This page contains a list of the six best books on Daoism. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Daoism” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on Daoism. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Daoism. Here are the best books on Daoism in no particular order:
Dao De Jing – Lao Zi
In 1993, archaeologists unearthed a set of ancient bamboo scrolls that contained the earliest known version of the Dao de jing. Composed more than two thousand years ago, this life-changing document offers a regimen of self-cultivation to attain personal excellence and revitalize moral behavior. Now in this luminous new translation, renowned China scholars Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall bring the timeless wisdom of the Dao de jing into our contemporary world.
In this elegant volume, Ames and Hall feature the original Chinese texts of the Dao de jing and translate them into crisp, chiseled English that reads like poetry. Each of the eighty-one brief chapters is followed by clear, thought-provoking commentary exploring the layers of meaning in the text. This new version of one of the world’s most influential documents will stand as both a compelling introduction to Daoist thought and as the classic modern English translation.
Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings – Zhuangzi
Ideal for students and scholars alike, this edition of Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) includes the complete Inner Chapters, extensive selections from the Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters, and judicious selections from two thousand years of traditional Chinese commentaries, which provide the reader access to the text as well as to its reception and interpretation. A glossary, brief biographies of the commentators, a bibliography, and an index are also included.
Introducing Daoism – Introducing Daoism
Daoism is one of the major religious traditions of the East, but in the past has not been as well known as Buddhism and Hinduism. With the increased interest in Eastern religions, and alternative spiritual traditions, interest in Daoism is increasing. Introducing Daoism is a lively and accessible introduction to this fascinating religion.
Introducing Daoism presents Daoism’s key concepts and major practices in an integrated historical survey. From Daoism’s origins in antiquity, through the Tang, Ming, and Quing dynasties, and into the present day, Livia Kohn explores Daoism’s movements and schools, including: Daoist philosophy, the organized religion, and Daoist health practices. Each chapter introduces the main historical events of the period, the leading figures in Daoism, and Daoist scriptures and practices, as well as covering a wealth of fascinating topics such as Chinese cosmology, Daoist understanding of the body, rituals and doctrine, meditation, mythology, and poetry. Livia Kohn examines the connections between the defining concepts, history, and practices of Daoism, and key issues in Asian and Western comparative religions, making this the essential text for students studying Daoism on World Religions courses.
Daoism and Chinese Culture – Livia Kohn
A long-awaited textbook that introduces the major schools, teachings, and practices of Daoism, this work presents a chronological survey that is thematically divided into four parts: Ancient Thought, Religious Communities, Spiritual Practices, and Modernity.
The work offers an integrated vision of the Daoist tradition in its historical and cultural context, establishing connections with relevant information on Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism, popular religion, and political developments.
It also places Daoism into a larger theoretical and comparative framework, relating it to mysticism, millenarianism, forms of religious organization, ritual, meditation, and modernity. The book makes ample use of original materials and provides references to further readings and original sources in translation. It is a powerful resource for teaching and studying alike.
Taoism: Growth of a Religion – Isabelle Robinet
This is a survey of the history of Taoism from approximately the third century B.C. to the fourteenth century A.D. For many years, it was customary to divide Taoism into “philosophical Taoism” and “religious Taoism.” The author has long argued that this is a false division and that “religious” Taoism is simply the practice of “philosophical” Taoism. She sees Taoism as foremost a religion, and the present work traces the development of Taoism up to the point it reached its mature form (which remains intact today, albeit with modern innovations). The main aim of this history of Taoism is to trace the major lines of its doctrinal evolution, showing the coherence of its development, the wide varieties of factors that came into play over a long period of disconnected eras, the constant absorptions of outside
The Taoist Experience: An Anthology – Livia Kohn
Containing sixty translations from a large variety of texts, this is an accessible yet thorough introduction to the major concepts, doctrines, and practices of Taoism. It presents the philosophy, rituals, and health techniques of the ancients as well as the practices and ideas of Taoists today. Divided into four sections, it follows the Taoist Path: The Tao, Long Life, Eternal Vision, and Immortality. It shows how the world of the Tao is perceived from within the tradition, what fervent Taoists did, and how practitioners saw their path and goals. The Taoist Experience is unique in that it presents the whole of Taoist tradition in the very words of its active practitioners. It conveys not only a sense of the depth of the Taoist religious experience but also of the underlying unity of the various schools and strands.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Daoism
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Daoist Philosophy
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