Basic Tenets of Taoism

Taoism, like any other belief system, has certain guiding principles that make it what it is. Here we will examine the basics, and as we do so, try to imagine how each principle relates to your T'ai Chi practice.

Tao Te Jing

The Chinese symbol for Tao is a combination of two separate symbols: one representing a human head, and one representing the act of walking. Thus, one interpretation is "walking a path of wisdom." This is the quintessential definition of Taoism: learning to walk the path or way.

"Te" is a Chinese word meaning "virtue." Its symbol combines three separate symbols representing "heart," "straight," and "to go." Thus, the title of the main work of Taoist thought, the Tao Te Jing, translates to "Walking the Path That Leads Straight from the Heart." This is an indication that a true Taoist will be himself and never deny his own nature. Rather, he will seek to become closer with the universal nature of everything and everybody.

Seeing Clearly

A Taoist will seek to see everything as it truly is, without embellishment or falsehoods. Piercing through the veil of illusions that we call life is but one of many activities that a follower of the Tao participates in.

Knowing Yourself

To understand who and what you are is a special quest of the Taoist. This speaks to the Seeing Clearly principle, in that you need to know yourself in order to function in the most natural fashion possible.

T aois^^: T ihe P—^hitosophy of ^ j ai Chi / 169 Detachment and Nonjudgmental

Taoists are not the type to judge others. It is not their place to do so, nor does it advance their own spiritual quest. They remain apart from material things, recognizing their needs and distinguishing them from their wants.

Not Trying But Doing

Taoists don't try; they do, or they don't. Kind of like Yoda from Star Wars. In fact, the creator of the Yoda character used Taoist thought for many of the wise old master's comments. "Trying" implies effort, strife, and the possibility of failure. A true Taoist will not accept these limitations.

Thinking Independently

Taoists are known for being independent thinkers, not followers of the crowd. I often use the term "Wolf or Sheep"—do you move and think with the common crowd, or do you stand apart?

Expanding the Self

Taoists seek to be open to all and to everything. They place no limits on compassion or love, but engage fully in understanding and spiritually recognizing all other beliefs. They are not held captive to a single way.

Faith In Life

It is all too easy to become pessimistic, the more we experience the bad parts of life. But what differentiates people of the Tao is that they don't lose faith in their lives. They do not fear change, understanding that it is a natural function of living, and welcome the opportunity to experience and learn new things every day.

Right Here, Right Now

Taoists are not paralyzed by a fear of the unknown of the future, nor are they caught looking backward longingly into the past. They realize that "right here, right now" is all we have to work with, so we should make it the best present moment that we can.

Enjoying Life

Taoists enjoy life to the utmost of their abilities. They know that our time here is short and that going through life mad and sad at everything is a waste of life. They joyously participate in the suffering, as well as the happiness of life.


There's nothing wrong with laughing. In fact, it helps us deal with adversity and allows us a greater world view. In seeing the light side of things, we maintain an even perspective.


Taoists love nature. How could they do any less? They are part of it. In recognizing the wonders of nature, they learn about themselves. The greatest goal of a Taoist may very well be to become one with Nature, to feel the rhythms, ebbs, and flows of life in an intuitive fashion.


Taoism advocates seeking the path of least resistance in life. Why butt your head against the wall when you can simply walk around it? This is intimately related to the act of nonstriving and being a natural person.

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