Taoist Beliefs

Taoism is the indigenous religion of Chinese. The key purpose of the religion is to learn the “Dao”, cultivate the “Dao” and practice the “Dao”. As “Dao” is a central to belief of this faith, the religion is called “Daoism” or “Taoism”.

Taoism has existed since the time of the Yellow Emperor some 4,700 years ago. Promoted by Lao Tzu during the Spring and Autumn period, it was organized as a religious movement during later years of the Eastern Han Dynasty by Celestial Master Zhang Daoling.

The Book of Dao and its’ Virtue (Dao De Jing), regarded as the main text of Taoism, establishes that one can attain immortality through self cultivation. Although there are many Taoist sects today, their teachings are all based on the principles of “Dao”.

The fundamental believe of Taoism is “Dao”, a belief that myriad things of the universe are created by “Dao”. Taoist believes that “Dao” is eternal and everlasting, and hence through cultivation one can achieve the “Dao”, enjoy good fortune and blissful life on earth, and also live on eternally in the heavenly realms.

Taoist strongly believes in accumulating merits and doing good deeds to benefits society, and also in educating and encouraging others to develop their morality and value system. There is a Taoist saying which goes like this: “By doing 3,000 good deeds, one will accumulate 800 merits”, which means that if one hopes to attain immortality, he/she must at least perform 3,000 good deeds to reach this state of perfection.


Dao” originally refers to the “ways” or the “path” taken by Taoist masters. Over time the meaning has expanded to incorporate rules and regulations as well. The movement changes between Heaven and Earth, it is believed, also follows a set of rules and order, and that is how the concept of “Heavenly Dao”, or the “Heavenly way” was developed.

Dao”, an eternal and interminable element, is considered the life-force of the universe which surrounds us all the time, regardless of time and distance, although it cannot be seen, heard or touched.

According to Taoist belief, deities are the manifestation of “Dao”, and they have been created by the formless vapour of “Dao“. In Taoism, one can attain the “Dao” (immortality) through cultivating and practicing the “Dao”.

WHAT IS "Taoism"?

Taoism is the indigenous religion of the Chinese. The key purpose of the religion is to learn the “Dao” , cultivate the “Dao”, and practice the “Dao”. As “Dao” is central to the belief of this faith, the religion is called “Daoism” or “Taoism”.

Taoism has existed since the time of the Yellow Emperor some 4700 years ago. Promoted by Lao Tzu during the Spring and Autumn Period, it was organized as a religious movement during the late years of the Eastern Han Dynasty by Celestial Master Zhang Daoling.

The Book of Dao and its Virtue (Dao De Jing), regarded as the main scripture of Taoism, establishes that one can attain immortality through self-cultivation.

Although there are many Taoist traditions today, their teachings are all based on the principles of “Dao”.

What are the fundamental beliefs of Taoism?

  • The fundamental belief of Taoism is“Dao”, a belief that myriad things of the universe are created by “Dao”.
  • Taoists believe that “Dao” is eternal and everlasting, and hence through cultivation one can achieve the “Dao”, enjoy good fortune and blissful life on earth, and also live on eternally in the heavenly realms
  • Taoists strongly believe in accumulating merits and doing good deeds to benefit society, and also in educating and encouraging others to develop their morality and value system. There is a Taoist saying which goes like this: “By doing 3,000 good deeds, one will accumulate 800 merits”, which means that if one hopes to attain immortality, he/she must at least perform 3, 000 good deeds to reach this state of perfection.

What are the “San Bao” (Three Treasures/Triple Gems)?

The “three treasures” of Taoism are compassion, frugality and humility. Compassion: All things in the universe nurture in the “Dao”, and everything should follow the nature of the compassionate and loving “Dao”. If one can cultivate the “Dao” with a kind and compassionate heart, the merits will be doubled.

Frugality: It is a Taoist tradition to uphold frugality and simplicity, and to avoid extravagance and waste.

Humility: One should have a peaceful heart and live harmoniously with others. If everyone follows the Taoist ideas, the world is bound to be peaceful and calm.

(Dao De Jing, Chapter 67)

What is "Wu-wei"(non-action)?

“Wu-wei” is often misinterpreted as “non-action” and “non-interference”. “Wu-wei” is a fundamental Taoist principle connected to the act of cultivating one’s mind and conducting oneself in society. It also serves as a guideline in the ruling of a country. Taoists believe that “The Heavenly way is natural and spontaneous”; hence a ruler should follow the laws of heaven, the natural development of earth and the wishes of the people. The subjects, too, should not act recklessly nor do things blindly; they should also follow the heavenly way to attain peace of mind. If one can achieve harmony with the world and is mindful of one’s speech and action, calamity can be averted.

The Taoist text “Yunji Qiqian” has this advice to offer: “Be mindful of the food we take, mindful of the words we say, cautious of disputes, and to be cautious of struggles. Reflect on the wrongdoings and never repeat it again”. The text exhorts us to be mindful of the food we eat and not to hurt others by what we say. In public we should also be mindful of our actions and be very careful and thoughtful when settling disputes and arguments. “Wu-wei”, therefore, helps to instill not only a positive attitude in its believers, but also a propensity to seek truth and to refine manners. It would be incorrect to conceive “Wu-wei” as a passive force, or of having an attitude of waiting for things to happen. “Wu-wei” encompasses actions, a set of natural course of actions without any other motives.

Why do Taoists stress “Qing-jing” (Purity and Tranquility)?

“Qing-jing” (Tranquility), another basic Taoist belief, refers to a calm mind, free of worries and troubles. All Taoists are urged to subscribe to this belief as it would benefit them. The purpose of developing a pure and tranquil state of mind is to reduce selfishness, minimize desires, and not to oppose the laws of nature

Taoism places great emphasis on attaining this pure and tranquil state, which is believed to be characteristic of the “Dao”. If one can learn to acquire equanimity and minimize desires, the closer that person would be to attaining the “Dao”. The Scripture of Purity and Tranquility (Qing-Jing Jing) mentioned that “If one can achieve Purity and Tranquility, the heavens and earth will return to the primordial.” Indeed, Lao Tzu stressed the importance of cultivating Purity and Tranquility, and regarded it as the essential elements in the promotion of self-cultivation, good health, and effective governing of a country.

Why do Taoists recite scriptures?

  1. Taoists pray to the heavens and also to their ancestors as a mark of respect. Prayer is also a form of cultivation of the “Dao” and a way of practicing the teachings. Taoists strive to help others and save the world. When Taoist priests are reciting the scriptures and chanting the repentance rituals, they are beseeching the Holy Scriptures to erase our wrongdoings and sins and at the same time preach the teachings of the “Dao” to others.
  2. It is a must for Taoists to practice and understand the scriptures. According to Taoist texts, reciting the scriptures can absolve misfortune, eliminate illnesses, prolong life and benefit health. By reciting scriptures, one can declare his wishes to the heavenly realms and also remember his ancestors.
  3. By reciting scriptures, one can declare his wishes to the heavenly realms and also remember his ancestors.

By chanting the scriptures Taoists can rinse and purify their heart to communicate with the deities. It is an important key to immortality and to ascend the heavenly realms.

 Reciting of the scriptures also allow Taoists to practice and study the scriptures, so that they would not forget the teachings of the Patriarchs. Reciting the scriptures daily reminds us to earn merits and cultivate ourselves diligently.


How do Taoists offer incense and pay respect?

  • Offering incense (joss-sticks):

Facing the sacred image of the deity, hold the joss-sticks with the right hand in front of the chest(heart), and cup the left hand over the right hand. When offering incense, the right hand should cover the left sleeve of one’s attire, Place the joss-sticks in the incense burner with the left hand. Silently recite the spell for offering incense.

  • The gesture of “Embracing the Supreme Ultimate(tai-ji)”.

Cover the right fist with the left hand, and bring both hands up to chest-level.

  • Prostration and paying homage to the deities:

(i) Stand behind the cushion, with toes pointing outwards at a distance of 2-3 inches between the heels.

(ii) When bowing, join and raise both hands up to the chest.

(iii) Withdraw the right hand and place the left hand on the heart when kneeling, and put the right hand on the cushion to support the body. Kneel steadily, before placing the left hand on the back of the right hand, and bow. Recite the sacred name of the deity sincerely.

What is the “Taoist Calendar”?

  •  The Taoist Calendar is a system of reckoning time used by Taoists. It is based on a cycle of sixty years, and modeled after the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The first year of the Taoist Calendar dates back to the first year of the Regime of the Yellow Emperor(2697BC).The year 2019 is the 4716nd year of the Taoist Calendar.
  • During the Tang Dynasty Lao Tzu was honored as the ancestor of the Tang Imperial family, and the year Lao Tzu was born (1300BC) was regarded as the beginning of the Taoist Calendar. However after the Song Dynasty, Taoists reverted to the calendar based on the year the Yellow Emperor ascended the throne.
  • However, during Taoist Fasts and Rituals the sixty-year cycle lunar calendar will be used (written) on memorials and documents, instead of the Taoist Calendar.


Why do Taoist priests keep long hair and wear traditional costumes?

(i)A priest who renounced worldly pleasures to cultivate the Dao will keep his hair long and tie it into a bun priests determination to practice and cultivate the “Dao”, and also to keep the long hair neat by tying it up as such.

(ii)Among the reasons a priest keep his hair long is to follow the laws of nature whereby the hair is allowed to grow freely. It is also to signify filial piety. Taoists believe that our hair is a gift from our parents and it should not be easily cut away

(iii) Taoists believe that keeping long hair will promote good health. Frequent combing and washing of hair is a form of massage for the scalp and this promotes blood circulation, thus reducing the chances of falling sick. Hence, Taoists keep long hair and tie it up neatly into a bun.

  •  Taoist Priests wear the traditional costume (robes) to preserve the rich traditional Chinese culture. The Taoist robes illustrate the distinctive ethnic characteristics of the Han Chinese Culture.

How do Taoists make wishes and repay wishes?

  • Taoists pray to the deities to seek blessings, and pray that their wishes will come true, and at the same time they also make promises to the deities
  • Repaying wishes means repaying what the person promised the deities, when the wishes are fulfilled.
  • There is no need to select an auspicious day to make wishes. One can make wishes or repay wishes anytime.
  • It will be good if one can bathe and cleanse himself/herself, abstain from meat and refrain from uttering vulgarities before making wishes. Offer three sticks of incense and pray sincerely to the deities, silently express the wishes and entreat the deities to answer them.
  • The scale of making wishes can be minor or major, and it can be by doing some good deeds, reciting scriptures, making offerings, sculpting of images and statues of deities, printing and distributing the sacred scriptures or by donating to and repairing temple.
  • One must remember to honor his/her promises when the wishes are fulfilled.

How do Taoists address each other?

(i) One can address Taoists as “dao-zhang”(Dao elder), “xian- zhang”(Heavenly elder), “shi-xiong” (Brother), “shi-fu” (Master), “da-shi” (Great master), “ye” (elder).

(ii) Taoism is different from Buddhism. and Taoist priests do not change or renounce their surname. One can address them by their surname, for example Chen dao-zhang (Dao elder Chen), or “Chen ye”( Elder Chen).

(iii) Taoist priests may have different appointments and duties in the temple, and one can also address them according to their appointments,like “Chairman”, “Abot”, “Supervisor”, etc.

  • When Taoist priests meet, they will greet each other by cupping up their hands in front of their chest, bow and respectfully say “ci-bei”(Mercy) or “Fu Sheng Wuliang Tianzun”(Happiness bestowing Lord of Boundless Heavens).


How is the “Ghost festival” on the 15th day of the lunar 7th month related to Taoism?

The Chinese “Ghost festival” is in fact a misconception, and this festival should be known as the “Zhong Yuan” Festival, or the Taoist festival of the Middle Origin which falls on the 15th day of the lunar 7th month Taoists celebrate the birthday of the Earth Official on this day. According to the Taoist Texts the earth Official will descend to the mortal world on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month to observe and determine our merits and sins. On this occasion Taoists temples will set up altars for the priests to recite scriptures and perform salvation rituals for all beings.

Taoists believe that on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, spirits will leave the netherworld to be examined and judged on their wrongdoings and sins. Devotees may take part in Taoist fasts and rituals to seek the Earth Official’s mercy to pardon the sins of their ancestors and lead them to the heavenly realms. Because of the Taoist belief that spirits will leave the netherworld, many folks will pray to the wanderings spirits and lost souls on this day and gradually it became a popular Chinese tradition and festival.

What do the "Five Offerings" on a Taoist altar mean?

Taoists will prepare five different offerings on an altar, namely the incense, flower, lamp, water, and fruit. These offerings are known as the Five Offerings”in Taoism

  • Incense: The incense is an important element in a Taoist ritual as it acts as a communication tool between the Taoist and the deities The wishes and blessings of the priest will be sent to the heavenly deities and the spirits in the netherworld by this method. Taoists also believe that the smoke from the burning incense can get rid of negative elements and purify the altar.
  • Flower: Taoists offer flowers at the altar to create a serene and pleasant environment, to show their sincerity to the deities, and to hope that their sincerity will touch the heavens and lead the spirits to salvation.
  • Lamp: The lamp can brighten the heavens and illuminate the darkness of the netherworld. and opens a bright path to lead all beings to salvation.
  • Water: Water can purify and cleanse the spirits of the netherworld and allow them to regain their “true self ”.
  • Fruit: Usually Taoists will prepare offerings of five different fruits to represent the five element (meal, wood, water, fire, earth). Fruits are offered to the deities of the heavenly realms, signifying a wish that all beings will realize the truth and ascend to the heavens.

Why do we cultivate the "Dao"?

Cultivating the”Dao”gives man a deep insight into issues of life and death. Everyone will face illness and death; these are inevitable. Our body has limitations and is subjected to all sorts of conditions; we are bound to age as the years go by. Taoists believe that only “Dao” is eternal and everlasting. Hence, if man can unite and be together with “Dao”, we can surpass these limitations and live forever in the heavenly realms. Cultivating the “Dao” also brings us innumerable merits and benefits. Through cultivation, we can calm our heart and soul, prevent illness, prolong life, and increase our wisdom. Performing good deeds and accumulating merits will bring harmony to our society and to everyone. The deities will take note of our merits, in turn will bless us and eliminate disasters on our behalf.

How are the Heaven and Earth formed?

Taoists believe that all myriad things in the universe have its rules of evolution, and the universe is not created by a single deity. The universe was created naturally together with the “Dao”. The Book of Dao and its Virtue (Dao De Jing) mentioned that”all myriad things in the universe were born from existence, and existence was born from non-existence”. Everything in the universe evolves from “non-existence” to “existence”, the basis of all origins. The Book of Dao and its Virtue also pointed out that “Dao” forms one, one forms two, two forms three, and three forms into all myriad things”. The “one” (Dao) contains the two energies (“yin” and “yang”), and these two energies forms the three realms (heaven, earth and water), which then slowly forms the universe. All things in the universe were formed a very long time ago before evolving to the state it is in now.

How can a Taoist practice at home?

Taoists who are initiated (gui-yi) not only have to be sincere in the faith, but must also learn the art of cultivation of the “Dao”. If a Taoist does not practice cultivation, he will have to undergo endless cycles of rebirth. There are many methods of cultivation;

the four main ones are as follows:

  • Comply with the five basic Taoist precepts:

(i) Abstain from killing,

(i) Abstain from meat and alcohol,

(ii) Abstain from false speech Abstain from theft,

(iv) Abstain from sexual misconduct.

  • By loving and caring for others and accumulating merits.
  • Recite the sacred names and titles of the deities, practice and recitethe Taoist scriptures, repent and follow the teachings where allbeings are led to salvation.
  • To take good care of our health, revitalize our mind and to refinethe”Golden Elixir”.

Why do Taoists pray to "shen" (Deity)?

“Shen” (Deity) refers to beings and sages who have divine powers, mastered the art of cultivation, accumulated great merits, and have realized the truth of life and death. Everyone will meet with all types of joy and sufferings, encounter their share of troubles, harbour different types of expectations, but would not be able to find an answer to these problems on their own. By praying to the deities, however, one can share his or her happiness and woes, and also his or her feelings with them. Taoists believe that the deities, being compassionate and perfect beings, will answer their prayers and shower blessings on them. Moreover, when these believers pray to the deities, they are in fact respecting and praising these divine beings. Great virtue and merits as well as affirming that they would abide by the teachings of these enlightened ones. If we are able to perform good deeds like the deities, the deities will reward us by granting our wishes and bestowing us with blessings.


Why do Taoists burn incense (joss sticks)?

Burning of incense is a practice that has its roots since ancient times.Taoists believe that smoke from the lighted incense can convey wishes and messages to the deities. It is documented in the Taoist Scriptures that:” One should learn the ‘Dao’ sincerely and wholeheartedly, and our sincerity can be expressed to the deities by the burning incense” The smoke can carry our wishes to the deities of the nine heavens. When the incense is being lighted, the Taoist would have to visualize the sacred image of the deities being invoked, and believe that the deities have descended to the altar to listen to their petitions. Incense is also used as an ofering to the deities, for it is believed that the smoke emitted can purify and rid the area of negative energies and smell.

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