Taoism refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions that have influenced East Asia for more than two millennia, and have had a notable influence on the western world since the 19th century. The word Tao, literally translated as "path" or "way", although in Chinese folk religion and philosophy it carries more abstract meanings. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos, health and longevity, and wu wei (action through inaction), which is thought to produce harmony with the universe.
Taoism is a combination of philosophical and psychological ideas that developed into a religion following its adoption as a state religion in 440 AD. However state support for Taoism ended with the fall of the Chi'ng Dynasty in 1911. Unfortunateluy, much Taoist lore was destroyed or lost during the period of war that followed. Then after the Communist victory in 1949, religios freedom was greatly restricted. Some forms of Taoism may be traced to prehistoric folk religions in China that later coalesced into a Taoist tradition. Laozi is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism and is closely associated in this context with "original", or "primordial", Taoism. Laozi received imperial recognition as a divinity in the mid second century B.C.E. Taoism gained official status in China during the Tang Dynasty, whose emperors claimed Laozi as their relative.
Taoism has several different manifestations in the modern world. Popular taoism (folk religion and beliefs) is widespread throughout east asia. It can be seen in forms of reverence for ancestor spirits, and in cultural artifacts such as the immortals and the celestial bureaucracy. Organized religious Taoism distinguishes its ritual activity from that of the folk religion, which some professional Taoists (Daoshi) view as debased. Many skills and professions take Taoism as a core element, and so activities as diverse as Chinese alchemy (including Neidan), astrology, cuisine, differing Chinese martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine, feng shui, and qigong see themselves as expression of taoism. Taoist philosophy has been exported to the Western world without the religious structures that surround it in the east, and has taken on a separate life of its own in that context.
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