Taoism, a religious and philosophical system that originated in China in the 5th-4th centuries BCE can be a confusing set of beliefs. It is said to have been developed by Lao-tzu, a person about whom little is known. He was born around 604 BCE ( there is even doubt that he existed and his real name is not known) Taoist beliefs are still followed today and its influence can still be seen in Chinese thought and ways of life: in aesthetics, hygiene and religion. The religion starts by teaching a truth, i.e."The Tao," a term that has no set definition. Hudson Smith, in his book "The World's Religions" offers a good explanation of this mysterious religion and there are websites that help with understanding the set of beliefs. The beliefs derive from the "Tao Te Ching," believed to have been written by Lao-tzu. Another philosopher, Chuang-Tzu, (369 BCE-286 BCE) contributed to Tao beliefs by writing parables and allegories.
Taoism, while not opposed to Confucianism, advocates personal growth, freedom, self-reliance and spontaneity. Followers seek the "Tao"- an undefined term, that means, roughly, the path or way of the universe, the natural cycles of nature. One seeks it by developing a personal code that arises from one's nature. Activity should be spontaneous, without effort. A common analogy -as a way of explaining this "effortless activity" is the flow of water. Water flows effortlessly but over time can wear down stone. Taoists believe it is futile to fight against natural, universal processes. One must act and live in accordance with the force that controls all creation. There are opposite, but complementary energies in nature, i.e. Yin and Yang. Examples are night and day, male and female. Humans should believe in balance and spontaneous action and live in accordance with the forces of the universe. In accordance with their belief of living in harmony with nature, Taoists believe in noninvasive herbal remedies, deep concentration and proper breathing. Living in harmony with nature will lead to less stress and a happier life. One should not struggle, but accept the ways ( however mysterious) of the universe. The Tao may mean different things to different people, but most of all it means to accept one's nature and the natural forces of the universe. All this may seem confusing, but Taoist beliefs go back centuries -even before there were formal Taoist writings- and its influence can be seen in Eastern cultures ( especially Chinese) today.