The taoist classics

The term ‘daoism’ (in the Pinyin romanisation) or ‘taoism’ (in the more traditional Wade-Giles romanisation) denotes a philosophical and religious translation that deeply influenced Chinese thought and was, together with Confucianism, that is in some respects its counterbalance, the main source of inspiration of a culture lasting for two thousand years.

The taoist tradition is characterised by a fluid nature, resisting all doctrinarian framing; by the emphasis it lays on spontaneity and the natural; by the rejection of conventional roles and customs; by the humour and irony with which it challenges the ordinary mind’s certainties; and finally by a subtle anarchist vein, harking back to a mythical past when laws and institutions had not yet suffocated the spontaneous expression of the authentic human being.

The Lao Tzu or Tao Te Ching (Laozi or Daodejing in Pinyin romanisation), usually regerded as the founding text of the daoist tradition starts with the famous verse: “The Dao that can be talked about is not the eternal Dao”. Dao, the Way, is the pivotal notion of the daoist tradition, but this notion, or rather non-notion, is not graspable through discursive knowledge: language is insufficient to contain it. Therefore daoism, rather than a doctrine, is a practice, an existential attitude, a way of relating with life, with the mystery of existence and with the world.

The meeting of daoism with Mahayana Buddhism, coming from India and Tibet, gave birth in the sixth century CE to the Chan tradition, which in turn, exported to Japan in the twelfth century generated the Zen tradition. The influence of daoism therefore extends over the culture of the whole Far East.

L’incontro del taoismo con il buddismo Mahayana, proveniente dall’India e dal Tibet, diede vita nel sesto secolo d.C. alla tradizione Chan, che a sua volta esportata in Giappone nel dodicesimo secolo generò lo Zen. L’influenza del taoismo compenetra perciò tutta la cultura dell’Estremo Oriente.

Beside the Lao Tzu, the canonocal texts of philosophical daoism include the Chuang Tzu and the Lieh Tzu.