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Glossary of Taoism

This glossary of Taoism provides definitions of terms related to Taoism, with links to full articles where available.

acupuncture
Traditional Chinese medical treatment using needles to stimulate the flow of ch'i in the body.
Celestial Master
(Chinese T'ien-shih). Title held by the hereditary leader of Orthodox Unity Taoism.
chai
(Chinese). Ritual of purification.
ch'ang
(Chinese, "enduring"). The permanent and eternal.
Chang Kuo-lao
One of the Eight Immortals. Connected with a historical figure of the T'ang dynasty, his symbol is a fish-drum.
Chang San-feng
Taoist immortal traditionally considered the founder of t'ai-chi ch'uan.
ch'i
(Chinese, "air, "breath, "strength"). Life energy that flows throughout the human body and the universe.
ching
(Chinese, "semen", "seed"). Vital essence.
Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi)
Taoist text named for its primary author, "Master Chuang" (c. 369-286 BCE). Also known as Nan-hua chenching (“The Pure Classic of Nan-hua”). Composed in the 4th or 3rd century BCE.
Chung-li Ch'uan
One of the Eight Immortals. He is depicted as a stout man with a near-bald head but a long beard. His symbol is a fan, indicating power to raise the dead.
Dōkyō
Religious Taoism in Japan.
feng-shui
(Chinese, "wind and water"). A form of divination whose goal is to place homes, cemeteries, furniture, etc. in the best location.
Han Hsiang-tzu
One of the Eight Immortals. He is depicted as a peaceful mountain-dweller with a flute, flowers and a peach. He is the patron of music.
Ho Hsien-ku
The only female Immortal.
hsien
(Chinese, "fluttering") The Immortals, who are described in the Chuang-tzu. Perhaps originally intended to be allegorical, the nature and abilities of these beings became a practical goal for later Taoists.
hsin
Chinese, "heart" or "mind."
hun
In Taoism, the three heavenly human souls. These leave the body upon a human's death.
jia (chia)
(Chinese, "school of transmission"). Philosophy.
jiao (chiao)
"teaching" or "religion." Generally refers to a religion, but the word only acquired this meaning around 1900 and does not always mean "religion." The original and literal meaning is "teaching."
Ling-pao P'ai
(Chinese, "School of the Magic Jewel"). Movement within religious Taoism based on Ling-pao Ching. Influenced by Buddhist devotion to bodhisattvas, it teaches that liberation depends on help from deities (t'ien-tsun). A central ritual is a formal fast (chai).
ming
(Chinese, "name"). n Chinese thought, to name something is to assign it a place in the hierarchy of the universe. The Tao is therefore nameless.
Pa-hsien
(Chinese, "Eight Immortals"). Taoist figures associated with good fortune and the eight conditions of life that are frequently portrayed in Chinese art and literature. They are: Li T'ieh-juai; Chang Kuo-lao; Ts'ao Kuo-chiu; Han Hsiang-tzu; Lu Tung-pen; Ho Hsien-ku; Lan Ts'ai-ho; and Chung-li Ch'uan.
P'an-ku
Taoist creator of the world and also the first human. He emerged from the original chaos in the form of an egg, and at this death, his body was allocated to the creation of different parts of the world.
po
In Taoism, the seven earthly human souls.
p'u
(Chinese, "uncarved block"). State of simplicity and true nature, as in infancy, before being shaped by knowledge, morality and other influences of society. For Lao-Tzu, this is the state of the ideal ruler.
sanjiao
"three teachings." Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The phrase originated in 9th-century China.
shen
Spiritual consciousness.
t'ai chi (taiji)
(Chinese, "Great Polarity.") Yin and yang.
t'ai chi chu'uan
(Chinese, "Great Polarity Boxing.") Martial art aimed at harnessing the strength of chi.
Tao
(Chinese, "way"). Unchanging principle behind the universe; unproduced producer of all that is. The Tao-te Ching describes it as "something formlessly fashioned, that existed before Heaven and Earth."
Tao-chaio (Daojiao)
Religious Taoism. Emphasizes religious rituals aimed at attaining immortality.
Tao-chia (Daojia)
Philosophical Taoism. Emphasizes the philosophical writings of Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu, and other Taoist philsophers.
tao-shih
Scholars and ritual functionaries of religious Taoism.
Tao-te Ching (Daodejing)
(Chinese, "Book of the Way and its Power.") Foundational text of Taoism. Attributed to Lao-tzu and probably composed in the 4th century BCE, it teaches about the Tao.
Tao-te t'ien-tsun
Ruler of Taoist heaven of highest purity; San-ch'ing.
Tao-tsang
Taoist canon of authoritative texts.
Tao-yin
Exercise for guiding the breath to different parts of the body.
Immortals
Super-humans or "perfected persons" that are worshiped or emulated by Taoists
te
(Chinese, "power" or "virtue"). Means through which the Tao becomes manifest and actualized.
tzu-jan
Spontaneity; unconditioned and totally itself. Characteristic of the Tao.
wu
Not-Being. Not synonymous with nothingness, wu is an immense void containing all potentialities. It is thus interdependent with yu, Being.
wu-wei
(Chinese, "non-action.") The ideal for rulers as set out in the Tao te Ching.
yu
Chinese, "being."
zongjiao
(Chinese, "principle-teaching.") Religion. Term introduced to China in the late 19th century in the context of Buddhism.