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Glossary Of Common Taoist (Daoist) Terms

Taoism Glossary With Pinyin & Wade-Giles Transliterations

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Yin and yang symbol on drum
Sami Sarkis

Here’s a listing of some of the most commonly-used Chinese (Mandarin) Taoist terms, in both their pinyin and their Wade-Giles transliterations. As you’ll see, some of the terms are identical across the two transliteration (Romanization) systems, while others are radically different. Hopefully this listing - which I encourage you to bookmark, or print and keep close at hand - will help to eliminate some of the confusion, and allow your exploration of the wonderful terrain of Taoist philosophy and practice to be even more enjoyable.

(Excerpted & adapted - with additions - from Daoism: A Beginner’s Guide, by James Miller.)


PinyinWade-GilesBrief English Definition
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baguapa-k’uaThe eight trigrams; the basis of the divination scheme in the Book of Changes (Yijing)
baguazhangpa k'ua chang'Eight Trigrams Palm'; one of the main martial arts forms of the Wudang tradition
beidoupei-touLit. ‘northern bushel’; the constellation of the Big Dipper or Great Bear
bianhuapien-huaTransformation; the underlying principle of change within the world
bigupi-kuAbstention from grains; a Taoist longevity practice based on the notion that Immortals live off the air and ‘soak up the dew’
bugangpu-kangPacing the net; a Taoist ritual whose choreography is based on the Big Dipper
chujiach’u-chiaLit. ‘leave home’; the process of becoming a Taoist monk
DamoTamoBodhidharma; the Indian Buddhist sage known as the founder of the Shaolin tradition of martial arts
dantiantan-t’ienCinnabar field; one of three principal locations in the body used in the practice of inner alchemy (neidan)
daotaoLit. “way” or “speak” - the ultimate cosmic principle in Taoism
DaodejingTao Te ChingTaoism’s principle scripture, attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu)
DaoismTaoismOne of China’s three major religious traditions, composed of practices and philosophies addressing ones relationship to the Tao
daojiatao-chiaLit. “Tao-school’; a bibliographical classification used for proto-Taoist texts
daojiaotao-chiaoLit. “Tao-tradition’; the Taoist religion
daotantao-t’anTaoist altar; often erected temporarily to perform a ritual and then disassembled
daozangtao-tsangLit. ‘Taoist treasury’; the Taoist Canon compiled in 1445
deteLit. “power’ or ‘virtue’; what one obtains by attaining the Tao
dongtiantung-t’ienGrotto-heavens; the network of caves connecting China’s sacred mountains
fangshifang-shih‘Magico-technicians’; Han dynasty practitioners of alchemy and immortality whose methods influenced the later flourishing of Taoism
fuguangfu-kuangAbsorb the light; a Taoist energy practice
fuqifu-ch’iAbsorb qi; a Taoist energy practice
hunhunHeavenly soul; one of the Five Shen; the soul/spirit that resides in the Liver, and at death ascends to heaven and is venerated in the form of ancestral tablets
hundunhun-tunChaos; the state of pregnant non-being from which everything arises, and to which Taoist aim to return
jiaochiaoTaoist ritual of renewal; the main ritual performed by Taoist priests today
jingchingEssence; a form of qi manifested in sexual fluids
jingchingScripture; weft of a piece of fabric
LaoziLao-tzuOld Master or Old Child; the traditional author of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching)
lingbaoling-paoNuminous Treasure or Numinous Jewel; a classical Taoist religious movement
loupanlo p’anChinese compass; the primary tool of Fengshui practice
mingmingFate, destiny, life; the physiological element of one’s person in Complete Perfection cultivation
neidannei-danInner alchemy
Neijing tuNei-ching t’uAn illustration depicting the internal, energetic transformations of Inner Alchemy practice
niwanni-wanMud-pill; the cinnabar field in the head
pop'oEarthly soul; one of the Five Shen; the soul/spirit that resides in the Lungs, and at the time of death descends into the earth
qich'iBreath, vital energy, pneuma; life-force
qigongch’i-kungLife-force cultivation; energy practices with roots in antiquity, that became popular in the 19th century
qinggongch’ing-kungA qigong/martial arts technique for making the physical body extremely light in weight, by altering the flow of qi
qingjingch’ing-chingPurity and stillness; the aims of the meditation in the Way of Complete Perfection
quanzhench’uan-chenComplete Perfection; Total Reality; the monastic Taoist movement founded by Wang Zhe
shangqingshang-ch’ingHighest Clarity, Supreme Purity; the classical Taoist movement
shenshenSpirit; spirits; divine; the most refined form of qi
taijit’ai-chiSupreme Ridgepole; the centre of the heavens; Supreme Ultimate, the foundational metaphysical principle
taijiquant’ai chi ch’uanSupreme Ultimate Fist; Tao-Chi; a principal practice form of the Wudang tradition
taiqingt’ai-chingGreat Clarity; a Taoist alchemical movement
tian shit’ien-shihCelestial Master, Heavenly Teacher; a title bestowed upon Zhang Daoling and his descendants; the first Taoist religious community
tuit’ueiExtend; the process of bringing things into correlation with each other
waidanwai-tanLit. ‘outer alchemy’; laboratory or operative alchemy
wuweiwu-weiLit. ‘non-action’; actionless-action; non-assertive action; non-volitional action; action as though non-action
xianrenhsien-jenImmortal, transcendent being; sometimes translated in popular literature as ‘fairy’ or ‘wizard’
xinhsinHeart, mind; the seat of the personality and the object of Confucian as well as Taoist self-cultivation
xinghsingInner nature; the psychological element of one’s person in Complete Perfection cultivation
yangyangSunny; the complement of yin
YijingI ChingThe Book of Changes; a Chinese text known in the west primarily as a divination system
yinyinShady; the complement of yang
zhengyicheng-iOrthodox Unity; the branch of Taoism founded by the Celestial Master; one of two branches officially recognized in China today
zhenrenchen-jenPerfected person; a Taoist sage
zhonghechung-hoCentral harmony; the ideal state attained in the Way of Great Peace
ZhuangziChuang TzuTaoist sage who was known for his anecdotal and playful parables, used as teaching stories
zirantzu-janSelf-so, spontaneous, natural; the basic principle that the Tao follows in its evolution; and the core value of Taoism
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