The history of Daoism can conveniently be divided into four periods: Proto-Daoism, Classical Daoism, Modern Daoism and Contemporary Daoism.
The first period, Proto-Daoism, covers the time from antiquity up to the 2nd century C.E. The reason why this period is called "proto-Daoism" is that we have no knowledge of any formal Daoism religious organizations at this time. The classic works that were written during this period, the Daode Jing, the Zhuangzi in particular, were highly influential upon the flourishing of the classical Daoism tradition. Many textbooks on world religions still take this period as representing the essence of Daoism.
The second period, that of classical Daoism religion, starts in 142 C.E. when Zhang Daoling established the Way of the Celestial Masters, also known as the Way of Orthodox Unity, the first successful organized Daoism religious system. Daoism priests today claim to be ordained in a lineage that stretches back to this original founder. Two other important movements developed later during this period of classical Daoism religion: the Way of Highest Clarity (Shangqing Daoism) and the Way of Numinous Treasure (Lingbao Daoism). This period, between the 2nd and the 7th centuries can be called the classical period because scholars of Daoism look back to this time (known also as the medieval period of Chinese history) as the era in which many Daoist practices, texts and rituals initially took shape.
The period of modern Daoism begins with the Song Dynasty (960-1279), during which time the boundaries between elite Daoist religion, Buddhism, and local cults begin to be increasingly blurred. Based on the syncretism that began in this period, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate out Daoism as a religious category from the popular Chinese religious culture as it functions on the ground.
The fourth period, since 1949, has been a near-total catastrophe for Daoism, particularly during the period of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when many Daoist temples were destroyed and the overt functioning of the religion to all intents and purposes ceased to exist in mainland China. Since 1980 Daoism has begun to be practiced openly again in China and a new generation of Taoists are struggling to rebuild their temples and recover their tradition. On the other hand, through the emigration of many Chinese people across the world, Daoist temples have been established in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere and many popular Daoist practices such as Qigong and Taiji quan (Tai-chi) have taken root in the West. Until recently it was not certain that Daoism had survived this cataclysmic upheaval, but the study and practice of Daoism is beginning to flourish once again in China and throughout the world.
Laozi (Old Master), a semi-mythological Chinese thinker of the 6th century B.C., is generally considered to be the originator of Daoism. Laozi was born in the area of Henan around 600 B.C. He was a librarian or archivist at the royal court of the Zhou dynasty (1111-255 BC). He specialized in subjects such as astrology and prediction and was in charge of the sacred records. In a 5,000-character essay, the so-called Daode Jing or Laozi, written in a single night toward the end of his life, Lao zi set down his thoughts and philosophies just prior to his departure from Henan for an unknown destination. Daode Jing itself indicates in equal quantities both a deep pacifism and resolute notions on government. Scholars and interpreters maintain it shows the purest form of contemplative introspection and political application written.
Philosophical Daoism does not refer to an actual Daoist school or group of philosophers. Rather, it is a way of reading Daoist texts and interpreting them in philosophical terms. It is necessary to remember that the assumptions that it rests on (e.g., the difference between philosophy and religion) are foreign to classical Chinese thought, and are unlikely to have been held by individual Daoist thinkers.
Philosophical Daoism emphasizes various themes which can be found in the Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi. such as "nonaction" (wu wei), emptiness, detachment, receptiveness, spontaneity, and the softness (or flexibility), the relativism of human values, keep a long life. The spirit in which such things are discussed tends to be more playful than doctrinaire, in keeping with the tone of the texts themselves. Daoist commentators have been very impressed by the opening lines of the Dao De Jing, which can be translated:
The way which can be uttered, is not the eternal Way.
The name which can be named is not the eternal Name.
In Chinese, "?" or "Dao", when used as a noun, it means "way" or "path", but when it is used as a verb, it means "to utter" or "to speak it out".
Lao zi stressed on virtue and harmony among all the creatures and substances of the universe gave distinctive themes in Philosophical Daoism. Taoists stress the unity of the universe, unity between nature and human beings. Another theme is the cyclical character of time, universal rhythm and the expected principle of return. Therefore, death is natural. Human beings should not upset. Taoists consider all matters a unit. Human being often ignore the Whole and hold their limited facts, there may be conflict.
The view of