Basic Taoist Beliefs and Theory
The Way gave birth to the One.
The One gave birth to the Two.
The Two gave birth to the Three.
And the Three gave birth to the ten thousand things.
— Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (translated by Thomas Cleary)
Taoism is the philosophy of syncing up with nature and doing that which comes naturally. It is very similar to the traditions of naturism and shamanism but with a fundamental distinction: Taoism bases its primary understanding of reality on the principle of balance between the forces of yin and yang.
These complementary opposites exist in an ever-changing and ever-flowing dynamic state that constantly self-corrects and harmonizes. The ancient philosophers of China used the term Tao for the Supreme Ultimate or the universe as we know it. It is the All. In the beginning, there was Wu Wei, or the Great Emptiness, and from this came yin and yang.
Yin and Yang
This is one of the most popular Taoist beliefs. Everything in the universe has a yin and yang component to it, and all things have a balance point. For example, there would be no meaning to “up” if the concept of “down” didn’t exist. There is no “hot” without “cold” and so on. This primordial distinction not only relates to everything around us; it is also what fundamentally drives the motion within us. We, being an active functional aspect of nature, exemplify the same polar balancing; with sustained attention to this subject matter, we can find the Tao, or the balance point, in all things.
Essentially, there was the original state of the universe wherein all things were One. There was unity consciousness and eternal togetherness of all things—and then, BOOM! Polarization. All things all at once are now imbued with this elementary concept and this perception of separation. This is the mark of polarity. Now, it is critical to remember that these poles are the seemingly opposite characteristics of the same objects or things. This polarity gives us a dualistic view of the same phenomena. Yin and yang are constituent parts or mirror reflections of the same one, which is simply split into two, the same way a beam of light splits when hitting a prism. In the beginning and in the end, it is all Tao. Polarity is just the game we are playing.
The lists below show some basic examples of yin and yang to better illustrate this Taoism philosophy. These obvious examples will help further illustrate a point in our understanding of human nature—namely, the distinctions we make in our approach to self-growth and enlightenment.
Yin and Yang Examples
Yin: Earth,Cold, Down, Matter, Female, Passive, Soft, Body, Materialism, Science
Yang: Sun, Hot, Up, Energy, Male, Active, Hard, Spirit, Spiritualism, Religion
In our culture, we are either on one end or another. Either you work for Wall Street and drive the expensive car, or you wear patchouli and tour with the band. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, for abortion or against it, patriotic or unpatriotic, with us or against us, and on and on. The mark of our society is that it is stained with the rigidity of dualistic thinking, and we suffer from its intolerance daily in our public discourse.
Gray Is Where All the Good Stuff Happens!
According to Taoist beliefs, gray is the fusion of black and white and of yin and yang. It is the understanding that there is balance, communication, and interaction with all things at all times. We in the United States live in a culture that was started by a group of religious fundamentalists (the Puritans), who essentially lived in a world of black and white. They were too much to handle for their contemporaries in Europe, and so they came to the New World to (conquer and) live their way of life. Sex was evil, and women were witches. Everything was black or white, and there was judgment all around. It was neither fun nor tolerant.
We are now living in the shadow of that polarized thinking, and the national discourse echoes that imbalance. The insanity of the Red Team-Blue Team mentality has allowed us to stray from our humanity and has really watered down the quality of human intellectual interaction, the meeting of ideas, and peaceful disagreement. Fundamentalism (in all religions and creeds) is a child of this imbalance; it is a reflection of our collective ignorance—our ignorance of the truth. To attain balance in the world outside of us, it is important to realize that we must first establish that state within ourselves. The external is simply a reflection of our internal state. Therefore, any balance we would like in our lives must come from a genuinely balanced state that originates from inside of us. We are the holographic projectors, and the “reality” we see beyond our flesh and blood is simply the reflection of our internal state. As the ancient alchemical axiom attributed to Hermes Trismegistus states, “As above, so below.”
Generally, Yin and yang, and other Taoism beliefs and practices, represent the totality of creation from opposite sides of each other. Together they are whole, and together there is balance. One cannot exist without the other, and we cannot examine anything without a balanced frame of reference, which requires looking at both sides and finding the middle. The polarity created by yin and yang can be compared to (if we so dare) the breath of life in biblical texts. At first, there is only Tao in this differentiation. Then, movement begins, and the energy of life starts to stir and revolve around itself, swirling the myriad things in the universe into being. It is as if a centrifugal and centripetal force erupted simultaneously, both creating and destroying, rising and falling, growing and decaying. In balance, the universe sustains itself and grows slowly in sentience and capacity. We can compare it to an oak tree. It grows a bit every year and then sheds weak branches in the autumn, which then become mulched as compost for the tree’s own growth the following season. The tree eventually grows so big that the main branches cannot support their own weight, and they collapse, only to become the soil for the seeds of its progeny to grow up strong and repeat the cycle.
The early Taoists learned everything from observing nature, deep introspection, inner energy cultivation, and development of gnosis. They discovered the principle of yin and yang to be the impetus and driving force of all life, and this concept is inextricably linked to the additional Taoism beliefs and practices we will discuss.