Women’s Bodies in Taoism
“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.” This powerful statement by Henry Emerson Fosdick so simply defines the concept of a common Chinese religion. Taoism is a religion practiced by many Asians and by people around the world. It is a religion that is so beautifully complex and yet based on principle as simple as breathing in and out. This paper will outline some basic information on the Taoist tradition, examine the views of the female body in Taoism as presented by Barbara Reed and my own critique of the tradition will be provided.
A brief history of Taoism is required in order for us to pursue these goals. To begin with, Taoism originated from a man named Lao Tzu. He wanted to deeply come to an understanding of how one could induce human beings to live together. Tradition says that he developed such a theory but there was no one around to listen to him. In turn, he hopped on his water buffalo and rode to Tibet. When he arrived, he found a border guard and Lao Tzu taught the guard his philosophy. The guard agreed with all Lao Tzu stated and he encouraged Lao Tzu to write his teachings down.
The word Tao means “The way”. This is the entire basis of the Taoist tradition, finding harmony, living peaceably and being creative during the flow of nature.
Taoists have a goal as living life for “the way”and achieving immortality.
The Taoist tradition has two sacred texts. Both of these texts “extol the way of nature as the path of happiness.” says Barbara Reed in Women in World Religions.(161) The Tao te ching is the basic text for Taoism. It has been translated to mean “The Way and It’s Power.” One of the initial lines in the Tao te ching explains that if one can speak of the Tao, it is not the true Tao. It has also been explained by saying, “The Tao that can be Taoed is not the Tao.” How perfectly this reflects Henry Emerson Fosdicks quote. The mysteries in life and the unexplainable philosophies are often the most valuable and meaningful to our daily lives. This is what Taoism reflects. Information regarding the Tao te ching and women will be discussed later.
The Chuang tzu is another of the Taoist texts. It is important to note here that the Chuang tzu does not use the female imagery that is found in the Tao te ching. Instead, the Chuang tzu provides example of people who have been in harmony with the Tao. A few female examples are given in the text but it is predominately male. The Chuang tzu also proclaims similar ways to achieve the Tao but its recommendations emphasize the use of wu-wei which literally translated is “inaction.”
Herrlee G. Greel in his book “What is Taoism” describes this vital aspect of Taoism. He declares, “the wu-wei is clearly of the central concepts in Taoism.” (51) In the Taoist search for finding “the way” and leading a simple life, the wu-wei can...