« on: March 01, 2012, 10:24:57 PM »
Aloha---I really wanted to post in the "general discussion," but wasn't sure how to start a new post. (I'll figure that out later.)
I want to note that your statement "The Tao is actually a philosophy with some guiding principles, but it is not a religion," is not quite accurate. "Tao" is a principle that is not really able to be spoken of (TTC V 1); TaoISM is a religion AND a philosophy. I prefer to call it a practice. The Tao Te Ching is an ancient piece of literature. As a practice, Taoism has roots in early Chinese shamanism, but to say it has existed for 5,000 years is not quite correct. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu (who would never identify themselves as Taoist, as Jesus would never identify as a Christian), represent the most basic texts, date from the "axial age" (~500 BC) and are contemporaneous with the development of Confucianism. The appearance of Buddhism in China occured a bit later, probably in the Qin Dynasty, the second and first centruries BCE. These three traditions have developed, merged and split into many very different paths. The Tao as a principle is a common thread in them all.
The 27 precepts you reference I think are derived from the early Maoshan school established by Zhang Daoling which was one of the first actual religious group expressions of Taoism and dates from around the 4th century CE, much later, and is when Lao Tzu began to be regarded as a deity. At about the same time, Chan (Zen) Buddhism appeared with Bodhidharma.
Ancestor worship is somewhat misunderstood; it is paying respect to those who came before, and is really more associated with Confucianism, which is about social order. (When I see Christians take flowers to the cemetery in honor of their departed, it looks pretty much the same to me.)
Traditionally the Chinese have blended the three traditions for different purposes, and together they have defined Chinese culture. I am interested to see how Christianity blends into this mix (Islam seems to remain separate in China); it is something I work through myself. There is a great deal of spiritual wisdom in Taoism that echoes Jesus's message. I find much compatibility as an Episcopalian incorporating many concepts and practices of Taoism into my own path. However, there are many practices and metaphors that are easily misunderstood on the surface that may cause people heartburn, and there are many odd folk practices that are more cultural than religious.
Thank you for establishing this forum; I expect to see many interesting dicussions here.