A common question is: “What is the difference between Daoism and Taoism.”
The fast answer is: the difference is only the spelling.
Daoism and Taoism are the same. It’s a translation issue of Chinese to English or the Pinyin factor. In short, for a few years, the West translated Chinese “D” to “T”. The Chinese government then switched more recently back to “D”.
From the surface level, we are only looking at two different English spellings meaning the same thing.
Looking Deeper Into Daoism and Taoism
In truth, I am exceedingly careful when I use the term Daoism and Taoism each. I use each term very precisely in fact. As a result, it does now make a difference.
In the larger sense. Many people will say it doesn’t matter if you use the D or the T. Many people also prefer to use the “D”, and many people out of habit only use the “T” because they first learned it as Taoism. It is more au-courant to say “Daoism,” but I also feel Taoism is what is more assessable to the average person.
Before 2000, it was my opinion it didn’t matter. But over the last 15 years, I carefully watched, listened and looked at how people used the terms “Daoism” vs. “Taoism”. And in 2005 I came to the conclusion it mattered greatly. People being people do treat the two terms differently and how they relate to Daoism does become different depending on how they phrase it.
Interestingly, I also find judgment tends to run higher for those who stay to the “Daoist” spelling. This understanding helps me be more careful in how I use the terms to avoid conflict from those trying to keep a pure form of Daoism alive in their mind’s eye.
While those using “Taoism” tended to be more lay practitioners, with more flexibility in a worldview. Not a rule mind you but rather a trend I do find in the community.
In looking at trends, and many other sources I have spent some time looking at the divergence of Daoism / Taoism terms. Taoism is outpacing Daoism in the popular use of the word. We are at a pivot moment of Taoist history and practice. Modern practitioners are interjecting their essence into Taoism. Compared to many people trying to stay true to roots in Daoism. Using a word to capture purity is a tricky thing in life. There isn’t a pure Daoist history: Daoism is a vast weave of different stories. Daoism evolves over time, and drifting human societies so cannot be maintained as a single pure Daoism. You will discover the contradictions in human thought especially once you encounter a judgmental Daoist/Taoist defending a lineage regarding the purity of practice or belief. All lineages are interesting interpretations of cultural and personal values/needs based on the time of establishment. No pure Daoist lineage exists relative to what we call Dao, except in reflection to its baseline.
This is one of the challenges I initially faced in Awakening Dragon. I want to keep in Awakening Dragon Taoism aspects of Daoism which work well, that don’t need book after book to explain. Something pure in its simplicity and capacity to be held uniquely by each person. I recognize now: Taoism is the modern evolution of Daoism into something distinctly its own. We are watching divergence of a new philosophical/spiritual/religious constructs, rooted in the past, yes, but something distinctly its own and new within the Taoist lineages forming today.
I know not everyone will agree with me. I do see a clear separation evolving between Daoism/Taoism. I started Awakening Dragon Taoism to help people discover Daoism, and then make it their own and a Taoism for our times.