Philosophical Taoism does not refer to an actual Taoist school or group of philosophers. Rather, it is a way of reading Taoist texts and interpreting them in philosophical terms.
Philosophical Taoism emphasizes various themes found in the Tao-te Ching and Chuang-Tzu such as "nonaction" (wu wei), emptiness, detachment, receptiveness, spontaneity, the strength of softness, the relativism of human values, and the search for a long life.
The spirit in which such things are discussed tends to be more playful than doctrinaire, in keeping with the tone of the texts themselves. Taoist commentators have been very impressed by the opening lines of the Tao-te Ching, which can be translated:
The way which can be uttered, is not the eternal Way. The name which can be named, is not the eternal Name.
(The original words are
In Chinese, 道 ("Tao"), when used as a noun, means "way" or "path"; but when it is used as a verb, means "to utter" or "to speak it out".
It should also be noted that while the above has become a standard translation, scholars have noted it is grammatically and conceptually problematic. Grammatically, it should be read "a dao can be dao-ed, (but) this is not the constant dao-ing. A name can be named, (but) this is not the constant naming."
Conceptually, the character for "constant"(常) is not referring to the "eternality of the Dao." Rather, it is referring to the constant shifting between opposites that dao undertakes, i.e.: high and low, hard and soft, etc. The Mawangdui version of the text confirms both of these points solidly.
Thus, whatever one may say about the Dao, cannot but fall short of reality. Other beliefs which have become integral to philosophical Taoism include the yin and yang (closely related to Dialectical monism) and five elements (五行, wuxing) theories, and the concept of qi. Originally belonging to rival philosophical schools, these motifs entered Taoism by way of Neo-Confucianism. Various cosmic cycles are recognized and studied, with which Taoists have aspired to harmonize themselves.
- “Taoism.” Wikipedia. Web. Accessed 10 Apr. 2017.