The Purpose of Life
The ideal person in philosophical Taoism is the sage who understands and lives in accordance with the Tao. Knowing that all opposites are relative and interdependent, and that the best way to live is in harmony with the natural course of things (the Tao), a Taoist does not struggle, oppose, or strive.
Instead, the sage practices wu-wei, or "non-action." In the Tao Te Ching, this is the central virtue of the wise ruler. Wu-wei does not mean doing nothing or doing things only in moderation. To practice wu-wei is to so orient oneself with the Tao that one's actions go unnoticed. "Perfect activity leaves no track behind it; perfect speech is like a jade worker whose tool leaves no mark." In yet another paradox, wu-wei "never acts, yet there is nothing it does not do."
The focus of most religious Taoism is attaining immortality. This can have various meanings: eternal life, longevity of life, or attainment of superhuman physical abilities. Taoists have sought longevity by a variety of methods, such as:
- Focusing attention on the body through diet, exercises, and mindfulness
- Regulating the breath (ch'i), circulating its power deliberately to all parts of the body
- Harnessing sexual energy, especially by retaining semen and sending its power throughout the body
- Exploring alchemy with the goal of finding the elixir of immortality
- Behaving in a moral way that is in harmony with the Tao
- Searching for the Isles of the Blessed, where the Immortals dwell and may be persuaded to share their secrets of immortality