Daoism and Cct

Religious Beliefs

What do Daoists believe about ultimate spiritual reality or God?

Daoists call the ultimate spiritual reality “Dao,” the Way. Long before the formal beginnings of Daoism’s various movements and school, Chinese tradition used the term “Dao” as a general ethical notion implying the appropriate and moral way of acting. As so often happens when a religious tradition enters a new cultural setting, Buddhism’s arrival in China led some thinkers to talk of a Buddhist “Way” in contrast with which they began to define an indigenous Chinese “Way” in the sense of religious beliefs and values. Daoist philosophers emphasized the unfathomable mystery of the Dao, but they viewed it as non-personal power rather than a personal divine entity. The religious equivalent seems to have been a deity called the Supreme Oneness (Tai Yi).

The Dao De Jing’s description of how the transcendent Dao became manifest suggests a type of emanation: Dao gave rise to the One, which produced the Two, and so on. That grand and uplifting description of the ultimate mystery still remained a bit too abstract for most people. As a result, when the first schools of religious Daoism began to formulate their beliefs they naturally gravitated toward more concrete imagery. That included the deification of the individual long believed to represent the Way as an accessible teaching—namely, Lao Zi. The process also led to personification of certain essential features of the mysterious Dao in the form of the heavenly triad called the Three Pure Ones. Developments of this sort multiplied, and the deities took on life stories and personalities that invited devotional interaction. In practice, the many personifications of divinity are arrayed according to an administrative structure parallel to that of the imperial bureaucracy. Religiously speaking, of course, the reality is just the other way around: the imperial institutions imitated the heavenly order of things.

The Taad-Dao Waterfall in Sri Satchanalai National Park, Sukhothai, Thailand. In the Daoist tradition, problems arise in life when humans attempt to control nature rather than living in harmony with it.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App