The 12 Fundamental Principles of Taoism

Workbook for Spiritual Development of All People, by Master Hua-Ching Ni, Los Angeles, College of Tao & Traditional Chinese Healing, 1984.

Introduction

Most spiritual endeavors are merely emotional or psychological games. In general, religious rituals are defined as worship, but truthfully they are either emotional demands or psychological needs which have prevailed since ancient times.

Another category of spiritual endeavor, however, is a result of your own personal spiritual effort and development and is not socially supported at all.

Working for your personal spiritual development does not come from someone else’s charity or kindness. It is a totally personal endeavor.

Cutting through the problems of your emotions, psychology, and mental conceptions, as well as personal life problems, provides the possibility which can help restore your personal balance and poise.

In human life, all of us have three spheres; the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. It cannot be denied that all life needs material support, but our entire life being is not limited only to the material sphere. Our spirit also needs development. The direction of human society, however, has changed radically from the pursuit of spirit to the pursuit of the material. In today’s overpopulated modern world, material and mental aspects of life are overemphasized, especially in the form of intellectual knowledge which makes people even deny the existence of a spiritual level of life.

People need spiritual growth and development to be whole, but they assert a partial view of life as the result of advances in scientific research and industrial technology which do not cover the whole scope of human life. We cannot use the same methods that apply to material discoveries to explore the spiritual sphere. That is why so many people are disappointed and deny the existence of a spiritual realm. These people never really see the error of using the wrong tools, and thus they stray far from the wholeness of life.

What we call the spiritual path is really the common education of basic life. Modern education works only on the physical and mental levels; it avoids spiritual matters and does not support spiritual development, obviously neglecting the most essential part of life.

Spiritual development must deepen and explore the truth in order for a person to achieve the goal of integralness, step by step. It takes long years, and depends entirely and only on how the person receives their spiritual education and works on himself or herself. This is the foundation of individual spiritual development. That is to say, it is a personal matter, never a matter of mass education.

On the scale of self-cultivation, we say that the body, mind and spirit should be equally valued, cultivated, and developed. High spiritual achievement develops from physical essence, with the mind as the medium between the physical and spiritual spheres. Its duty is to organize a harmonious state of music through a beautiful life.

How does virtue become corrupted? Through the abuse of intelligence. Virtue becomes corrupted because of preference for renown. The abuse of intelligence also comes about through competition. Name and position become the source of friction and conflict. Intelligence becomes the tool of contention.

In everyday life, very few people are killers or even people of violence, but many people are emotionally violent. Many people lose their tempers when things don’t go their way. The loss of spiritual qualities such as patience and tolerance make people take a violent emotional path. This is the true root of evil.

When you are in an eventful circumstance and your mind is not disturbed, this is called true peace, true calmness. It is very practical. Your mind is no longer controlled by circumstance, it is free. The free mind is a powerful mind. It is a useful mind. It is the key to going further to the mystical source. However, remember that this true peace is attained by your cultivation, it is not a free gift.

If your mind is kept in the right channel, then the true spiritual essence can be reached and high beings and things can be seen in your peace and calmness.

Anyone who attains the Tao will experience seven signs, or stages. The first stage is when the mind reaches peace and easily responds to the subtle as well as the ordinary level of life. It is then easy to discern what worldly things are heavy and disturbing to your true peace, and thus a possible cause of a downfall.

The second stage is when old physical problems clear up by themselves and you do not need to go to physicians. Your body and mind feel light and happy.

The third stage is when your vitality is regenerated and you return to a natural and healthy long life. You also start to follow the right way of living as guided by your growing wisdom.

The fourth stage occurs after you have achieved the foundation of the first three stages. You can live as you wish and not be subject to the lower spheres of influence. You can then connect with the spiritual realm.

The fifth stage comes to a person of Tao when one refines one’s physical energy to be higher, more essential energy. Through serious cultivation, the physical energy is transformed to become chi.

The sixth stage comes after transforming the gross chi into more subtle chi. Then you go further to transform your chi to be more essential, to become a spiritual being. Spiritual beings can be in the world and remain subtle or not, as they choose. They are unfathomable and unpredictable. They are true spirits.

The seventh stage is when the spirit is refined and unites with the Tao. Then the ultimate being is achieved. This is a true Divine One. His light will then always respond to enlighten the darkness.

These seven steps to become one with Tao, or to attain complete fulfillment, are universal. Anyone who engages in self-cultivation without seeing any of these positive results will not achieve Tao.

Tao, as the initial spirit or the spirit of youth, is untouched and cannot be bent to any personal will or ambition. It never fails and never declines. The initial spirit is always in progression and always developing. It constantly provides the possibility for an entirely new range of life experience. This is the essence of the universal nature. It does not hold to any past images. It does not necessarily value the common sense sayings of refined ancient sages. It is a great path discovered by great humans with transformable beings. As a self-cultivation, it refreshes one’s spirit, mind, and body, and brings all elements into a harmonious ‘one piece.’

It is more fundamental and beneficial if one can attain emotional independence. It does not mean that one avoids all emotional relationships, or that you must life absolutely alone. It means that whether you associate with others or not, you remain independent.

Spiritual independence is a life-long pursuit without any guarantee of attaining enlightenment or the discovery of the ultimate truth. Anyone who achieves spiritual independence, however, must first achieve emotional independence.

Man has received his mind as an instrument to unite the spirit with the physical body.

The Subtle Origin is formless. It is made of no-thing, but from this nothing all existence comes into being. This no-thing of the universe is creative and constructive energy. If you keep your mind in this nothing, which in its very nature is being, you imitate the process of the universe.

The core of the integral spiritual realm of an individual or of the entire universe is an inexpressible, indescribable stillness. However, it has a subtle, inexhaustible movement which can be traced by following the harmonious, gentle pulsations of the integral spiritual realm in its clarity and distinction.

The 12 Fundamental Principles of Taoism

1. Tao is the Subtle Origin and Primal Energy of the Universe

We recognize the Subtle Origin of the universe as the mysterious mother of existence and non-existence.

The universe is naturally so. It was neither created nor designed. Even though there is no personified creator, To, the primal energy which exercises and develops itself, brings forth all manifestations of the universe. The original energy becomes the subtle law of its manifestation. Everything manifested and unmanifested is a spontaneous expression of the nature of the Subtle Origin; no intentional design is needed.

The universe is an energy net of its own connectedness. All individual beings and things are under the influence of the energy net in the vast arena of the universe. The energy net is the natural administrative system. The freedom of all things and beings is prescribed exactly. If we indulge in our strong passions, emotions, desires, and ambitions, the influence of the energy net will be very strong. If your energy is light, the influence of the energy net will also be light. If you lead your life normally and in harmony with the universe, you will have no sign of the existence of an energy net at all.

In this universe, each life is responsible for itself. Nobody can assign an external God to be his savior. However, spiritual aid will sometimes come in the form of kind and highly evolved persons or natural beings who stretch out helping hands. A person may also have good fortune when his energy moves to a favorable section of the cycle. Great awareness is needed to discern whether a person is really being helped in spiritual growth, or whether he is just responding to the illusion of his own religious enthusiasm caused by emotional indulgence.

2. The Existence of Tao is Absolute

Whether one is aware of Tao or not, all receive their life energy from Tao. Some follow Tao consciously, while others follow it unconsciously. Yet with or without awareness, Tao is the essence of all life. To be ignorant of Tao is to live in blindness. To know Tao is to see clearly. Therefore, we follow only the absolute, nameless, original Oneness of the universe, which is the essence of our life. If we violate the Tao we annihilate our own life. We cannot exist without Tao.

We reject all man-made names and religious concepts which were created for a second-rate mind. They cause confusion and obstruction to our direct experience of truth. The eternal Way is gentle. Brutal force is the low-level teaching of some religions. It is never the spiritual truth of a high being.

3. Our Inner Intention is to Clarify and Purify our own spirit. Our outer intention is to extend care and kindness to all beings and things

We refine our emotions and desires to be as light as possible in order to maintain ourselves as a high level being. We do not indulge in passionate love or hate. Temper and passion are by no means our ruler. In this way we avoid any downfall.

We also avoid religious emotionalism. As a spiritual child, religious emotionalism may function to initiate one’s journey back to the Source. But as a spiritual adult, religious emotionalism will prevent direct union with Tao. To follow Tao is to follow the integration of the universe with harmonious life-giving energy. To follow religious emotionalism is to form prejudice and nurture hostility. As a consequence of this, people invite death.

4. We Practice Conservation in our Lives, particularly with Regard to Our Energy

We do not scatter our energy or distract our mind with frivolous, unnecessary activities. We avoid wasting energy through arguments, restless nonsense (busy work), fidgety behavior, and meddling in the affairs of others. In this way we preserve the integrity of our spirit and enjoy harmony with the universe. We keep a hermit’s spirit in a busy worldly life.

5. We Bravely and Earnestly Face the Truth of Our Life

We do not undertake Taoist cultivation as an escape from the reality of life, as may be the case in some religions. A simple, plain and natural life is essential to spiritual completeness. ‘Wu Wei,’ or the way of noncontention, is our highest discipline.

6. We Take the Constant Virtue and Normalcy of the Universe as the Model of Our Life

The guideline of a Taoist life is to keep a clear mind and have few desires.

7. We Practice Neither Asceticism nor Wantonness

We enjoy the beauty, richness and nobility of life, and we practice the principles of right purpose, right method, and right timing according to the universal subtle law of energy response. This sacred spiritual tradition can be maintained only by disciples who lead disciplined, simple, and righteous lives. Initially, this discipline is rendered to awaken the disciples by the Master. An aspect of self-discipline is abstinence from drugs, coffee, and excessive consumption of alcohol and other similar substances which are obstacles to spiritual refinement. Later, the developed individual is guided directly by the Tao.

8. Sincerity, Purity of Heart and Good Deeds can Lift an Ordinary Life to the Divine Realm

However, we do not disrupt the simplicity of life to create artificial opportunities to do good. This kind of effort is unnecessary, for a simple life in itself is divine. To learn Tao, fundamentally, is to live a simple, natural, and essential life. It means we would deny trivialities and avoid unnecessary activities. From this, we save the integration of spirit.

9. The Masters of this Ancient Taoist Tradition and of Ch’an Buddhism are our Spiritual Pioneers and Examples

10. The Clarity, Purity and Harmony of Your Own Energy is the Reality of the Union with Tao

Heavy energy (including emotional force and psychological cloudiness) is an obstruction to one’s true spiritual growth. Taoism is not an ordinary religion. Most religions depend on the psychological weakness of human beings. Some use mass hypnosis in their attempt to help control people’s cloudy minds. They mistake emotionalism for spirit. Thus, most religions foster self-assertiveness, prejudice, development of ego, and hostility. But in truth this is the pitfall of spirit. Sons and daughters of tao must be above this and all things. Taoist cultivation is to integrate one’s wholeness of being with the wholeness of the universe.

11. Sanity is the Essential Foundation for Learning Tao

It is also the basis for the development and subjective evolution of one’s own being. Without a sound body and mind there is no hope of attaining Tao. The temporal phenomenon of madness is not encouraged in the path of Taoist cultivation. Criminal stories, ghost stories, or even most religious stories are not food for a good mind.

12. We adopt Master Ni’s works as the modern elucidation of ancient Taoism

Those who accept the above spiritual principles are recognized by this tradition as its spiritual heirs.

Guidelines for Taoist Service

1. We are not one of the vulgar religions which tempt people with external spiritual promises.

2. We are a transreligious integral path of universal truth.

3. We follow this path with the purpose of achieving universal subtle integration, the great oneness expressed as Tao.

4. Our path is not a new overnight invention, and also it is not a new mixture of all the old. It is the high guidance of the universal Divine Realm through the self-awareness of achieved people of all generations.

5. We transcend all discriminating names and conceptions, and directly reach for the unnameable reality of universal subtle truth.

6. We exalt no particular images or doctrines, but keep to the eternal truth of oneness.

7. We do not focus on worldly confusion, but direct our response to spiritual integration, the dissolving of our self.

8. Our way does not involve itself in discrimination and partialities which fragment human nature and disharmonize our involvement in life. Nor do we create any alienation by insisting on integral-mindedness. We see the world not through fragmented vision, but through the integral view.

9. We ask no commitment from anyone who joins us. We offer ourselves to universal love. For this reason, we offer ourselves to all humanity.

10. These statements are not external commandments imposed upon us, but are expressions of our own deep awareness and willingness to follow them.

The Spiritual Origin and Tradition of Taoism

Integral Beings are spiritual immortals. These subtle beings exist in realms that are transcendent to time and space. They were the first beings co come from the pure, creative energy of the Subtle Origin of the universe which existed long before the creation of Heaven and Earth.

The Integral Beings have continuously exerted a subtle influence, not only on mankind and earthly events, but also on the events of the entire universe. Since the beginning of time, all things are constantly changing under the universal law of transformation. Only the immeasurable Integral Beings are beyond degeneration because of their continuous instantaneous renewal through self-mastery.

In the beginning the Earth was uninhabited by any beings. The original beings from the Subtle Origin of the universe combined themselves with the yin, or physical energy, of the Earth and thus gave birth to mankind. Very naturally, they became the earliest, true ancestors of the human race. The first inhabitants of Earth were faithful to their divine nature, so it wasn’t necessary for them to cultivate or discipline themselves. They spontaneously enjoyed full, effective lives without needing to use intellectual functioning. Because their energy was pure and complete they did not require self-refinement. They lived very long and abundant lives. However, after many generations passed, mankind began to degenerate and their subtle, divine energy gradually dissipated. It became necessary for human beings to develop their intellect to compensate for the loss of ability to respond spontaneously to the environment.

Humankind has within itself the divine essence from the Subtle Origin, but during the course of history its divinity has been covered over by many layers of mental creations, acquisitions, and confusion. Originally, the mind was the intermediary of the spirit and the physical body, but because its role became overplayed, it overpowered the main pillars of human existence, i.e., spirit and physical body. As a result, humanity has become progressively out of balance and harmony. It became necessary for mankind to invent moral ethics and religion to rectify the prevalent negative thinking and behavior. Many religious and social doctrines were created in an attempt to reestablish order and harmony in people’s lives. The more the intellect is developed, the less spiritually effective mankind becomes, until people can no longer help themselves spiritually. So there are endless calamities which are the side-product of the overly developed mind.

Through transgression of the laws of nature, unfortunate events happen to people like waves in a stormy sea which make them more and more entangled in negativity. During the early stages of development, when humanity was still uncorrupted, the High Beings frequently descended to Earth and befriended its inhabitants. But when the human mind became spoiled, the High Beings made only brief visits to Earth in an attempt to rescue mankind and subtly change the destiny of the world. They come to the world and take human form in order to teach the most virtuous people the way back to their divine origin, and try to protect all the people from the negativity which has arisen as a result of the loss of their subtle divine energy.

The Integral Beings who were our first ancestors are the divine origin of humanity. Even though their example and teachings have been scattered down through the ages, their tradition has not been entirely lost. We can still obtain the most precious enlightenment enabling us to free ourselves from the bondage and attraction to our illusions, and at the same time restore ourselves to the simplicity and integrity of our natural being.

The Integral Being’s teachings are left in the world as a ferry to help people cross their own troubled waters. The choice of disciplines is very strict. Only those with the highest degree of sincerity and willingness to accept the responsibility for their own spiritual evolution can be received by this sacred tradition. Only through purification and self-refinement can one hope to attain self-transcendence and completely unite with Tao.

Every level of existence expresses its own particular nature as a result of the specific energy formation it contains. For example, some beings are suitable to live in air, some in water, and so forth. But all beings are produced from the same creative, generating energy of the universe which is generally referred to as Tao. All manifestations are offspring of this primal energy, the subtle source of the universe. Each classification of energy formation exists as a universe unto itself, with its own measurement and awareness or unawareness of time and space.

The principle classifications of energy formation are the spiritual realms, the mental realm, and the physical realm, referred to respectively as Heaven, Man, and Earth, all of which comprise the vast universe. The human body, as a microcosm of the universe, contains and thereby is connected with all three principle classifications of energy formation. The head embodies Heaven, or spirit; the middle part of the chest embodies Man, or mind; and the lower part of the trunk embodies Earth, or physical energy. Another way of describing this would be to say that spirit is the core, mind is the undergarment, and the physical body is the overcoat.

Taoism reveres the Divine Primacy, the creative energy of the universe. This energy is the highest of all Heavens and is the originator of the harmonious order of the universe. It is the subtle law of the universe and the divine nature of all creation. It is Tao. There are many forms of energy in the universe. The original, creative energy has twisted and distorted itself into many different reflections. These reflections are not the Tao. All phenomena are the offspring of this subtle, generating energy which in ancient times was revered and titled Ti, the stem or stalk of the total universal existence, or later as the Jade Emperor, the undecayed one. It is only the Tao which this divine tradition reveres.

From the original divine substance came all the variations of the universe. The Integral Beings were the first manifestations of this original, creative energy. They are the most essential and respected beings in the universe. The number of beings is unknowable. According to the law of energy response, if there is a difficulty, the High Beings pave the way to the solution. However, the frequency of one’s energy must be the same frequency as that of the Integral Beings in order to obtain a response from them. This stream of eternal spirit responds to the divine way of self-cultivation whereby one can refine one’s energy to become the same quality as that of the Heavenly Immortals.

It is necessary to have the guidance of a Master’s energy which is truly responsive to the Integral Realm so that the Taoist sacred method of spiritual immortality may be passed to us, enabling us to refine ourselves, achieve the fullness of our true divine nature, and connect ourselves with the Integral Realm. Thus we can enjoy an eternal life of happiness. The man or woman who is chosen to be a disciple of this divine tradition must be very earnest and sensitive. The sacred method is esoteric and cannot be passed to people with unstable virtue. All offerings must be made our of sincerity and service to the teacher and must be done with utmost respectfulness to the Heavenly Shiens. The teacher lives in this world as a ferry to mankind and as a spiritual ocean of the universe.