Taoism > Dictionary

Dictionary of Terms
and Names in Taoism

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

Alan Watts (1915-1973) - Western author who wrote a great deal about Taoism. His book - Tao: The Watercourse Way - is one of the best of its kind. Here Alan approaches the philosophical Taoism and explains the basics such as: the Tao, Te, yin-yang and more.

Chen-jen - Translated literally: "true human being" is the model of perfect man in Taoism. He is free from all cultural limitations 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 BC, and wrote the homonym book.
2. Classical Taoist work also known as Nan-hua chen-ching (The Classic from Nan-hua). It consists of 33 chapters but it is considered that only the first seven were written by Chuang-tzu.

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

Heaven and Earth - Abstract notion meaning universe, cosmos.

Huang-ti - "Yellow Emperor". One of the legendary emperors thought to have ruled between 2697 and 2597 BC. 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 of 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 BC) - Also known as Confucius, founder of the first Chinese philosophical school with a great influence on the public life. He is a character in the Taoist books such as: Lieh-tzu and Chuang-tzu.

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 (The Classic of the Expanding Emptiness).

Mancius - Philosopher contemporary with Chuang-tzu. M. was dedicated to the reformation of the Chinese society in accord with his moral philosophy. He criticized the views of Yang-tzu.

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

Confucius picture
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 BC.

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 branches.

Taoism - Western term describing two branches: Tao-chia - the philosophical school, and Tao-chiao - the religious one.

Tao-te ching - Translated literally The Classic on Tao and Te. Basic Taoist writing attributed to Lao-tzu.

Wan-wu - Lit. "the ten-thousand" refers to the universe as such, made of things and beings.

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

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

Yang-tzu - Taoist philosopher who lived during 4th-3rd centuries BC. 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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