Title: Understandign Taoism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy texts, Sacred Places.
Author: Jennifer Oldstone-Moore.
Genre: Non-fiction, religion, philosophy, taoism, history.
Publication Date: 2003.
Summary: This concise, illustrated introduction to Tao provides a unique distillation of the highly distinctive tradition, from its origins in ancient China to its place in society today. It covers nine key themes, including the life of Tao's founding sage Laozi and his teachings; the influential sacred writings of the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi; and the concept of wu wei (non-interference).
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ Despite its influence on Chinese civilization, Taoism has been notoriously difficult to define - this is largely attributable to the many different and distinctive forms the tradition has adopted throughout its history. This historical complexity is partly due to the fact that Taoists have always been willing to absorb new ideas, personalities, and practices, including philosophical discourses, fresh revelations, the activities and techniques of shamans and makers of elixirs, and various deities. The schools of Taoism have never been united under a central authority, and the development of systematic teachings has not been an overriding concern, although there is an organic unity in the various expressions of Taoism, particularly in the quest for longevity.
♥ Taoism enjoyed tremendous support during the T’ang dynasty (618-907CE). The imperial family shared Lao-tzu’s surname, Li, and traced its lineage to him. The dynasty supported monasteries and temples, established Lao-tzu’s birthday as a national holiday, and decreed that each family was to have a copy of the Tao Te Ching.
♥ Liu Ling, the author of this poem, “Chiu-te Sung” (“In Praise of the Virtues of Wine”),was famous for his uninhibited behavior and freedom from the rules and mores of polite society. Sometimes, having drunk much wine, he would take off his clothes and sit naked in his room. When criticized for doing this by one of his visitors, Liu responded, “The universe is my home; the room my trousers - what are you doing in my trousers?”
Liu's poem describes the existence of the Taoist who retreats from the world and views it with detached amusement. Down through the centuries, a disregard for the niceties of etiquette, together with a love for poetry, wine, and music, all became attributes of Taoist eccentrics and sages.
♥ Taoist ideas are integral to the Chinese arts and have had a profound influence on East Asian artistic traditions. The Taoist ideal of creative spontaneity has, in particular, helped to shape theory and practice in various art forms. Creative spontaneity involves the ability to draw upon one’s personal resources while responding to a particular moment and circumstance. It is presumed that an artist has cultivated and nurtured their craft - but in creating art, knowledge and skill become experiential and intuitive, the unique possession of the artist and something that cannot be transmitted in words. This also describes the action of the Tao, which draws on limitless and formless content and possibility, and brings forth myriad creation.
Shen Tsuh-ch’ien’s words demonstrate a dunfdamentrally Taoist attitude toward the theory of painting, whereby the art form is perceived, in essence, as an act of creation, beginning in the formlessness of the Tao, transforming in time and pattern into creation: what is captured is a universe in miniature, a microcosm. The artist creates this wu-wei, not forcing the brush, not thinking discursively, but moving with sensitively in the moment. In this way, painting becomes a form of meditation, a means of discovering union with Tao, an accomplishment evident in the very best art.