glue that binds the elements of the 'tam giao' - the
Taoism is believed to have originated in China with
a man named Lao Tzuat around 500 B.C. The legend says
that Lao Tzu was so "saddened by his people's disinclination
to cultivate the natural goodness he advocated"
that he decided to abandon civilization. Before leaving,
he wrote a brief work called Tao Te Ching, (The Classic
of the Way and its Power) describing the meaning of
the Tao (the way, or path) and how one should live according
to the Tao.
The Tao is described in highly poetic
allusions that are far from clear. The book directs
its readers ‘to take no action contrary to nature’
and to live in harmony with the Tao.
A follower of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu,
further developed the Taoist philosophy, emphasising
that the Tao cannot be taught or expressed in words.
All things are reconciled in the Tao – there
is no concept of good and evil. Only virtuous, non-violent,
compassionate behaviour can take one closer to the
meaning of the Tao.
In the first century AD, Lao Tzu gradually became
deified, thus enabling his followers to improve their
chances of immortality through worship, complex rituals,
good deeds and meditation. A pantheon of Gods and
the panoply of religion, including magic, geomancy,
astrology and communication with spirits developed.
Yin and Yang
Central to the Taoist philosophy is duality, a ‘oneness’
made of complementary opposites. Yang is male, associated
with the sun, hot, active, rigid and conformist. Yin
is female, associated with the earth, cool, passive,
flexible and unorthodox. This principle applies to
all elements of existence – from nature to a
particular individual. Social disturbance, natural
disasters, personal illness, unsettled family relationships
and so on are all the result of an imbalance between
the forces of Yin and Yang. Restoring harmony cures
the ills and gives a sense of direction.
of Yin and Yang
The tacit suggestion that there is a natural law governing
all life and directing activity towards harmony prompts
Taoists to behave in a way that least disturbs the
balance of Yin and Yang. Lifestyles should therefore
be based on regulated harmonious behaviour, and relationships
between men and women, parents and children, rulers
and subjects, should be carefully regulated in the
interests of harmony and balance. Government should
be minimal and forces for change avoided.
The congruity of Taoism and Confucianism is immediately
obvious. Confucianism is a means of regulating behaviour
without a spiritual dimension. Taoism is spirituality
and mysticism lacking firm precepts. The association
of Theravada Buddhism with Taoism also had synergies
–the principles of Buddhism included non-violence,
passivity and a path to enlightenment, but lacked
ritual. Mahayana Buddhism adopted many of the Taoist
Gods and practices.
In Vietnam, Taoism is the linking mechanism for Buddhism,
Confucianism, Ancestor worship and animism. Countless
images of the Gods of Taoism are in temples and pagodas
throughout the country. Most homes use their altar
to worship the ‘Kitchen God’, the name
for the triumvirate of Taoist deities that monitor
the families’ behaviour. Many of Vietnam’s
festivals, including Tet, have a Taoist tradition.
and geomancy are an accepted part of everyday life.
Ingredients for traditional medicine and foods are
designated as ‘hot’ or 'cool’, and
the principle of harmony and balance underpins healthcare.
Visitors to Vietnam
will often be puzzled by a small mirrored octagonal
disc, with the Yin Yang and other symbols, fixed above
the door of most houses and small shops. It is to
guard the house by barring wandering spirits, or ghosts.
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