Following the Way/The Science of the Essence

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Scholar Reclining and Watching the Rising Clouds by Ma Lin is an excellent example of Taoist-inspired art. Much of the painting is blank space. There are a few notable details but much is obscure.
Off to one side, harmonious with the landscape, there is a person with a staff on the ground beside them. This is a Taoist.

Robes, ceremonies, rituals, beliefs?

Taoism does not traditionally feature any of the trappings commonly associated with a 'spiritual' life. It is not 'religious' in the conventional sense of that term.
There are no monks, priests, nuns, rituals, costumes, ceremonies, prayers or deities... You are not required to believe in anything. There are some books worth reading, but these are not considered holy.
It is not a religion in the conventional sense; although over the centuries many people have tried to make it into one.

No one

Taoism encourages people to accept their own nature, rather than try and be somebody or become something. Ideas try to distort reality. Trying to be somebody is the denial of who you are.
Realising that we are weak, vulnerable and insignificant; yet an integral part of everything that exists gives an immeasurable sense of freedom

Happy is the man who is nothing.


Finding accord

There is a pattern and order to existence. Accord entails finding balance with everything else. Harmony. By relying upon physical sensation and intuition rather than just thought, a person can find accord.
When you can sense and move with the Tao, accord naturally occurs.


Tai chi aligns the body in such a way that it moves with the minimum effort to produce the maximum effect.
By feeling how the body wants to move, it is possible to operate in a natural, comfortable manner. Accord cannot be conceived by conscious thought.
The body should never be forced to do what feels uncomfortable.

Wu wei

Wu wei means ‘going along with’ and refers to the process of moving in accord. Water is a good example of wu wei in nature, as it remains soft and yielding irrespective of any obstacles encountered.


It is common for tai chi people to dress plainly and seem completely unremarkable; to fade into the background. By remaining anonymous, the tai chi person does not attract attention.
This is essential in our unpredictable, uncertain and occasionally violent culture.
High level tai chi looks like nothing special, the powerful moves are folded within and the exponent does not attract attention; they are nobody.

Accord in combat

Finding accord during martial practice is quite demanding because it requires a high degree of physical sensitivity.
Rather than impede incoming force, a student joins with the opponent and sticks to them.
This stickiness is a skill in its own right, as it requires the ability to adjust your body in response to tension and movement from the opponent. At no point in tai chi should force meet force.
If force is imposed upon a student, they must yield.


Imagine not having a mortgage, a job, or responsibilities of any kind? Consider the freedom of wind and water.
Contemporary Taoism does not offer this degree of freedom, but it does encourage students to consider their relationship with the world and put it in perspective.


Students of Tao and tai chi do not compare themselves to other people. Nobody is better or worse, because everyone is different.


People seek security in an ever-changing world. Material goods like houses, cars, mobile phones may be necessary in today’s society but these things cannot offer security.
By embracing change and moving with things, a student becomes more at ease with their life.


We do not really own anything, nor can we. People invest so much time and money buying, protecting and insuring possessions.
In our desperate drive to possess we find ourselves possessed; our passions are turned against us. It may be necessary to own things and to have a job; but these have only a limited purpose.
It is important to let go of things. One day we must let go of our own life, for we cannot even keep possession of that.

The range of awareness and efficiency of the Taoist adept is unnoticeable, imperceptible to others,
because their critical moments take place before ordinary intelligence has mapped out a description of the situation.

One of the purposes of Taoist literature is to help to develop this special sensitivity and responsiveness to handle living situations.

(Thomas Cleary)


Taoist often wear a jade pendant worn with red string. Jade is a stone; a reminder of the earth. It is not symbolic nor representational.
This was adopted by Buddhists many centuries later during the process of inculturating many Chinese customs and traditions. Taoists never regarded jade as being valuable or otherwise significant.

Modern representations...

If a modern person dresses in special robes and calls themselves a Taoist, they may well believe this. But it has little to do with the traditions of the ancients.
Over many, many centuries, Taoism was mashed together with ancestor worship, Confucianism, Buddhism and superstition.
It was polluted.


Rather than embrace a watered-down misrepresentation of Taoism, it is better to read the original books. Seek what the Ancients sought... That is Taoism.


A Taoist does not want to be waited-on or served. Doing so-called 'menial tasks' is good work; wholesome and meaningful - with a clear purpose.
Manual chores are also excellent tools for promoting a condition of meditation.
Why would you want to have somebody else wait on you? Does it make you feel important? Are you insecure? What do you lack?

Do it yourself

When somebody waits on you, they render you weak, like a child. A Taoist is integrated - they do not need pampering - and loathe the idea of being served. They live close to the earth, to the real.


There is something earthy, natural and rustic about Taoism. It is unpretentious, wholesome and simple.

I like reality. It tastes of bread.

(Jean Aouilh)

The Science of the Essence

A Taoist seeks to interact with life by dealing with what is. Rather than speculate, argue or have opinions - they observe, blend, stay back and move seamlessly.
There is less struggle, less stress, fewer worries. Life is taken in its stride.

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Page created 18 March 1996
Last updated 04 May 2023