As you may already know, “The Urban Monk,” Pedram Shojai, spent some years as a Taoist monk. But what is a Taoist monk? Or for that matter, what is Taoism? Is it a religion? Is it the same as Buddhism?
Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Taoism
Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism) is an ancient Chinese philosophy. It’s said to be based on the writings of 6th Century philosopher, Lao-tzu (sometimes referred to as Lao Zi).
Interestingly, Taoism is considered both a philosophy and a religion.
Lao-tzu’s writings first became a sort of “folk religion” in rural parts of China. Later, Taoism was adopted as an official Chinese religion under the Tang Dynasty. Taoism was later replaced by Confucianism and Buddhism, though it remained widely popular.1
Taoist philosophy centers around the concept of wu-wei or “not doing.” Taoists believe happiness and great wisdom come from:
- An empty mind
- Being in harmony with the universe
To reach this state, they practice breathing and meditation.
Taoist ideas are rooted in respecting and protecting nature. There is an emphasis on the harmony between humans and the environment.
At the root of Taoist philosophy is a symbol you may be very familiar with already –– the yin-yang. The yin and yang represent life’s opposing forces: dark and light, hot and cold, masculine and feminine, and so on.
But the small circles within the yin-yang symbol are to show that each half contains part of the other. They’re inseparable and interconnected. The idea is that even though the world is made up of polar opposites, one is not better than the other. They coexist.2
Buddhism and Taoism
On the surface, Buddhism and Taoism can appear similar. That’s because they have greatly influenced each other over the centuries. Neither believes in a single personal creator. Both rely on meditation to empty the mind and achieve goals.
The main difference is that Taoists believe that life is innately good but can be improved by following the tao, the “harmony of the universe.” Buddhists believe that life begins with suffering, but can be improved by following the four noble truths to enlightenment.3,4
So, What is a Taoist Monk?
A Taoist monk is a “priest” of Taoism. There are two main sects of Taoism that are predominant in China today: Zhengyi and Quanzhen.
Within Zhengyi Taoism, the monk is almost always married. In fact, marriage is actually required to become a priest of the highest rank. Priests or monks may be male or female. They don’t tend to live in monasteries. Instead, they live among the people and serve their own communities and temples.
In Quanzhen Taoism, monks and nuns tend to live in monasteries in the mountains and practice seclusion.5
A Taoist monk, or anybody practicing the Taoist arts, believes in the importance of physical and spiritual practice. There is also an emphasis on following a healthy diet. A pure body equals a pure mind.
Taoist Rituals include:
Meditation is important to Taoists for mental stillness and mindfulness. They believe it allows you to get in touch with “the way” – the harmony of the universe.
Tai Chi originates from Taoist exercises created in the 11th Century. Though tai chi is not deemed a religious practice, it’s seen as a complementary one. Tai chi incorporates slow, precise breath and body movements.
Qigong is another practice that’s often related to Taoism. It also incorporates slow breath and body movements, but it’s not rooted in martial arts.
Deliberate breath work and the slow movement of tai chi or qigong encourages the energy flow of the universe – or Qi (“chee”) – through the body.
Taoists often refrain from alcohol, sugar, caffeine, processed food, and animal products. They also avoid the five “strong vegetables”:
Taoists consider these allium vegetables stimulants. They’re seen as less than ideal for ecological, psychological, and physiological reasons.6,7
The Modern Taoist Monk
Now, there are many people who choose to study the Taoist arts and become a practicing Taoist monk in modern society. In fact, there are several schools within the United States where you can do so.
You can also choose to practice Taoist principles as a way of life by learning Taoist meditation, or by taking up tai chi or qigong.
Whatever you choose, the philosophies behind Taoism can be a great way to calm an overactive mind.
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