Tao transcends any distinctions in names
Taoist is a very loose term.
When we talk about Taoism, the first person who would most likely come into our mind is Lao Tzu and, of course, his famously difficult text to read Tao Te Ching! Lao Tzu was, however, unlikely to know that he was a ‘Taoist’ — as the description had yet to be coined when he was alive.
In contrast to Confucius who had a group of students and promoted a school of thoughts, we are not sure if Lao Tzu had an organised group of followers. Taoist masters tend to work in solitude, and they would prefer to stay away from the crowds until their emergence is called for. Even then, they would probably vanish once their ‘missions’ are completed.
So there was not a well defined group of people known as Taoists in early years since they were not even performing in groups. Quite naturally, many ‘Taoists’ were not known to be Taoists.
Having said that, ‘Taoists’ of all generations do follow a system of thinking. The system is best documented by the classic known as I Ching. The original version of the book contains only eight symbols, and predated Tao Te Ching for thousands of years. While we may call the system Taoism, although it has tremendous impact on all things Chinese and far beyond Taoism that we generally know. Terms such as yin yang can trace their origin to the book. Tao Te Ching, on the other hand, is a very good summary of the book.
Like what Lao Tzu said, “The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.” The true taoists — if we have to give them a name — rarely bothered about what they are called. What they believe is to live the life fully and accept Tao as such. So long as you are able to feel the pulse of nature and live with the laws of the universe, you are living the art of Tao and it does not matter what you are called.
Indeed, Tao transcends any distinctions in names.
Thank you William Ng for the picture.