In part, when you ask “What Types of Taoism Are There?” you are also asking what the goals of Taoism are, what the history of Taoism is, and why Taoism came to be represented the way it is in the West. That’s several books worth of information, so I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.
In the current times, you can boil Taoism down into 4 areas:
Arts created by the Taoist mind, Philosophical Taoism, Ritual Taoism, and Enlightenment Taoism.
- Arts created by The Taoist Mind: The Taoist mind is highly inventive and has spawned many arts that, because of their uniqueness, can easily be recognized as coming from the Taoist mind. Tai Chi is one such example. Many of these arts can be found at Stephen Chang’s website www.thegreattao.com
- Philosophical Taoism: This is what Americans for the most part believe Taoism to be. Philosophical Taoism is the reading and contemplation of Taoist texts. It has its origin with the Confucian Scholar Class in China, where scholars would gather, drink wine, and discuss Taoism as a philosophy. This path was considered an appropriate means of preparing a scholar for real spiritual study if he decided to retire from the world and pursue enlightenment. Textual study is not a path to enlightenment, as it does not cause the behavioral changes necessary to become enlightened.
- Ritual Taoism: Ritual practice is the closest to what Americans are familiar with as religion. Its roots are much older than the philosophical tradition. Most ritual sects are hybrid sects, combining Taoism with other religions. For a much more thorough examination of a Ritual sect, see Wilson Yong’s site. He is a thoroughly trained and authentic Taoist of the Western Heaven Sect. Taoistsecret.com
- Enlightenment Taoism: Enlightenment practice is designed to achieve the fullness of human potential by developing an intimate link with the Tao, and learning directly from it. This can be with goal of achieving spiritual enlightenment or reliable personal happiness. This practice requires a teacher or enormous luck. The Taoist 4 Ascendant Sphere Tradition is a Spiritual Enlightenment Tradition.
Master Mikel Steenrod
Keeper of the Gate of Man and Heaven