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What is the importance of introspection in Taoism?














































IB World Religions B4

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Word Count: 1,799







A         Rationale and Preliminary


In my freshman year World Cultures
class, I was exposed to several eastern religions, including Buddhism, Taoism,
and the teachings of Confucius. While I found all three incredibly intriguing, it was the mystery of the Tao that caught my attention, but I did not allow it much room inmy mind. Last year, while going through a period of personal uncertainty, the teachings of the Tao were a constant presence in the back of my mind. Unable to ignore these thoughts, Iquickly  picked UP a few books on the topic, including (
the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu and The Tao bv Mark Forstater. This year, when  . presented with the opportunity to research a critical aspect of a philosophy or system of beliefs in my International Baccalaureate World Religions class, Iimmediately   thought to
further my examination of the religion of Taoism. Having a little bit of a background in

the topic already, I was very drawn  to the idea of discovering what is the importance  of

introspedioD  in Taoism? The concept of introspection struck me as relevant due to the

evident and necessary balance in Taoism between the mind and body and how this

harmony is achieved. As a hopeful
future psychologist, the importance of introspection in

a general lifestyle appealed to my senses
of reason as well, and I thought of it to be all the

more applied in a religion in which  one’s Self is so fundamental.


Upon choosing the subject of study) I referenced the aforementioned books, knowing fully the weight of my inquiry
and looking to discover of what points in each book I would be able to draw from. I found myself highlighting many seemingly complex concepts, ana naggmg
pages of interest. Next, I used these books’ ideas to formulate specific questions to be answered in a later interview that would help me to be more detailed in my investigation.


Next, I cross-referenced my understanding of the book sources with a helpful and reliable internet source: http://www.religioustolerance.orgltaoism.htm.This  allowed me to discover that my reason for interest in the connection between introspection and the

Taoist philosophies were tied in more than just my mind. My assumptions were confirmed when I ascertained that Taoism began as not a faith but as a combination of psychology and philosophy.                                .


B        Plan for Study


As I prepare to enlighten myself as to what the importan~e  of intrwpecOOB in Tao~m is, my intent is to exhibit the ways in which concepts involved in introspection as well as Taoism are connected and to identify the importance of this correlation. Within the Summary of Significant Findings, I will explain
the fundamentals of Taoism as I have come
to understand them through my research. Here I will also discuss information brought to light in my interview with a person rooted ineastern religions, a local Tai Chi instructor. In the Critical Reflection and Evaluation, I will interpret various theories
brought to my attention through the reading of various sources and recognition of ideations that are relevant to what is found in my research. I will also analyze

relevance of my experience with one or more practices of an eastern

the mind and body, specifically Tai Chi and/or yoga classes and meditation based upon






common ideals shared among Taoists. By connecting my research
to my
experiences, I

be able to articulately express
the link between introspection and Taoism.


C         Summary  of Signifieant Findings


Taoism consists of the maintenance ofa
 great balance,
of the equilibrium found between self and universe. responsiveness and activity, and the difference
between the realization
and actualization of potentiaL The creed of the Reform Taoist
Congregation as found on
the website for the Ontario Consultants of Religious Tolerance
states the following:

“We believe
in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred,

intolerance, and unnecessary violence,
and embrace harmony,
love and

learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in
the Tao, that we may live in peace and balance with the Universe, both
in this mortal life and beyond” (Robinson,

Tao is a mysterious concept. Lao Tzu, who authored
the Tao Teh Ching, was very keen

on the idea that the “inner essence” of the Tao should be studied,
as contrasted with the
concern for any materialistic values of it. In this most treasured
writing, Lao Tzu wrote that “Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao”
(Tao reh  Ching, translated by

John C.H. Wu),
It would then be suggested
that Tao cannot truly be defined except for in

one’s own personal manner.
It is therefore the ultimate
goal of each Taoist to harmonize

himselfwith  the Tao through
personal action (Robinson),


Originally, Chinese philosophers were attempting to name the collective substance

that is behind everything we know as humans
– ideas, animate objects, people,
etc    . (Forstater), They came to call this energy Chi, and its source
was the Tao (Forstater).
The Chinese of course came to this realization by taking in what was around them, but

especially from studying the energies and thought processes
from within themselves (Forstater). Consequently, the Yin Yang symbol that is most often related
to Taoism is called
the Tai Chi (Forstater).
The martial arts fornjby the same name has come to be identified as a part of modem Taoism, and I was f6″rtunate enough to try a class and interview the instructor.


,of Erie, Pennsylvania stated that “Taoists are very introspective people.” went on to describe
how crucial balance is in Taoist philosophies, and in

particularly, the focus on negative space.
He described the importance of negative space to be relative to accepting
what is not.                 also told of how, in opposition to those
of other Eastern belief systems,
Taoists are looking
to prolong life and find spiritual
immortality. Throughout the Tai Chi class, it became apparent
to me that the balance

was talking
about was not only spiritual, but physical as well. In modern
times, the mind-body
connection of West em
thought has been applied to the originally only

intellectual concept of Taoism, and now Taoists excel in martial arts forms such as Tai
Chi, as well as in many forms
of herbal and alternative medicine
(‘               ). The important thing to realize
about the art form that is Tai Chi is that it is a responsive form of
martial arts which is used to avoid combative fighting
and movements involved in






such forms (               ). Instead,  one who is using Tai Chi as a form of defense uses their

opponent’ s strength against them (              ):


My rationale for beginning this investigation had me inquiring as to the vitality of Self as

it is described in Taoism and the comparison or contrast with the self we know as our

own person. My reading
and interview have helped me to discover that it is a statement

of comolete veracity
to say that
Tao is a realization of self and an ever hopeful
reach for

Self  While much of my core exploration was done by written word, I believe that the Tai Chi class and interview allowed me to experience Taoism in a real form, as much of it is so abstract




D         Critical Reflection and Evaluation


My topic question that Icame to research  stemmed from my curiosity towards the Taoist philosophy in general. but more importantly, from my inquisitiveness about the connections between
religious philosophy
and psychology. Imade the assumption that because Taoism is a religion  based much uooahow    to
better oneself to live in harmony with the way that is Tao, it must be Important for one to be self aware. Through my research; Ihave realized that one must be very conscientious of their own person in order to reach full accord with Tao, and obviously, this is the ultimate goal of the religion.


Though the connection between
introspection and
Taoism became obvious with very

little research;
Iwished to discover why this connection existed. Upon further inquiry  and

reading, Ideduced that the reasons for which a Taoist may be considered an introspective
person fundamentally stem from the most ancient questions that Taoism is based upon. Tao is a complex theory. As aforementioned, there is no human  way to define Tao, but it

can be felt and known. Tao is the way of the world, the reason for everything, and an ever-existing presence. Tao is manifested in
the way people treat themselves, others, and the universe. The sacred inquiries that Taoists are asked require them to answer with

calm and ever-respectful, all-embracing actions, words, thoughts, and energies. As the

questions are quite demanding
(How is one’s Self actualized?
 Are you able to keep the

spirit and vital soul balanced? What is the dissimilarity to be found between good and evil”), I believe it would be necessary to know as much about oneself as possible. This is because in knowing who you are and how you have become who you are; you realize just why you are that person.



Taoism is a religion different from most others in that there is no prayer and no venerated deity. Instead, Taoists “seek answers
to life’s problems through inner meditation and

outer observation” (Robinson).
Knowing this is one thing, but it is something entirely

different  to apply it to contemporary lifestyles. Iwas  up to the challenge. Nearly

everyday. Ifound myself channeling what Icame to call the “power of the universe” (it is not uncommon
for believers to vary their name for the Tao, as no definition is absolute). I did this through meditation and breathing exercises
that I had learned elsewhere and also
by calling to mind the Tao as I saw it reflected in everyday life. This proved interesting,







as while I am still on a search for religious
consolation, I became  quite
comfortable with

the concept of Tao.


As I quickly  found out, it is commonly misconstrued that Tai Chi as a martial  art is an interval part of Taoism. Tai Chi later became associated with the religion as they mirror
sunnarpnncipals,   namely, the idea of negative space. Though my resources were extremely helpful, a few questions were presented that I would hope to defer to a practicing Taoist in the future. This included my wondering if there is ever a personal moment where one realizes that Tao
has been  achieved, or if, like many things, it is a never ending process. In the spirit of the psychological
 nature of my research question, I have been brought to also wonder ifthere is a manner by which Taoists project their wholesome balance
upon the more chaotically  prone population.


E         References and CompHance with the Format


Forstater, Mark. The Tao : The Living Wisdom Series. New York: Plume, 2003.


M            ,E    Personal interview. 20 Oct. 2008.


Robinson, B.A. “Taoism (a.k,a. Daoism).”  29 Feb. 2008. Ontario

Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 1 Oct. 2008



Tzu, Lao. Tao Teh Ching. Trans. John C. Wu. Minneapolis: Shambhala Publications.  – Incorporated, 2006.

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