Is Taoism a Religion or a Philosophy?

Discussion in 'Tao' started by Mythos, Apr 25, 2009.

  1. radarmark

    radarmark Quaker-in-the-Making

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    So are most religions, I think!
     
  2. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    My understanding is that it is practices in different ways, some take philosophical approach, some a religious and some and alchemical one. They focus on different pieces of texts or different writers.
     
  3. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    What's the difference between a religion and a philosophy?
     
  4. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    In Taoism, I'm unsure. The philosophical aspect doesn't focus much on the metaphysical or is very ritualistic, there could be greater focus on those areas in the religious aspects. I got curious now so I'll see if I can find something on it.
     
  5. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Taoism is very esoteric. Confucianism, on the other hand, isn't esoteric at all, so these two give us the extremes of Chinese religion/philosophy.
     
  6. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    I never did a through search of the classification, but I did a quick and dirty one just now.
    Taoism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    As Taoism is just a number of texts open for interpretation I wouldn't be so bogged down with the distinction, it's just another way of looking at it.

    I've never read taoism as esoteric, but I'm not surprised that you do. When I read it it has very much in common with stoicism.
     
  7. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    I have never considered Taoism to be a religion of stoicism. That's a new way to look at it.
     
  8. Jane-Q

    Jane-Q ...pain...

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    Mythos, hi.
    I'm Jane.

    Is Taoism a Religion or a Philosophy?

    Daoism was a philosophy first, then a religion.
    (This is true of most religions, actually. It arises as a reformist or rejectionist sect. Takes first a highbrow, elitist form -- as debated ideas, i.e. as a philosophy. Later it expands to the grassroots and takes on a popular form -- as a religious practice -- taking on clergy and liturgy and ritual and all the institutional trappings we associate with religion.)

    Portions of the Daodejing were floating around, circa 400-300 BCE. Ideas originated by, likely, a number of individuals. (Three different collections, containing Daodejing material, have been found on bamboo. Each containing terse, poetic epigrams -- which would become the modern numbered chapters. Each collection is randomly -- not thematically or progressively -- organized, with virtually no overlap between each collection. Plus some added cosmological speculation in one collection -- material which was later dropped. Some chapters of today's Daodejing are entirely missing from the bamboo material, including the famous Chapter 1: "The Dao which can be spoken of, is not the Dao . . . ")

    The Daodejing was probably published in a thoughtfully edited anthology around 250 BCE, because that is when other authors start quoting from it, or refer to it as a book. And to give the text more philosophical presence, this publisher/anthologist likely felt it necessary to ascribe to the collection one solitary author, calling him "Venerable Teacher" (Laozi). Later readers invest the Daodejing's ideas with "ancient" weight by "surmising" that the text is actually the product of a famous contemporary of Confucius, Lao Dan, from three centuries before the Daodejing was first published. This "assumption" became the accepted lore during the Han Dynasty (200 BCE - 200 CE) of how the complete text came into existence.

    A silk copy of the Daodejing from 168 BCE appears virtually identical to the modern text, except that Chapters 38-81 (concerning the Dao as a handbook for effective statecraft) precede Chapters 1-37 (the Dao more as "pure" abstract philosophy). Only at a later time-period within the Han Dynasty does Zhuangzi and other independent thinkers become accepted within the philosophical Daoist canon. And it is very late in the Han period when religious Daoism begins.

    “Daoism,” it designates both a philosophical tradition and an organized religion, which in modern Chinese are identified separately as daojia and daojiao, respectively . . .

    Philosophical Daoism traces its origins to Laozi, an extraordinary thinker who flourished during the sixth century B.C.E., according to Chinese tradition. According to some modern scholars, however, Laozi is entirely legendary; there was never a historical Laozi.

    In religious Daoism, Laozi is revered as a supreme deity . . . recitation of the Daodejing is a prescribed devotional practice and features centrally in ritual performance.


    --Alan Chan. Laozi (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).​

    Hope this helps.


    Jane.

     
  9. Jane-Q

    Jane-Q ...pain...

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    Hi, Nick the Pilot.
    I'm Jane.

    What's the difference between a religion and a philosophy?

    A philosophy is for individuals. It is based upon cogent ideas. And tends to be elitist, at first.
    A religion is for a community. It is based upon emotional commitment. And tends to be grassroots, at first.

    That's the simple answer.


    Jane.

     
  10. Jane-Q

    Jane-Q ...pain...

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    Hi, Nick the Pilot.
    Hi, A Cup of Tea.

    Taoism . . . very esoteric.

    Taoism . . . very much in common with stoicism.

    Remove the word "Taoism" from either of the above phrases and replace it with "Buddhism" or "Islam" or "Hinduism" or "Christianity" and you could twist yourself mentally enough to make either term -- "esoteric" or "Stoicism" -- fit a description of that particular religion.
    (Or make "Platonism" or "Brahmanism" or "Logical Positivism" or "Existentialism" fit.)
    All dependent on the degree to which the religion/philosophy in question:
    1. is mysterious and unfamiliar to you ("esoteric"), or
    2. appears coldly realistic to you ("Stoicism").

    But there is something about esoteric which is secretive and "only for us who are in-the-know" -- which makes me uncomfortable. Its intentional exclusivity. That part of any religion or philosophy which pushes outsiders further away . . . this strikes me as inherently immoral.
    "You'd never be able to understand what this is about. Besides we really don't want you."

    Also with stoicism, despite the brutal self-honesty of its ethic, there is a different something which makes me uncomfortable, as well. Stoicism's emotionally numbing and uncompromising refusal-of-spirituality.
    "Grow up, kid! Work on yourself, become a better citizen. Tough it out . . . that's all there is to life."

    If there are any enduring truths to religion, they involve the pursuit and the progress of morality and of spirituality.
    1. Morality needs to be universal and inclusive -- not esoteric and exclusive -- in order to be genuinely moral in any meaningful sense. No "Keep Out" signs. (Too high of a social cost is paid out for whatever personal gains come from this hidden pathway to fulfillment.)
    2. Spirituality needs to rise beyond -- not be stoic about -- the self-punishing realities involved in improving one's social-self . . . rise beyond this to, instead, discover what is truly exceptional. And this takes more imagination than can possibly reside inside a ruthlessly stoic soul. (Too high of an emotional loss to oneself is the rebound for being an exemplary planetary citizen.)

    Religion (any modern religion), at its best, never settles for hidden pathways nor exemplary citizenship.
    (Though philosophy frequently does settle for one or the other -- for the esoteric or the stoic.)

    Should we use the word "esoteric" or the word "stoic" to praise this or that religion, I think that what we are actually praising is the religion's Achilles-heel . . . not its deeper virtue.


    Jane.

     
  11. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    Hi, Jane
    You and I read stoicism very differently, particularity concerning emotions and spirituality.
     
  12. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Jane,

    I agree with your idea that the difference between religion and philosophy is an issue of being a member of a group. I define a religion as a group of people who have a common religious ceremony or group of ceremonies that they practice together.

    Some people say they have "their own religion" but I do not agree with this use of the word religion. Rather, I say they have their own personal belief system.
     
  13. seattlegal

    seattlegal Why do cows say mu?

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    Is Taoism a Religion or a Philosophy?

    Yes.
     
  14. radarmark

    radarmark Quaker-in-the-Making

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    Nick, you really need to check out the religious society of friends. In the "liberal" group (we believe we are closer to George Fox's teaching than the programmed or evangelical Friends), the idea of one tent for pagans, native american, unitarians, etc make a lot of sense (having "their own religion" is pretty par for the course).

    It is the content of that religion and what good it does that matters.
     
  15. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Radar,

    What is your definition of the word religion? Are there 'tents' which contain a single person?

    ---

    "Is Taoism a Religion or a Philosophy?"

    "Yes."

    --> Ha. That piece of 'grammatical trickery' is one of the first things I teach my English students. (The changing of an "or" question's falling intonation to rising intonation changes the meaning of the question to a yes/no question.)
     
  16. radarmark

    radarmark Quaker-in-the-Making

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    There is nothing, I believe, to prevent that from being the case. Religion is a personal topic (really quite existential and experiential). I do not know of anyone who ever did that, so it is more likely religious notions are, to some extent, learned. Even Dàjiàn Huìnéng (who reached Buddhahood “on his own”) has background and discussions (let alone spending a lifetime studying like Gautama).

    Nice topic.
     
  17. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Radar,

    It really comes down to the definition of the word religion. It seems your definition and mine are different, and also your distinction between religion/philosophy and mine are different.
     
  18. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Paul Ricoeur, one of the greatest theologians and philosophers of the twentieth century said, regarding the difference between the two, this:

    In the course of my reflections I have given this a number of formulations, perhaps the most precise of these, the one I prefer today, is expressed by the relation between conviction and critique ... (but) philosophy is not simply critical, it too belongs to the order of conviction. And religious conviction itself possesses an internal, critical dimension.

    Paul Ricoeur, Critique and Conviction, "Biblical readings and Meditations", Polity Press, 1989. p139.​
     
  19. DrumR

    DrumR New Member

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    Religion or philosophy?

    In some schools of thought religion is viewed as a "re-linking."
    In that sense, Taoism may be seen as a religion as one experiences the re-connection with the Tao.
    At Philosophy's root is the love of learning.
    The experiential state of learning more about the Tao, through the direct experience of being open to learn about the Tao, agrees with this line of thought.
    Therefore, as I have suggested earlier, Taoism is both (and neither).
    So one shouldn't worry about it, instead have a cup of tea.
     
  20. Paladin

    Paladin Purchased Bewilderment

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    I wish we could bring more of this kind of thinking into the discussion.
     

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