The philosophy of Taoism was a common topic for Alan Watts, due to it’s heavy influence on Zen Buddhism. The philosophy was founded in China, around the 4th to 6th century BC, by a spiritual teacher named Lao Tzu, who is said to have written down his vast wisdom in a sacred text called the Tao Te Ching. It is unknown if this was actually the case, or if multiple other authors were responsible.
The primary idea of Taoism (Daoism) is that, although reality seems to be in an almost constant state of chaos and dis-ease, there is a harmonious path that one can follow, known as the Tao, or the Dao. This idea of the path, and many other core ideas, are quite similar to those presented in Buddhism, although Taoists tend to see the every day world in a more positive light.
Who Was Lao Tzu?
There is very little known about the man named Lao Tzu, so little that we are not positive that he even existed, but for now let’s assume that he was a real person in history. Lao Tzu was a record keeper in the Sui Dynasty, around the 6th century BC, who grew weary of the deep corruption he witnessed within the empire. As a result, Lao Tzu decided to travel west to the outskirts of the empire’s borders where he was inspired to write down his wisdom. These words became what is now known as the “Tao Te Ching”. Lao Tzu is said to have left the Chinese empire after completing the text, and we never hear from him again.
The Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching, which is probably the most influential of all sacred Taoist texts, touches on many different themes throughout, but focuses mainly on the theme of the path of enlightenment, or the Tao. There are multiple English translations of the text, with much debate about which best represents the original.
Stillness Of Mind
The practices of Taoism tend to be very similar to those of Buddhism, with meditation being an almost fundamental tool on the path to becoming enlightened. The Taoist teachings say that to the still mind, the whole universe surrenders, an idea that you may recognize from Zen Buddhism. When one stops overthinking reality, the truth can shine in, and we can see our true selves without the illusion of the ego. When this understanding is achieved, you are on the correct path, you are following the Tao.