Taoism is an oriental philosophy. It is not an organized religion. One of the teachings of Tao is that Tao cannot be defined. Any definitions would detract from a true understanding of Tao.
Perhaps the best explanation is that Tao is the way of nature, or the way of the heavens. Taoism is concerned with the sublime patterns of nature. A person can achieve peace and enlightment by harmonizing his or herself with the course of nature. A person does not need to become a hermit, but he or she must become free from worldy desires.
The Tao Te Ching is the fundamental book of Taosim. It reported author was Lao Tzu (also spelled Lao Tse) who lived in China sometime around 600 B.C. There is some controversy among scholars as to whether Lao Tzu actually ever existed. This book is concerned with both personal conduct and government. An example of its teachings is "The submissive and weak will overcome the hard and strong."
The second book of Taosim is Chuang Tzu. This book was inspired by the teachings of Chuang Tzu who live around 400 B.C., although this philosopher apparently did not write the book that bears his name. The format of this book is a collection of short parables, filled with wit, paradox, and satire.
"Life the Dream" is one of his best-know parables.
"Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awoke, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming that I am now a man."
Wu wei is an important Taoist teaching. This phrase means "non-doing," or "non-action." This literal translation, however, is misleading. This concept means that heaven will manifest its will for us in a spontaneous manner if we allow it to. We can thereby attain a much more sublime level of peace and happiness than by following a deliberate set of virtuous actions.
Taoist authors often poke fun at Confucius.
Confucius valued duty and morality. Confucius was concerned with a very deliberate effort to attain virtue, particularly by following rituals and by obedience to parents and authority figures.
On the other hand, Taoist believed that people who sought virtue through outwardly duty would do so to earn the praise of men. This desire for praise would turn virtue into evil.
A Taoist's quest for enlightment was a personal, inward process. Again, Confucius was concerned with outwardly duty and loyalty to authority figures.
Taoists also distrusted political authority. Basically, they believed that power corrupts. Chuang Tzu wrote a parable in which a prince appointed him as prime minister. Chuang Tzu rejected the appointment by saying that he would rather be a "turtle dragging its tail in the mud."
The Taoist belief in the afterlife is perhaps best represented by the following quotes from Chuang Tzu:
"How then do I know but that the dead repent of having previously clung to life?"
"How do I know that the love of life is not a delusion? That the dislike of death is not like a young person losing his way and not knowing that he is going home?"

Taoists teachings seem to make only a passing reference to the existence of God. A verse in the Tao Te Ching, chapter 4, states that Tao "images the forefather of God." On the other hand, The Taoists' extensive belief in heaven suggest an underlying belief in God. This Taoist God, however, does not demand to be worshipped, in contrast to the worship practices of Christians, Jews, and Moslems.

Again, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu are the principal teachers of Taoism. Many other Chinese authors and poets, however, have expressed Taoist ideas in their works. A few examples are given in this section.
In front of my bed the moonlight shone.
For a moment I took it for frost on the floor.
When I lifted my head, I saw that it was the Moon.
When I bent my head, I dreamt of my far-away home.

- Li P'o
I gather chrysanthemums at the eastern hedgerow
And silently gaze at the southern mountains.
The mountain air is beautiful in the sunset,
And the birds flocking together return home.

Among all these things is a real meaning,
Yet when I try to express it, I become lost in "no-words."

-T'ao Ch'ien
Yu travelled south inspecting the Empire, and when crossing the river a yellow dragon shouldered the boat.

The boatmen changed color, but Yu, smiling genially said, "I'm doing my utmost in the interest of the people, discharging my duties in obedience to Heaven. Living, I'm but a guest, dying I return home. Why should we be disturbed in our peace? The sight of a dragon is no more than a lizard."

Since he didn't turn color, the dragon pressed his ears and dropping his tail departed. Yu thought it a little matter to see monstrous animals.
- Huai-Nan Tzu

Please check libraries and bookstores for translations of the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu.
I particularly recommend:
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu, New Directions, New York, 1965.
Merton wrote that Taoism "transformed highly speculative Indian Buddhism into the humorous, iconoclastic, and totally practical kind of Buddhism that was to flourish in China and in Japan in the various schools of Zen."
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