Taoist literature describes the Tao as the "path" or "way". It is the supreme life source and power that encompasses all things living and non-living. It is the natural order of the universe, forever spontaneous and nothing but itself. Non-opposing, non-struggling and non-striving, the Tao flows through all things, balancing and nourishing with no thought for past, present or future. Intrinsically dynamic and in continual flux, the Tao is in a state of ceaseless motion, activity and change. The Tao is behind all existence, governing all life and change within it. In essence it is the unseen, underlying law of the universe from which all principles and phenomena proceed.
Taoism simply adheres to the universal principles of the Tao.
The aim of the Taoist is to live life in accordance with the Tao. Non-planning, spontaneous in thought and action, in balance with nature, non-striving, accepting life and change: Passivity, calm and humility are all part of the universal principles of following the Tao. A Taoist does not struggle, oppose or strive.
The Tao cannot be understood purely on the intellectual level alone: It needs to be felt, and this is why most ancient Taoist literature was written in prose or in story form. This conveys the expression of the writer, and the reader absorbs the intent through feeling as well as understanding. As the Tao remains elusive to intellect, herein lies its beauty - simplicity. No rituals, rules, religious doctrines, laws, or clever intellects are required to follow its path. It is open to each and every one of us, whatever our walk of life.
Ying and Yang
The process of the Tao being in continual flux is described in terms of Yin and Yang. The celebrated Yin-Yang symbol conveys this perfectly with no written word. It shows the duality and polarity of the Tao, the positive and negative, the masculine and feminine, the light and dark. Opposite forces entwine and co-exist, dependant upon each other. When both are equally balanced, harmony exists; when there is more of one than the other, then imbalance occurs, which can cause disruption and chaos. The symbol also depicts the way in which one cannot exist without the other. As can be seen by the small white circle and black circle in the symbol, when something is completely Yin there is always a small element of Yang left in it and vice versa. Hence the Taoist seeks to balance these opposites, the Yin and Yang, so that chaos is not prevalent.
Further details on Yin and Yang theory and its applications in Chinese medicine can be found at the following site:
Yin Yang Theory
A key principle in the life of the Taoist and in attaining oneness with the Tao is that of Wu Wei - the art of non-doing or non-action. Applying Wu Wei means doing things without actually realising that we are doing them. By following nature without pretence and 'going with the flow' without trying, forcing or intellectualising, we become attuned to the Tao effortlessly. This does not mean doing nothing: We are in touch with nature by participating in life and being in touch with our faculties of intuition, sense and feeling, so that we are able to perceive and respond to the world spontaneously and without effort. We sense the world around us, and change and respond accordingly when the time is appropriate. This involves listening to our inner intuition, and feeling what is happening in the environment around us: The interplay of Yin and Yang comes from within and without.
More on Wu Wei
The 5 Elements
Along with the natural principles observed in Yin and Yang, ancient Taoists also observed in nature the concept of the 5 elements, namely Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. It is understood that the universe and all living and non-living things are composed of these basic elements. The 5 elements are not only attributed to the physical world but also the non-physical, such as colours, taste, seasons, directions, dates and time. As with Yin and Yang, the 5 elements are fluid, changing, cyclical and usually in a state of constant flux and self-regulation.
If there is an imbalance in one or more of these elements (as they are all interchangeable) a person will become ill. This illness may be due to poor diet, stress, or unresolved emotional issues which could be affecting an internal organ, represented by one of the elements. For example, anger is associated with the Liver which falls under the Wood element.
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the model of the 5 elements for treating the patient, which is done via pulse taking or facial diagnosis. The treatment can involve acupuncture, the use of herbs, massage, or the practise of T'ai Chi and Kaimen (Qigong), which then helps restore the elemental balance so that health is once again restored.
More on the 5 elements
Even more on the 5 elements
The Taoist Cultural Arts Association T.C.A.A run courses in Traditional Chinese Medicine covering the 5 elements, amno massage, pulse taking and diagnosis. For further details click on the T.C.A.A link above.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan
The Taoist way to mental and physical health
as taught by Chee Soo