Taoism, sometimes called Daoism, is simultaneously a school of philosophy and a religion. Followers of this religion practice a worship centered around the Tao. Taoists believe the Tao is an ambiguous force of balance and harmony in the universe that provides the true spiritual essence of existence that lies behind the illusory material world.


Taoism is a difficult concept to define as it incorporates several different interpretations of the religion. For example, Buddhist Taoists try to reconcile the notion of immateriality within the religious framework of Buddhism, while some secular Taoists interpret writings as merely philosophical texts devoid of deeper religious meaning. However, all Taoists share the belief that understanding the Tao -- sometimes translated as "the way" -- is key to living a harmonious life. Trying to live in accordance with the Tao is the closest many followers come to practicing a form of worship.


Taoists revere nature and the natural order of the world. They believe that in nature, everything lives in harmony, and human interference often destroys this harmony. Taoists distrust ideas that lead to aggressive behavior, and believe that commitment to achieving goals leads to an assertiveness that violates the natural order and can result in violence. The image of opposing but united light and darkness in the symbol of the yin and yang represents the importance of this natural balance.


Another way that Taoists respect the Tao and, in a sense, worship it, is by practicing non-action. In order to follow the natural order of things, Taoists try to live in harmony with the natural world and never instigate aggressive action, except in cases where their action would restore an order that others have already violated. For example, if somebody is acting violently, some Taoists believe it is acceptable to stop that person and restore peace.

Laozi and Zhuangzi

Although Taoists do not worship any deities, they do respect and celebrate the religious figures who established the religion. Chief among these figures is Laozi, which translates as "the elder." Some scholars doubt whether this was a single person, or several people conflated by history. Nevertheless, several legends exist about Laozi, and many followers attribute the founding of the religion to this person. Another important figure in Taoism is Zhuangzi who, in his self-titled book, outlined several practical ways of utilizing Taoist thought in everyday life.