A religion is defined as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe." Taoism is not a set of scriptures that give guidelines for instructed beliefs to follow, but is more like a state of mind or a subconscious life-style. It is hard for Westerners to understand exactly what Taoism is using Western ideas.
Taoism is believed to be originated by Lao Tzu. Although it is not confirmed that Lao Tzu may not have really existed, he is considered the Father of Taoism. According to traditions, he was born around 600 B.C. Legends of Lao Tzu are the only sources for information about his life. One legend says that he was conjured up of a shooting star and another says he was already born an old, wise man.
The "Tao" in Taoism means "way" or "path." Tao is composed of fundamental concepts of nature that everything must adhere to. Taoism was quite opposite from what Confucius taught. Confucius preached order for organizational social institutions whereas Taoist taught the philosophy of "Wuwei," meaning living harmoniously with nature.
Some Taoists were religiously affiliated. They worshipped gods that represented the "way." These Taoists tried to comprehend the harmony of nature and by doing so they had the ability to change nature. They also developed the arts of ceremonial magic. Most Taoists weren't associated with religious rituals, but instead studied and manipulated different arts to improve them. Some arts developed were medicine, gymnastics, acupuncture and massage. These aesthetic Taoists looked for peace and bliss from nature. Thus, their martial arts were heavily influenced by animals and insects of nature.
A major concept of Tao is the idea of duality. According to Tao, everything has opposing sides from one another. Whether it be biological (boy/girl), physical (hot/cold), or moral (good/bad), the universe is full of opposites. When these oppositions are combined, then existence is the result. Yin or Yang cannot exist individually, but can only exist if they are together. This is what Tao is. To show this, the the "fish symbol" is used to depict the relation of the Yin and Yang. The Tao symbol has the two sides of Yin and Yang with dots of opposite duality concept within them. The Yin dot is within the Yang side and vise-versa. Parts that have been left out in contemporary designs of the symbol are the arrows that displayed the dynamic interaction between the two.
"shaolin overview @ shaolin.com." Shaolin Gung Fu (kung fu) Institute @ shaolin.com. 1997. Shaolin Gung Fu (kung fu) Institute. 18 Jul 2007 <http://shaolin.com/shaolin_philosophy.aspx>.
Taoism: The Way:[City Edition] BOB REEVES. Lincoln Journal Star. Lincoln, Neb.:Sep 28, 2002. p. 03