Catholic Perspective on Taoism
By Luke Lancaster
Taoism has elements of eastern religion and eastern philosophy bound up together. It has around 20 million members and is mainly based in China. The central focus of Taoism is the Tao: the way of the universe. This “way” involves universal balance, harmony, and order. That is why Taoism has the black and white Ying-Yang balance sign. Similar to the Christian Bible, the foundational text of Taoism is the Tao Te Ching. This book is vastly shorter than the Bible, for it is only around 5,000 words (81 stanzas). One particular emphasis of the book is humble meditation on the Tao for reaching transcendence. Now, the author of the book is the 5th century BC sage named Lao Tzu. He is considered one of the great Celestial Masters and they believe that he will come again in the future to commence the era of Great Peace. Some Taoists worship him as a god amidst their other various deities, whereas others do not.
A significant aspect of Taoism is known as wu wei, that is, “non-action.” This refers to going with the flow, effortless living, or non-assertiveness. This puts one in line with the Tao. People just need to quietly live a detached life and everything essential will happen. For example, if someone was stuck on a math problem, wu wei may suggest just attentively going with the flow in silence. No need to worry, for the answer will become clear in its own time. Lao Tzu says, “Do your work, then step back” (Tao Te Ching, ch. 9). The trees, the rivers, and the clouds do not rush their growth, rather, they grow naturally. Reaching this mentality of effortless action or purposeful acceptance is aided by utilizing the three treasures of Taoism: compassion, frugality, and humility. Practicing these treasures, going with the flow, and living in the Tao are the keys to Taoism.
The Taoist understanding of living in line with the Tao - wu wei - sounds similar to the Christian understanding of living in line with God’s fatherly providence. This providence of God leads one to experience the fruit of the Holy Spirit – peace (Galatians 5:22). As St. Alphonsus Ligouri said, “Accept everything as coming from the hand of God and you will be a saint.” For just as the birds of the air are provided for by God in ease, so also Christians are provided for by God (Matthew 6:26). Just as Taoists live in peace and acceptance, so Christians live in peace and acceptance.
The Tao is different from Christianity’s concept of God. Taoism believes that this mysterious Tao came before God (Tao Te Ching, ch. 4). Tao is not a being like God, so there is a blatant difference between the two. The universe is governed, not by God, but by the Tao for them. Yet, the very concept of God is that He is the uncaused cause of the created universe, the infinite being outside of time. God is the first cause of everything in existence and such an understanding excludes the possibility of something else existing before God. So, the Tao could not have existed before God. Thus, Taoism's entire emphasis on living in line with the Tao is very different from Christianity's emphasis on living in line with God - as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
“World Religions” by Joe Heschmeyer
“The Catholic Encyclopedia” by Robert Broderick