What is Taoism?

The word “taoism” refers to two main branches: the religious Taoism – also called tao-chiao – and the philosophical one – called tao-chia (the school of Tao or of uniting with Tao).

The religious branch includes the proper religious system, similar with other religious systems such as Christianity – plus many schools or movements interested in life cultivation, immortality and magic.

The philosophical branch is described as a way of life inspired by the cosmic rhythms. In the words of Alan Watts: “Taoism [is] the way of man’s cooperation with the course or trend of the natural world…” (From Tao: The Watercourse Way.)

The philosophical Taoism was developed by Lao Tzu in his famous Tao Te Ching (The Classic of Tao and Te). Other philosophers, such as Lieh Tzu and Chuang Tzu, added their own contributions or extended the concepts of the Tao Te Ching.

Taoism sources

Aside the Tao Te Ching, there are a few other books which offer us basic information about Taoism.

The second in importance after the Lao Tzu’s book is his main disciple and follower Chuang Tzu’s book. Also we have to remember Lieh Tzu’s work named the Classic of Perfect Emptiness.


The Taoist philosophy is based on a few ideas: the pursuit of Tao, the practice of emptiness and nonaction, the reflection on the changing character of all things in the universe, finally on the irreversible character of death.

These ideas apply equally to retired sages as to political leaders, princes and sovereigns.

Related article:
-> Tao Te Ching Basic Concepts