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Glossary of Words and Terms in Taoism

This is the short version of the glossary. The full version (PDF) is offered free to students who take our Level 1 of the Taoism initiation course. Click here to learn more.

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Chen-jen - The ideal image of the Taoist master. Translated literally: "true human being". The true man is free from any external limitation and expresses himself simply and effectively.

Chuang-tzu, one of the fathers of Taoism
Ch'i - Major Taoist concept. Literally translated by: "air, vapors, ether, breathing, energy". At the same time it means "temperament, power, atmosphere". Ch'i is one's vital force but also the universal spiritual energy pervading all beings.

Chuang-tzu - 1. Taoist sage who founded Taoism together with Lao-tzu. Allegedly he lived during 369-286, and wrote the homonym book.
2. Classical Taoist work also known as Nan-hua chen-ching (The Divine Scripture From Nan-hua). It consists of 33 chapters but it is only the first 7 that are attributed to the philosopher Chuang-tzu.

Fu-hsi - mythical character, the first of the three legendary emperors of the ancient China. He offered mankind many inventions, and created trigrams - pa-kua - of I-ching . The yarrow stalks divination method is also attributed to him.

Huang-ti - "Yellow Emperor". One of the legendary emperors thought to have ruled between 2697 and 2597. Allegedly he invented writing, compasses, potter's wheel, and the silkworm's growth. He is the author of the first medicine treatise in Chinese history: Huang-ti Nei-ching. One of the chapters in Lieh-tzu's book has his name.

Fu-hsi with the table of the eight trigrams (pa-kua)
I-ching - "Book of Changes". Divinatory and philosophical book dated from the period when Chou Dynasty replaced Yin Dynasty. Nowadays, the core philosophy of the book draws upon Taoism, Confucianism and Legalism.

K'ung-tzu - 551-479 B.C. Also known as Confucius, founder of the first Chinese philosophical school with a great influence on the public life.

Lao-tzu - "Old Master", also known as Lao Tan or Li Erh, is considered the author of Tao-te ching, and the father of Taoism. He was contemporaneous with Confucius.

Lieh-tzu - Philosopher from the Warring States period and the author of the book Ch'ung-hsu Chen-ching (True Classic of the Expanding Emptiness).

Shen - spirit. In Taoism, this word indicates the cosmic deities as well as one's own spirit.

Confucius, the author of the first philosophical
system of China
Ssu-ma Ch'ien - Author of Historical Records (Shih-chi), dating from the 2nd-1st century B.C.

T'ai-chi - translated literally "the beam sustaining the roof". I-ching concept with reference to the fundamental reality. In I-ching it reads: "Therefore in (the system of) the Yi there is the Grand Ultimate [t'ai-chi], which produced the two elementary Forms. Those two Forms produced the Four emblematic Symbols, which again produced the eight Trigrams." (James Legge)

Tao - lit.: "way, method". Basic Taoist concept to be found in writings such as Tao-te ching and Chuang-tzu.

Tao-chiao - the religious Taoism. One of the two Taoist trends.

Taoism - Western term describing two trends: Tao-chia - the philosophical school - and Tao-chiao - the religious trend.

Tao-te ching - translated literally "The Classic of  the Way and Virtue". Basic Taoist writing attributed to Lao-tzu.

Wan-wu pictogram
The wan-wu pictogram or the ten-thousand-things
Wan-wu - lit. "the ten-thousand-things and beings". Conventional phrase comprising all the phenomena in the universe.

Wu-wei - lit. "nondoing", "nonaction". Taoist core concept.

Wu - lit. "nonbeing" or "empiness", "void". Taoist core concept is used in association with the wu-wei.

Yang-tzu - Taoist philosopher who lived during 4th-3rd centuries B.C. His teachings are included in Chuang-tzu's and Lieh-tzu's works.

Yin-Yang - the opposite principles that create the universe through their interaction. Yin and yang are manifestations of t'ai-chi.

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