Login

The Origins of Taoism: History, the Uncarved Block & Tao-Te Ching

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Taoism as ''The Way'': Yin and Yang & the Wu-wei Concept

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 Lack of Historical Evidence
  • 1:12 Attempts at Definition
  • 2:17 Pu
  • 3:12 Western Link
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will seek to explain the rather nebulous founding of Taoism. In doing so, it will explore the concepts of the Tao and the Pu, while also highlighting the role Lao-tzu played in the formation of this ancient Eastern philosophy.

Lack of Historical Evidence

When a lesson is titled 'Origins of Taoism,' one would assume it would include things like the date in which Taoism was founded, or at the very least the name of its founder. However, when it comes to Taoism, also spelled Daoism, this is simply not the case. As most scholarly sources will tell you, Taoism has no real founder nor does it have a founding date. In fact, the closest most educational sources will come to assigning a date to Taoism is to say it formed into a religious system within the lands of China sometime around the 4th or 3rd century BCE.

When it comes to who actually got the Taoist ball rolling, things get even trickier. Some scholars cite a man named Lao-tzu, also spelled Laozi, as the first to receive the inspiration of the Tao. However, not many agree on when he lived, with some even asserting he's not and never was an actual historical person. The fact that Lao-tzu actually just means 'old master' lends some credence to the idea that the guy was more of an ideal than an actual person.

Attempts at Definition

Making a lesson on the origins of Taoism even a bit more complicated and even more non-Western, if you look up the definition of Taoism, you'll find more of a description than a definition. As Webster states, Taoism is a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu that stresses living simply and honestly and in harmony with nature. Like I said, it's a description more than a definition. The main reason for this is that our Western terminology doesn't really have a translation for the Eastern concept of the Tao. The best we've come up with is to sort of translate the Tao as 'The Way.'

To put it as simply as possible, The Way is a returning to one's original state of being before things like experience and life got in the way. It's the idea that all of nature was once a blank slate and that we as humans should try our best to return to this state of unfettered existence. Even as I say that, I understand how foreign and confusing it sounds. However, we'll keep going, trying to somehow link Taoism to our Western paradigm.

Pu

This being said, one of the main tenants of Taoism is the concept of the pu. Coming from the Tao-te Ching, the main text of Taoism, the pu is translated as 'the uncarved block.' Again, trying to state it as simply as possible, the concept of the pu forms the basis for the Taoist belief that all of nature was at its most powerful when it was in its original, unchanged, and natural form. In other words, things were better before they were carved into something new.

It's the belief that nature was at its best before prejudice entered the picture. However, this idea of prejudice is not our Western idea of racial superiority or class struggle. Instead it's the concept of existence before the development of things like right and wrong, good and bad, or ugly and beautiful. It's a state of being completely devoid of any judgment calls or concerns.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support