Philosophical Taoism

“In that sense, Zen is not religion. In that sense, Zen is that which goes beyond, and contains within itself, religion. In fact, Zen may be said to be a world where man can be completely emancipated from religion.”
–Shôei Andô

“All that you can do is wish them well”
–Neil Peart

“The playfulness that is so conspicuous in Taoism and Zen is not an indication of superficiality. Rather it an an expression of the profound insight that lies below the surface of appearances. Sobriety struggles with the world; playfulness dances with it.”
–Ray Grigg 

Words are used to communicate with various degrees of accuracy and precision. Both accuracy and precision can be improved by learning and following the agreed upon definitions of words and, perhaps, by working to evolve those definitions when they no longer serve a useful function. The discussion of religious and philosophical Taoism as distinct entities (and perhaps of Zen and Taoism as largely one and the same) is almost fully realized by simply reading some definitions. In this case the definitions are simply adapted from the Apple Dictionary.

Philosophy: The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.
Religion: The belief in and worship of a superhuman power or powers, especially a God or gods.
Zen: Peaceful and calm; Originated from Japanese, literally ‘meditation’, from Chinese chán ‘quietude’, and from Sanskrit dhyāna ‘meditation’.
Buddhism: A widespread Asian religion, founded by Siddartha Gautama in northeastern India in the 5th century bce.
Zen Buddhism: A Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition.
Taoism: A Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu (fl. 6th century bce), advocating humility and religious piety.

Further on Taoism from the same dictionary, “The central concept and goal is the Tao, and its most important text is the Tao-te-Ching. Taoism has both a philosophical and a religious aspect. Philosophical Taoism emphasizes inner contemplation and mystical union with nature; wisdom, learning, and purposive action should be abandoned in favor of simplicity and wu-wei (nonaction, or letting things take their natural course). The religious aspect of Taoism developed later, c. 3rd century ad, incorporating certain Buddhist features and developing a monastic system.

Religious Taoism
Religious Taoism, not often recognized or discussed in the western world, refers to an institutional Taoist Church in addition to a collection of beliefs aimed at extending life (perhaps to immortality), preserving health, and preserving sexual vitality. Methods that have been practiced include an elaborate yoga, use of medicinal herbs, prescribed body movements, magic, and alchemy. 

Philosophical Taoism
On the other hand philosophical taoism focusses on the way (tao) of nature. And while it can be considered mystical, there is no need to cross the boundaries of science into magic. It is largely derived from the writings of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, dating back more than 2000 years, and relies on non-doing, or letting nature take its course, through meditation. This meditation teaches one to let things proceed as they should. Philosophical taoism, like zen with a small “z”, was never institutionalized and has been passed along to student from teacher without the interference of an organized church.

Zen Taoism
Combining all of the above, and relying heavily on Grigg’s “The Tao of Zen”, the following definition of a philosophy of zen taoism can be derived, contemplated, and informally followed without becoming a religion. That extension could also be made, but is unlikely given the philosophical underpinnings.

Zen Taoism: A philosophy based on the teachings of Lao-tzu in the sixth century B.C.E. It advocates preserving and restoring the Tao in the body and the cosmos through enlightenment attained by meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition.
Tao: The basic, eternal principle of the universe that transcends perceived reality and is the source of being, non-being, and change.
Principles: Wordlessness : Selflessness : Softness : Oneness : Emptiness : Nothingness : Balance : Paradox : Non-Doing : Spontaneity : Ordinariness : Playfulness : Suchness

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