal way (Cleary p3). The goal of Taoism is to perfect the mastery of human nature and life in three areas. They are well-being, social harmony and accelerated evolution of consciousness
Taoism puts a great deal of value on human life. Taoists do not focus on the afterlife, but rather emphasize efficient methods of elevating health to obtain longevity. Taoists firmly believe that human lives are in our control. Therefore, Taoism teaches people to enhance their health and longevity by minimizing their desires and centering themselves on stillness. The most famous advocate of Taoism, Lao Tzu, felt Taoism promotes nonaggressive, peaceful coexistence of factions. He described the ideal state as one that is fully loved by it’s people. “One in which people love their country and lifestyle so much that even though the next country is so close that the citizens can hear its roosters crowing and dogs barking they are content to die of old age without ever having gone to see it”. He felt weapons were tools of destruction and any decent person would loathe them. He also felt that there should not be any celebrating after a war, only grieving.
The two main classics of Taoism are the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang-Tzu. The Toa Te Ching was the philosophy of choice of legalist, strategist and statesmen of all types. It is an anthology of ancient sayings, poetry and philosophies. It’s author is Lao-Tzu or “Old Master” who is renown as one of the most famous of Taoist intellectuals. It is believed to have been written around 500 B.C. towards the end of the Spring and Autumn period when order in China was disintegrating. During the second century B.C. the Tao Te Ching was established as the sourcebook of practical wisdom in the imperial court. The Chuang Tzu was preferred by more mystical Taoist. It was said to have been written by Chuang Chou, who is the earliest known teacher of the writings of Lao-Tzu. The bulk of the text consists of fables and monologues illustrating the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. Although it was known for it’s mysticism, it was a well regarded text because of it’s literary excellence. After the fall of the Han dynasty the Chuang Tzu emerged to become one of the most regarded books by intellectuals, poets and artists replacing the Confucianism of the Han dynasty. Both books have not only been implemented deep into Chinese philosophy, but they have also been translated into many languages and have become a part of World philosophy.
The Taoist canon can be traced back to “the first comprehensive Taoist texts” called the San-tung Ching-shu mu-lu prepared by Lu Hsiu Ching in the fifth century. The project was ordered by the emperor Sung Ming-ti. The finished work was around twelve hundred chapters. T’ang Hsuan-tsung, who believed he was a descendantof the sage Lao Tzu, began a search to retrieve all of the Taoist texts throughout the empire. This move initiated the first compilation of Taoist writing called the San-tung Ch’iung-kang. Hsuan tsung then had copies made and sent to Taoist temples. The San tung was eventually lost during the Li Shan and Shih Ssu-ming revolts. Again in 990 AD, during the Sung dynasty, Sung T’ai tsung issued a decree calling for the collection of Taoist text. The project, completed by his son, became the Ta Sung t’ien-kung pao-tsang (Precious Canon of the Celestial Palace of the Great Sung). Between 1101 and 1125, emperor Sung Hui-tsung, believing he was the incarnate of a deity, thought compiling a compilation of Taoist texts was his sacred mission. It became the Cheng-ho wan-shou Tao-tsang (Taoist Canon of Longevity of the Cheng-ho reign). Throughout Chinese history there have been many instances of emperors and ministers, who have sought to collect the many interpretations of Taoist text