Taoism is a Chinese philosophy that first began, scholars believe, sometime around the time of Confucius, perhaps the most infamous Chinese philosopher, who lived around the years 500 to 600 BC. In the midst of popular superstition and folk tradition, religion in China has essentially been a threefold hybrid of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The Chinese say that on state occasions and in business, one should be a follower of Confucianism, in retirement and withdrawal from worldly activities; one should be a Taoist, and just prior to death a Buddhist. For the Chinese, "covering all the bases" is not a trivializing of the sacred. Confucianism is about relation and Buddhism is about release. Taoism is about balance.
The Taoist tradition can be recognized as being historically divided into a philosophical and a religious dimension and there has both been interdependence and dissension between the two branches. It should be remembered that there are many forms and a network of doctrines contained in the term "Taoism".
The term "Taoism" (Tao Chia) only appeared in Chinese texts around 100 BCE, and at first this term was used to describe the philosophical school of Lao Tzu and his followers. The term also included references to earlier beliefs and practices, which went back to the origins of Chinese civilization.
Scripture: In the fifth century, a Taoist teacher named Lu Xiu Jing attempted to compile a Taoist canon. Works he included totaled nearly fifteen hundred. The most important of these remains the Tao Te Ching, or, "The Way and its power."
Required observances, dietary restrictions: In Taoism, practice is considered more important than creed, although different sects do have established doctrines, none is universal. Meditation is an important practice for many believers.
Holidays and observances: important days include birthdays of the gods, the remembrance of Kwan Yin, and regular fast days throughout the month.
Basic teachings and Beliefs of Taoism: Taoism, or "The Way," is the natural order, or the force that flows through all living things. Tao is less a Deity than transcendent reality; however, as Taoism in China is inextricably bound up with folk traditions, there are also a variety of minor deities, which are generally considered aspects of the Tao. Taoists seek equilibrium above all else, and many traditional practices, such as acupuncture or other forms of ''Chinese medicine'' are founded on this principal.
Code of Conduct: Taoists generally follow a sort of Golden Rule, but the principal Taoist ethic is called Wu-wei, or no-action, meaning to seek equilibrium and follow the natural order.
Symbols of Taoism: The Yin/Yang symbol, a circle divided into equal areas of light and darkness, symbolizing equilibrium and the harmony of opposites, is the most well known.
The most auspicious result was to become a divine ancestor and take up residence in heaven. This was auspicious from the viewpoint of the family. Taoist priests would make a series of dots upon the tablet representing the body of the deceased and then the characters for the family name and individual name would be written. In this way the ancestor was present in the tablet. They were able to hear the daily prayers and problems of the living because this helped the family. Heaven was composed of a heavenly bureaucracy much like that on earth. The Lord on High, Sheng Ti, was the Emperor of Heaven and his ministers controlled the different heavenly functions. The ancestor was the representative of the family who influenced the functionaries of heaven in order to benefit or to punish the family. The living family in return offered daily sacrifices in the form of incense and food at the family altar. Not all persons could become divine ancestors. Only those who lived a reasonable long life and died of natural causes could bethe family representatives in heaven. Those who died unnaturally or violently met with a different fate. "Hungry ghosts" or guei were the souls of those who died violently or at an unnatural time of life. Due to the means or location of death, these souls were not cared for and became wandering, semi-conscious entities. These "orphan souls" were resentful and confused and attempted to injure and possess other living beings. They were doomed to this fate unless freed by an adept at exorcism or by the annual ceremony of the Universal Salvation. Until then they wandered the Earth making trouble for the living.
The best of all possible outcomes for the individual was to become an Immortal. Through extensive purification practices and meditation the spirit soul of the person was consolidated so that upon death they could consciously leave the body and retain powers of movement and form. The Immortal would take up residence in heaven and perform meritorious acts to relieve the suffering of the people and to inspire others to achieve immortality. While this is the best fate for the individual, the family loses its direct representative in heaven; the Immortal must help all people, not just the family members.