First of all, it is pronounced with a "D". Dow-ism. Tao means roughly "the path". Taoism has been around for a long time. Thousands of years. Many people have taught about it, and written about it. So I am simply repeating what many people have already said. It is a really old philosophy that originated in China. I think it is a really cool philosophy that is not a religion, nor does it intend to replace or discredit religion. It is simply a philosophy about life. I think it is pretty solid.
So here is the basic philosophy as I understand it...
No matter what your beliefs, life still seems to unfold. Whether totally planned, or totally random, we simply react to what happens to us. Whatever we plan on life being, or whatever we hope will happen, life often unfolds without any rhyme or reason. We beat ourselves up trying to figure life out. Which means we search for answers to why life is the way it is. We ask why people have to die, why life is unfair, why good people have crappy lives, and bad people have it easy. Why nature has to suffer, and why the planet needs to be damaged, species destroyed, etc... We end up trying to understand the universe and understand the intentions of life. Which is pretty egotistical to think that we can know all the answers. Most of us know that religion is based on faith. We don't truly “know” if anything we believe or experience is really true. We have no proof of an afterlife, or a divine plan, until we die, and we get to know for sure. And even then we may not get any answers. All we have to work with, is what we see in front of us. Life. Taoism can be believed, without disproving religious beliefs. All religious beliefs might be truthful. But you still live the same life as everyone else. Taoism is about how to deal with life, not about how to prepare for an afterlife. It is about living in the here and now.
Taoism is based on the idea that if you fight against the flow of life, you will be stressed, upset, unhappy, and will always be disappointed. Whatever you hope for your life, may fall apart at some point. If you have expectations for life, you will always be searching for new goals, or striving to maintain whatever happiness you have. If you strive for success, or money, you will feel like that is going to make you happy, when it may not. If it does, you will be striving to maintain it. If you lose that success, or never achieve it, you may never feel fulfilled or satisfied.
The main idea of Taoism is that you should just see what life brings you. To start out each day, and to not “expect” anything of it. Life may bring you horrible tragedy, or great happiness. Who knows? Maybe you will win the lottery. Maybe your family will be killed in a car crash. You really have no choice in the things life brings your way. You can do your best. You can strive. That is fine. But you can't stop life from doing what it will do. People will do things. Nature will do things. Randomness will do things. Chaos will do things. Blaming god for what happens, is futile. If there is a god, praying won't bring people back from the dead. And I am sure people pray to win the lottery all the time. But not many win. Things just happen. Life happens. The more you expect it to be good, or bad, the more you will be stressed and unhappy. If you expect nothing, anything that is good, is a blessing. If it is a beautiful day, enjoy it. It might have been raining. You might have woken up blind. You could be dead now. But you are alive and seeing a wonderful day. Enjoy it. Many people life really miserable lives. Appreciate what you have.
The true Taoist masters believe that you can live life in harmony with the flow of life. That you can just get up, and do what you want to do. You don't “have to” go to work if it sucks. You don't “have to” do anything that makes you unhappy. Sure, there are consequences to your actions. But you are a free human being. You can get up and go to the beach today. You don't have to put up with a bunch of crap if you don't want to.
A Taoist master who was walking through town, and there was a big commotion down one street. An ox was going nuts, and was blocking the street. People saw the master, and asked him what they should do, and how to fix the problem. The master looked at the angry animal, and saw the blocked street, and he simply turned around, and walked down another street.
It was a much less stressful choice to make. He could not calm the animal, and to try to change what was happening would be to struggle against life, and against nature. He was going with the flow, instead of struggling against it. You can just get up, and see what happens. What do *you* want to do? You have free will. You don't have to do anything you do not want to do. Society may not like it. But you can do what you want. You will be penalized and persecuted if you don't pay bills, don't play by the rules, etc. But that is the society we live in. You can choose to work within the bounds of society or not. It is up to you. But no one makes your choices for you about how you chose to live your life. It is up to you.
In a practical way, I would not advocate doing anything you want. If you do, you will probably have a pretty miserable life living in the modern “civilized” world. They don't like people who don't play by the rules. But it is good to know that you can do what you want if you want to. If you hate a job, you can quit, and see what happens. You may end up getting an awesome new job. Maybe you won't get a job. Maybe you will be unemployed. Maybe you won't like it, and will choose to keep the next job you have. But it will be because you chose to work over being hungry. Not because you feel you “have to” work. If you have to deal with something unhappy, unpleasant, or tragic, Taoism says you should accept it as something that happened. If you get fired, get divorced, or someone dies, etc, you can't take it back, and make life change. What has happened has happened. The more you struggle against it emotionally, the more pain you will experience. Your suffering will not change the outcome. Another one of my favorite Taoist stories is about the farmer.
There was a farmer who lived next to another farmer for many years, and were good friends. The one farmer was a Taoist. The Taoist farmer's son joined the army, and went off to war. One day, it was announced that the Taoist farmer's son had been killed in action. After a few days, the other farmer saw his old friend out plowing the fields, singing and smiling. He went out to offer his condolences. The farmer asked his friend why he was acting so happy. The other farmer replied,
“Many years ago, before my son was ever born, I was very happy. Why should I not be happy now?”
Obviously, any death is not happy. But the idea is that life can be good. If you have something wonderful and new, you are not guaranteed to keep it. A new child, new love, a new job, or financial success, may not last forever. Relationships come and go. Children leave home. Jobs end. People die. That is life. If people or things enhance your life, enjoy those things. If money makes you happy, enjoy it. If family makes you happy, enjoy it. If work makes you happy, enjoy it. But do not expect it all to last forever. It may or may not. That is why I try to enjoy life itself. I try to enjoy being alive. I try to enjoy the sky, the clouds, nature, etc. I enjoy love, people, work, money, etc. But I do not depend on them for my happiness. It still sucks to lose what you enjoy. But when you do, try to remember that is the nature of life. You can't depend on much. In fact, you can't depend on anything. You just have to roll with the flow. The more you fight against the flow, the more pain you experience. Here is a cool final quote for you from the Tao Te Ching:
People are born soft and supple.
Dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant.
Dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whomever is stiff and inflexible
Is a disciple of death.
Whomever is soft and yielding
Is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
Hope that helps explain it a bit.
Any question or ideas, feel free to contact me.
I love talking philosophy...
Here is a link to someone else's definition of the philosophy: