I Ching appeared 5000 years ago, but Taoism as a religion emerged about 2000 years ago
Is Taoism a religion? The answer is yes and no.
Taoism as a religion is evident by the practice of worship of its believers, the idols of deities and the Taoist priests who connect the worshipers and the divinities.
While Taoism is of no doubt a religious practice, a lot more people are taking it purely as a way life. It had been so before Taoism was established as a religion, and still is today.
The leading Taoism classic I Ching first appeared not less than 5,000 years ago. Lao Tzu, revered as the founder of Taoism, wrote Tao Te Ching some 2,500 years ago.
Taoism as a religion, on the other hand, appeared a lot later. Zhang Daoling, who lived in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 years -220 years), established Taoism as a religion and used Tao Te Ching as its primary scripture. The religion was first known as Religion of Five Pecks of Rice, and later Religion of Zhang Tianshi.
Lao Tzu probably did not know his book would one day become the primary scripture of a religion, and himself worshiped as founder.
Religion or not, to most people Taoism is a way of life.
To avoid the confusion, the two distinct practices are each given a name. As a religion, it is known as Dao Jiao (道教), which literally means the Religion of Tao. As a philosophy, it is known as Dao Jia (道家), which may be vaguely translated as the ‘Tao School of Thoughts’.
In contrast to those practising Taoism as a religion, practitioners of Dao Jia focus mainly on cultivating a healthy and peaceful life style. The philosophy carries strong impact on various disciplines of studies, from medicine, geomancy and martial arts to leadership.
Although a practice in its own right, Taoism is sometimes linked to Buddhism.
When Buddhism was first introduced into China in as early as the third century BC, Taoism had already been widely accepted as a way of thinking. Buddhism, as a result, used it to help spread the religion. Because of this, even today, Tao Te Ching is sometimes used as a book to interpret or promote Buddhism.
Having said that, Taoism is not Buddhism.
So to answer the question of whether Taoism is a religion, the answer is yes and no. For its worshipers who choose to take it to the religion level, it is a religion. But for many others, it is clearly not.
Thanks Pimthida for the picture.