To have a better understanding of the belief system and its philosophy, students of the religion Taoism, also called Daoism in the modern world, study two central texts of Taoism -- the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang-tzu. These key texts of Taoism define the nature of the universe and provide a guide for living a spiritual life. Although Taoism is native to China, the central texts of the religion have helped attract followers worldwide.
Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching is the central book of the Taoist faith and is often referred to as the Lao-Tzu in honor of its author, Lao-Tzu, who is believed to have been a philosopher of ancient China and called by many the Father of Taoism. The book contains 81 short chapters and attempts to define the elusive nature of the Tao, which means 'the way' and prescribes a method for living a harmonious life.
Very little is known about Lao-Tzu, and many scholars believe that the Tao Te Ching was written by several philosophers rather than one person since the text comprises a series of proverbs seemingly coined by various anonymous philosophers. Many scholars believe that the term Lao-Tzu may have -- instead of being an individual author's name -- actually been a term meaning 'old master' in reference to many authors.
Although the Tao Te Ching is the original Taoist text, the Chuang-tzu provides a more thorough and detailed account of Taoist belief. Although much of the Chuang-tzu complements and expounds upon the Tao Te Ching, it differs in a number of ways. For example, unlike the Tao Te Ching, which states that individuals can only purify themselves by isolating themselves from other people, the Chuang-tzu emphasizes that individuals do not need to cut themselves off from their social lives to pursue Taoism.
The Nei Yeh is an ancient Chinese text that dates back to some time in the 4th century. This text is not one of the founding texts of Taoism, but it does contain the first written mention of many aspects of Taoist belief such as Chi, the spiritual energy that Taoism teaches exists within all human beings. This text also delves into the Taoist notion of self-cultivation and its importance for living a harmonious life.
Taoism didn't remain a distinct religion for long. The influence of Buddhism and Confucianism altered the framework of Taoism, causing many followers to subscribe to beliefs from all three belief systems. Furthermore, proto-Taoist hermits -- individuals who cut themselves off from society to live in harmony with nature -- appear throughout the Confucian text, Analects. This text is also one of the first to articulate the early Taoist belief that individuals must remove themselves from society if they want to purify themselves.
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