What Taoists Believe - Beliefnet.com
A 2,500-plus-year-old spiritual practice, Taoism (not unlike Zen) is like a "finger pointing at the moon." That is, Taoism states that words are just a sign to point to the nonconceptual ultimate reality. It is of value to not obsess over the conceptual pointer but to see the ultimate reality clearly.
The main texts of Taoism are the "Tao-te Ching" (The Book of the Way and Its Power) by Lao Tzu and "Inner Chapters" by Chuang Tzu. What follows focuses on the so-called Philosophical-Spiritual Taoism. An indigenous tradition that incorporates more divination and alchemy also exists.
• Belief in Deity
The supreme being/ultimate truth is beyond words or any conceptual understanding. When asked to name it, it is referred to as Tao or the Way. The Power of the Way is referred to as Te. Although Tao and Te are similar to other practices' ideas of God, Taoists seldom refer to God.
Taoism does not refer to any specific incarnation of God.
• Origin of Universe and Life
All matter is a manifestation of the Ultimate Reality. Generally, Taoist beliefs don't find modern scientific discoveries contradictory to Taoist thought; hence Fritjof Capra's "The Tao of Physics" is aptly named.
• After Death
Death has no particular meaning to Taoists.
• Why Evil?
To understand the Taoist notion of good and evil, it is important to distinguish between the "concept" of evil versus the "reality" of evil.
As a concept, Taoist do not hold the position of good against evil; rather they see the interdependence of all dualities. So when one labels something as a good, one automatically creates evil. That is, all concepts necessarily are based on one aspect vs. another; if a concept were to have only one aspect, it would be nonsensical.
The reality of good and evil is that all actions contain some aspect of each. This is represented in the t'ai chi, more commonly referred to as the yin-yang symbol. Any action would have some negative (yin) and some positive (yang) aspect to it. Taoists believe that nature is a continual balance between yin and yang, and that any attempt to go toward one extreme or the other will be ineffective, self-defeating, and short-lived. When people interfere with the natural balance by trying to impose their egoistic plans, they will not succeed; rather, the non-egoistic person allows nature to unfold, watching it ebb and flow from good to bad and back again.
Another way of understanding this is that the sage person understands the reality of good and evil, whereas the fool concentrates on the concept of good and evil. The sage knows that any evil will soon be replaced by good, the fool is forever fruitlessly trying to eliminate evil. Similar to the Buddhist concept of Sunyata ("the void"), good and evil are just empty conceptual abstractions that have no permanent independent existence.
Taoism is not a salvific practice. There is nothing that one needs to be saved from, and belief in salvation would lead to belief in damnation in the same manner as belief in good leads to belief in evil. Although they do not accept the false duality of salvation vs. damnation, living simply in harmony with Te and Tao, and not excessively pursuing material wealth, stature, or prestige, will lead to a joyful life.
• Contemporary Issues
Positions on abortion, homosexuality, divorce, nonviolence, and social-betterment programs are not unambiguously stated in the ancient texts. One might be able to derive a stance on these issues, but any such stance would be attenuated by the recognition that any stance is just a conceptual abstraction that has little usefulness.
Taoism would see expressing traditionally male and female roles as being in harmony. In some sects of Taoism, spiritual healing is practiced. Protecting nature is favored, though not by laws or injunction.