Introduction to Daoism

Get a quick understanding of Daoism


Founder: Lao Zi [Lao Tzu]
Location: China
Date: ~500 BCE
Primary Scripture: Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] (around 5000 Chinese characters)
Main Goal: Follow the Way.

Philosophical Daoism: Main Figures

  • Lao Zi
    • Other names:
      • Li Er [Li Erh] (Birth Name)
      • Lao Dan [Lao Tan] (Mentioned in Zhuang Zi inner chapters)
    • Contribution: Founded Daoism, wrote Dao De Jing
    • Occupation: Zhou imperial court archives librarian
  • Zhuang Zi
    • Contribution: Wrote inner chapters of Zhuang Zi [Chuang Tzu]

Religious Daoism: Daoist Deities

  • Jade Emperor (Yu Huang [Yu-huang])
    • High God of Daoists
    • Rules other Gods
  • First Principle (Yuan Shi Tian Zun [Yuan-shih T'ien-tsun])
    • Instructs Jade Emperor
  • Three Pure Ones (San Qing [San-ch'ing])
    1. Jade Pure (Yu Qing [Yu-ch'ing])
    2. Upper Pure (Shang Qing [Shang-ch'ing])
    3. Great Pure (Tai Qing [T'ai-ch'ing])
  • Three Officials (San Guan [San-kuan])
    1. Ruler of Heaven (Tian Guan [T'ien-kuan]): grants happiness
    2. Ruler of Earth (Di Guan [Ti-kuan]): grants remissions of sins
    3. Ruler of Water (Shui Guan [Shui-kuan]): averts all evil
  • Three Epochs/Principles (San Yuan [San-yuan])
    1. Shang Yuan [Shang-yuan] : ruled first six moons (winter and spring)
    2. Xia Yuan [Hsia-yuan] : ruled 7th and 8th moons (summer)
    3. Zhong Yuan [Chung-yuan] : ruled 9th thru 11th moons (fall)
  • Tian Shi [T'ien-shih]
  • Hsi Wang Mu : Mother Empress of the West.
  • Eight Immortals (Ba Xian [Pa-hsien])
    1. Zhuan Zhongli [Chuan Chung-li]
      • Emblem: fan of feathers or peach of immortality.
      • Represents: military personnel
    2. Zhang Guolao [Chang Kuo-lao]
      • Emblem: paper horse
      • Represents: old
    3. Lu Dongbin [Lu Tung-pin]
      • Emblem: sword
      • Represents: scholars
    4. Cao Guojiu [Ts'ao Kuo-chiu]
      • Emblem: court writing tablet
      • Represents: nobility
    5. Li Tieguai [Li T'ieh-kuai]
      • Emblem: iron crutch and gourd of life-preserving medicine
      • Represents: sick
    6. Han Xiangu (Han Xiangzi) [Han Hsien-ku (Han Hsiang-tzu)]
      • Emblem: flower basket
      • Represents: cultured class
    7. Lan Zaihe [Lan Tsai-ho]
      • Emblem: lute
      • Represents: poor
    8. He Xiangu [Ho Hsien-ku]
      • Emblem: lotus
      • Represents: unmarried girls

Philosophical History of Lao Zi

Lao Zi was born in 604 B.C.E. in Honan. He was named Li Er [Li Erh], and held a post as keeper of records at Loyang, then the Zhou dynasty capital. Legend says he had a meeting with Confucius. When Zhou dynasty was near its fall at around 500 B.C.E., Lao Zi rode on a water buffalo to retire in the mountains to a State in the western frontiers. An official named Guan Yin Zi who was in charge of the Pass begged the sage for a book of his teachings, and Lao Zi then wrote the Dao De Jing. After which Lao Zi went westward and was never seen again.

Religious History of Lao Zi

Lao Zi was born in 1321 B.C.E. from his mother's left side after a confinement lasting eighty years. He was born with snowy hair and a long white beard. Considered a reincarnation of a supreme celestial being.

For more information, visit the Lao Tzu calligraphy section.

The Major Sects of Daoism

  • Philosophical Daoism
  • Religious Daoism (In China)
    • Heavenly (Celestial) Masters
    • Supreme Peace
    • Mount Mao (Mao Shan [Mao-shan])
    • Sacred Treasure (Ling Bao [Ling-pao])
    • Completely Real (Chuan Zhen [Ch'uan-chen])
  • Other

The Dao

Dao (literal: Path or Way) is what Daoism is all about. Following Dao is following the way of Daoism. This way is discussed in the Dao De Jing, which elaborates on Yin and Yang, Wu Wei, Governing, the Three Jewels, and others.

The first mention of the Chinese character "Dao" in the Tao Te Ching was in chapter 1.

For images and more information, visit the Tao calligraphy section.

Yin and Yang

In Daoism, Yin and Yang are negative and positive principles of the universe. One cannot exist without the other, and they often represent opposites in relations to each other. As you have more and more Yang, eventually, Yin will appear and replace this increase. Similarly in the opposite direction, Yang will appear to replace the increase in Yin.

The Yin Yang symbol (circle with black and white sections) depicts this clearly. As you travel around the circle, white or black will increase, until the opposite color is almost gone, but never totally gone. The cycle then repeats for the opposite color.

What seems like Yin is often supported by Yang, and vice-versa. As an example, to truly know good, you must know what evil is, and without good as a comparison, nothing is evil. Thus, while keeping to one end, do not shun the opposite end, but embrace both as they are. Allowing Yin to flourish, you welcome Yang. By letting go of Yin, you are waiting for its return. As an example, before you can possess something, you must be willing to let it go.

Yin and Yang often represent the following opposites...
  • Yin
    • Negative
    • Female
    • Dark
    • Evil
    • Earth
  • Yang
    • Positive
    • Male
    • Light
    • Good
    • Heaven

The first mention of the Chinese characters Yin and Yang was in chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching, in the phrase "wan wu fu yin er bao yang."

For images and more information, visit the Yin and Yang calligraphy section.

Wu Wei

Wu Wei (literal: without action) is one of the main concepts from Daoism. It means to do things such that it does not seem like you are taking the effort of doing them. A close analogy would be following the natural flow of nature. By applying Wu Wei, one is closely following the way. The first mention of Wu Wei in the Tao Te Ching was in chapter 3, in the phrase "wei wu wei."

For images and more information, visit the Wu-Wei calligraphy section.


In Daoism, the government should follow the way in governing the people as well. Specific chapters in the Dao De Jing describes the ideal way of governing people. They can be summarized in these key points...
  • Do not emphasize status, intelligence, or possessions.
  • Govern with least visibility and with a serving attitude.
  • Reduce laws and govern lightly.
  • Take few actions that involve the people.
  • Treat other countries non-aggressively.

Three Jewels

There are three jewels (characteristics) that Daoists should cherish as mentioned in Dao De Jing chapter 67. They are...
  1. Compassion - leads to courage
  2. Moderation - leads to generosity
  3. Humility - leads to leadership

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