The term Taoism encompasses to a variety of interrelated philosophies and religious traditions that have developed in East Asia over the last several thousand years. With increased travel, immigration and exchange of idea Taoism has begun to influence the western world.

Tao (or Dao) is commonly translated as the "path" or "way" in English. These words are not as infused with meaning though as the word Tao is to practitioners. Much like Christian terms carry much meaning to Christians, Tao carries more abstract meanings to the Taoist.

The words "Daoism" and "Taoism" are two forms of the same word. The older Wade–Giles system translates the word tao but the newer Pinyin system translates it dào.Daoism is consistently pronounced /ˈdaʊ.ɪzəm/, but English speakers follow two alternative pronounce Taoism as / ˈdaʊ.ɪzəm/ or /ˈtaʊ.ɪzəm/.

Organized Taoism Compared to Other Religions

Taoism is not and has never been a organized unified religion, but is better described as collections of teachings based on revelations occurring over various times. Further, the different branches of Taoism have different beliefs over nature. However, nearly all Taoists share certain core beliefs. While related to and intermixed with Chinese folk religion, Taoism did not come out of folk religion either.

Some academics like Robinet assert that Taoism is better understood more as a way of life than as a defined religion. Some view Taoism as a school of thought focused on the quest for immorality. Taoism is less structured without the formal organizations that characterize the various Christian denominations, Jewish faith, Muslims mosques and more modern religions like the Mormons.

Principles of Taoism

Taoists emphasize various themes from the sacred texts Daodejing and Zhuangzi. These themes include naturalness, vitality, peace, "non-action" (wu wei, or 'effortless effort'), emptiness (refinement), detachment, flexibility, receptiveness, spontaneity, the relativism of human ways of life, ways of speaking and guiding behavior.

De (Te): Tao is closely associated with the concept of De or power, virtue, and integrity. De is the active expression of living and cultivating the ones life in the way.

Wu Wei: One of the central concepts in Taoism. Meaning roughly without action, wi wei is often explained as wei wu wei which means "action without action". This involves aligning oneself with the way or Tao and therefore living in Tao without any extra action. Unlike Christianity, Tao does not see personal will as a problem, rather the will must be aligned with the natural universe.
Pu: "uncut wood", "uncarved block", "unhewn log", or "simplicity" is a metaphor for the state of wu wei and the principle of jian. Pu represents a passive state of receptiveness in which pure potential and perception without prejudice exists. If the state of Pu can be achieved Taoists believe that they can see everything as it is really, without preconceptions or illusion.

Pu is believed to be the true nature of the mind, free from knowledge or experiences, where there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. Pu provides pure experience and awareness of the universe uncluttered by anything learned before or defined by others. If one follow wu wei they can attain Pu.

Taoist Spirituality

Taoists believe that humans are a microcosm for the universe. By gaining knowledge of himself, man can understand the whole universe.

Rather than God's creation, bodies are directly related to the five traditional elements. The five organs correlate with the five elements, the five directions and the seasons.

To practice Taoism requires the use of rituals, exercises, and substances that are each said to positively affect one's physical and mental health. Used together the practices of Tao are supposed to align one spiritually with the cosmic forces and enable ecstatic spiritual journeys.

Taoism practices can even extend human life into immortality according to Tao teachings. It is a works based system in essence. Realigning the body through herbs can play a role, as can realigning the mind toward Tao.