Digest of terms

Taoist ethics

T/Daoism is a highly variegated tradition, and one of ongoing academic reappraisal, so generalisation is difficult. Indeed the early Tao-te Ching, attributed to Lao-tzu, is notoriously vague. The central concept of the Tao, the Way, seems in earlier interpretations to represent the natural course of things from which humans have deviated (in later interpretations it is understood to be a cosmic source of spiritual power), and Taoism is intended to show how to return to it, thus restoring lost harmony and enabling human fulfilment, not only in terms of the individual but also of society as a whole. Yet the key to ameliorating society is to transform the character of individuals through attuning themselves to the Tao.

The ensuing virtue is described paradoxically as wu-wei, active inaction, a kind of tranquility resulting from absence of desires. At times Taoist ethics merged with Confucian ethics construed as instantiating society's harmony with the Tao. Yet in other traditions emphasis was placed on harmony with nature, involving diet, gymnastic exercises, breathing exercises, and sexual rituals; meditation and asceticism.

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