It is estimated that there are over 200 million believers in China. This is indicative of the depth of spiritual belief that China has to offer to both its citizens as well as wide-eyed travelers. This is especially true when you contrast the beliefs in China with those in New Zealand. Most New Zealanders identify as Christians, but Christianity does not rank as one of the top 5 religions in China. So, if you would like to acquire a new spiritual perspective, then China is definitely the place for that. While it may be desirable to absorb all Chinese culture and beauty in the span of one visit, this would be impossible. To learn the nuances of language in a country of over a billion people, the different foods, the drinks, the martial arts, and the religions would take a considerable amount of time. One thing is clear though: Chinese culture is rooted in spirituality. While it would not be possible to delve into every cultural aspect, it is possible to focus on one of the main ones: Taoism.
Understanding the Tao
‘The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao,’ so begins the core text on Taoism: the Tao te Ching. This is all well and good as far as memorability goes but makes it more than a little difficult for new practitioners to understand, for how do you describe the indefinable? But outside these philosophical concerns, the concept of Tao is as simple as it is beautiful. Taoism is basically defined as ‘doing according to nature’. It’s usually contrasted with Confucianism which places an emphasis on rules and structure for a better life. Now for citizens with a Christian background, the lack of rules may seem quite strange. The Tao does not really give a blueprint for living as the Bible does. However, this may be considered one of its good qualities as it does not place you at odds with any of Christianity’s major principles.
The main focus of the Tao is non-action, or going with the flow. This central concept of Tao can be identified in a number of spiritual practices that have a focus on reducing individualism by emphasizing unity with nature. This link is especially clear in out of body experiences such as astral projection which places emphasis on a loose connection with the physical body in order to access the large celestial sphere. Given all these theories on Taoism, you may be wondering how a curious traveler can practice Taoism while learning more about it. There is one major principle of Tao that you can incorporate in your travels.
The basic principle of Tao is based on the principle of flowing with nature as opposed to being in opposition with its forces. However, it would be difficult to mimic something you barely understand, so part of the teaching of Tao involved observing the environment so you could learn from it. In olden times, this translated best in going out into the wild and communing with the birds, the animals, and the earth. From these studies then, one would learn to shape their actions such that they were in harmony with nature.
This principle is as applicable now as it was when it was first given. It is especially applicable to travelers: it would mean, in this case, that you should spend more time observing and learning the Chinese way of life when you get there so you can flow with it more easily. If you are able to do this without preconceptions and trying to live as you do back home, you may find that rather than just playing spectator to the beauty and culture of China, you can fully immerse yourself in it. By traveling in this way while reading the Tao te Ching for guidance, you get the benefit of learning about Eastern Spirituality not only theoretically but practically as well.
The Tao is one of the major religions in China with millions of followers. Its precepts and teachings can be as valuable today as in the centuries it has existed.