The five major systems of Daoism are sometimes contradictory and confusing, especially to people of different cultures. Many of the practices of one system are used in the other systems. Thus the lines between these systems are not fixed and final. The five systems are:

  1. Magical Daoism – the oldest form of Daoism still practiced today. In this practice, the
    powers of the elements of nature and spirits are invoked and channelled through the practitioner to gain health, wealth, and progeny.
  2. Divinational Daoism – based on understanding the way of the universe and seeing the great patterns of life. Knowing how the universe works allows us to live in harmony with those universal forces. As in heaven, so on earth. Divinational Daoism utilizes the study of the stars and patterns found on earth to help us live harmoniously. The I-ching (the book of changes) is a divinational book.
  3. Ceremonial Daoism – Originally Daoism was a spiritual practice. Unlike yoga, which
    remained a personal spiritual practice, one branch of Daoism evolved into a religion. [1]
  4. Action and Karma Daoism – Proper action leads to accumulating merit. Following the introduction of Buddhism into China, ethics took on a greater role in spiritual practice. But it did not start there; Confucius also taught the value of proper behavior and morality. Good deeds result in rewards, both in this life and the next.
  5. Internal Alchemy Daoism – Immortality is the goal of this practice. The seeker works to change her mind and body to achieve health and longevity. It was in this practice that Chi became recognized as the key to health and long life. Chi is gathered, nurtured, and circulated through very strict practices. Incorrect practice is dangerous, and this path of Daoism absolutely required an expert teacher. It is mostly from this system that Chinese medicine evolved.

An investigation of all these forms of Daoism is beyond the scope of this journey but if you would like to further study this fascinating field, you could start with the book Taoism by Eva Wong. [2] From there you will be led to many other texts by Eva Wong and others. For our part, we will journey through the way of alchemy and transformation. The next step in our journey involves understanding the forms of energy, beginning with Chi.

  1. — Religion is the spectator sport of spirituality. In religion we give up our
    authority to another who will perform sacred rituals on our behalf. In a spiritual practice, responsibility remains with us. When a spiritual practice becomes a religion, ceremony is required. Ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifice bind the powers of heaven to the needs of man. Because we are separate from the powers, we require an intermediary, or priest, to conduct the rituals for us. As in all religions, a hierarchy develops between the person who needs help and the powers that can render it. Only if the rituals are correctly performed will help be given. Monks defer to abbots who are more experienced and who, in turn, defer to even more senior members of their faith.
  2. — We are using Eva Wong’s definitions for the five systems of Daoism.