A survey of the full range of Warring States and early Han texts usually thought of as “Taoist,”
in both traditional bibliographies and recent scholarship, yields three
general categories under which the distinctive ideas of these texts
could be subsumed:
Religious Studies, Brown University
Based on which of the above layers appear in a particular tradition,
1. cosmology: a cosmology based on the Tao as the predominant unifying power in the cosmos;
2. inner cultivation:
the attainment of the Tao through a process of emptying out the usual
contents of the conscious mind until a profound experience of
tranquility is attained;
3. political thought: the application of this cosmology and this method of self-cultivation to the problems of rulership. (Original Tao, 7)
can distinguish between three types of Daoism that evolved
in roughly chronological order (cf. Original Tao, 7-8):
by the Inner Chapters (1-7) of the Zhuangzi, portions of the Daodejing,
and the Neiye
which provides detailed information about the meditation/breath control
practices used to bring about the state of union with the Dao.
In this context, “Individualist” does not mean that the practitioner is
self-centered, but rather that the focus is on individual
self-cultivation, as opposed to social transformation; indeed, it is
precisely by eliminating all self-centered thoughts and feelings that
the practitioner opens up to the “inner power” (de) of the Dao, which allows one to live in harmony with the world.
c. 4th century
- Combines the first and second elements.
by various passages in the Daodejing (e.g. 19, 57, 65, 80), as
well as portions of the Zhuangzi
(most notably Chapters 8-11).
This approach includes the self-emptying practices of the
Individualist, but combines it with an emphasis on a “primitive”
socio-political order, which is characterized by a minimalist
government that promotes a simple, agrarian lifestyle in order to
minimalize the desires of the people.
mid-3rd century BCE
- Combines the first, second and
Exemplified by the “Syncretists” (a group credited
compiling the Zhuangzi and
writing that text’s final chapter, which summarizes their
position), as well as the Huangdi Sijing (Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor) and the Huainanzi.
This approach is rooted in Daoist cosmology and meditation, but
incorporates elements of Confucian morality and Legalist principles of
late 3rd through 2nd
- Combines the first, second and third elements,
though the cosmology is more fully developed and the political dimension differs significantly from the ideals
in the “Primitivist” sections of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi.
|We can add to Roth’s organization of early Daoist textual traditions a fourth tradition that would develop in the late Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE):
refinement of a Daoist cosmology as well as the development of
techniques of inner cultivation that lead to the “perfection” of the
with the ultimate goal of attaining “immortality.” It also develops a
priesthood to serve the lay (i.e. non-ordained) community by performing
rituals for health, social harmony, and well-being in the afterlife.
2nd century CE to the present
- Combines the first three elements plus a concern for religious organization.
Qi (Ch’i): Vital Energy/Vital Breath
Original Tao, 41-2