Taoism Beliefs on Death and Afterlife

Taoism or Daoism is an organized religious tradition and a philosophy that has originated in China, with its roots in the Shamanic traditions which predate even the Hsia Dynasty (2205-1765 BCE).

Taoism believes in the concept of “Life after Death”, i.e. the human spirit or Tao (cosmic energy) never dies, as it maintains its pure form even after leaving the corpse (Shijie). It believes that the spirit lived as a part of the Tao, even after death.

Taoism Beliefs on Death and Afterlife emphasizes the idea of “going with the flow”, which is now being followed by people across the globe from a whole range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

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What are the Taoism Beliefs on Death?

The whole idea of Taoism centres around the concept of “life after death” in the form of cosmic energy. This energy is the key binding force, that connects all of us and guides us through life. At the end of life, a Tao is expected to release all the materialistic things.

Taoism Beliefs on Death
Taoism Beliefs on Death

A book of ancient Taoism beliefs on death and the afterlife is “Tao-Te-Ching” which highlights the simple ways of living a happy and peaceful life in this eternal world. It is a reminder for people to give less importance to materialistic things and focus more on peace and love. 

1. The Yin-Yang Theory

In 1200 BCE, the Yin-Yang theory came into existence with the popular practice of divination.

Oracles “read” yarrow sticks thrown onto a table after asking a question of the universe. The pattern made by the yarrow sticks on the table was made up of unbroken lines (Yang) and broken lines (Yin). The oracles used these patterns to tell the future.

The Yin-Yang Theory
The Yin-Yang Theory

Thus, to find the answers to the important questions of the world, both the Yin and Yang lines were needed. This gave rise to the theory that “Nature demands a balance between the opposites”.

This could be understood by a balance between “The Good and the Evil”, “light and dark”, “male and female” or “life and death”.

Yin-Yang Theory, states that death is the transition from Yang (being) to Yin (not being). The natural world doesn’t identify a vital change between life and death. Instead, both act in accord to keep balance in nature. Taoism teaches that humans should strive to see death in the same way.

2. The Acceptance Theory

Acceptance is the central philosophy of Taoism, which believes that every occurrence in a human’s life is of equal importance. It eliminates the difference between “good and bad” by bringing in a balance of thoughts.

To maintain harmony, both “the positive and the negative” have to work together, making everything “good”, as per Taoism beliefs.

The Acceptance Theory sees death as a part of the eternal force which all of us need to accept and live with it peacefully, as both “life and death” are complementary aspects of Tao, maintaining the ultimate balance of nature.

3. Focus on Life Theory

Taoism gives great value to life and encourages people to focus on life rather than death, as it is inevitable. People should live a simple and happy life by focusing on health and longevity.

They believe that the human body has “Gods, Spirits and Demons”. So, when someone dies then they should do rituals to allow the spirits to guard the body. With the help of spirit mediums, these spirits of the dead are communicated routinely.

Taoism Funeral Ceremony after Death 

Taoist funeral ceremony after death involves an altar upon which the following items are placed;

  • 2 candles
  • Tea
  • Rice
  • Sacred lamp
  • Water

The sacred lamp is a symbol of the light of wisdom a.k.a. the Elixir of immortality or the Golden Pile. The 2 tall candles on both sides of the lamp are symbolic representations of the sun, moon and both the eyes of the human body.

Taoism Funeral Ceremony after Death
Taoism Funeral Ceremony after Death

The tea, rice and water are put in cups in front of the altar. The tea symbolizes yin, water is the energy of the yang, and rice represents the union of the yin and the yang.

The 5 fruit plates are symbolic representations of the 5 elements of nature namely; fire, metal, water, earth and wood. These elements are further equated with specific colours: green, red, yellow, white, and black.

When all these elements are arranged in a circle then they represent a balance between the body and the soul, leading to a healthy afterlife. An incense burner is placed in the middle of the 5 elements.

The burning of the incense signifies alteration and cleansing of the soul, also known as the inner energies. The ceremony takes place in the person’s house and is held for the odd number of days, usually three, five or seven days.

The candle is lit up for the body all that time before the funeral. During the vigil and the funeral, the relatives wear white.

Taoism Beliefs on Eternity, Salvation, Heaven, Immortality, Transformation and Reincarnation

Taoism beliefs on death and the afterlife are consistent and unified. However, being one of the oldest religions of the world, there have been many changes in the teachings and philosophies of the people who preach it.

Having seen the existence of Buddhism and Confucianism for a long time, the Taoism beliefs have incorporated a lot of teachings under their influence, evolving.

Taoism Beliefs on Death and Eternity

The rise of Taoism took place in China when people were very close to nature. Thus, the central belief of Taoism is on the principle of Eternity. The followers observed that in nature, many things that die often come back to life, maintaining the balance of nature.

Taoism Beliefs on Death and Eternity
Taoism Beliefs on Death and Eternity

For example, a tree that appeared to die in the fall would come back to life in the spring.

Thus, Taoism beliefs on death are that people could still live after the demise, rather than simply vanishing. They believe that the human spirits (cosmic energy) lived on as a part of the Tao after death.

Taoism Beliefs on Salvation after Death

The Taoism beliefs in salvation are based around life, rather than the afterlife. This means that one must participate in the eternal life cycle, with peace and happiness rather than anticipating salvation in the afterlife.

Taoism beliefs on death and the afterlife aren’t concerned with permanent greatness to a heavenly afterlife or a state of spiritual redemption, as in the case of Christianity and other Abrahamic religions.

It encourages that one must get themselves aligned with nature and enjoy life, instead of depending on salvation afterlife.

Taoism Beliefs on Heaven after Death

The old Taoist teachings indicate that the Gods live in the moon, the sun, the planets, and in the constellations. It is believed that during a ritual trance, a Taoist has the power to reach mystical and astronomical places.

Thus, Taoism beliefs state that many of the gods that reside in heaven can be observed from the earth itself, aligning oneself to the true love of nature. One can visit heaven directly by achieving either the trance state or in the afterlife.

Taoism Beliefs on Physical and Spiritual Immortality

Taoism beliefs on death and the afterlife in linked with the balance of physical and spiritual immortality. They believe that one can easily achieve immortality if one could understand the balance between physical and spiritual immortality in life.

That means they were less concerned with an afterlife, as they hoped to never experience death. They believed, instead, that they could achieve immortality in this life.

Some Taoists believed that these immortals lived in the “realms of the immortals” on Earth. These realms were believed to be located on mountains or distant islands.

However, present-day Taoism isn’t anxious about physical immortality. Instead, it’s about remaining in alignment with the Tao, or cosmic energy (spiritual immortality) that keeps the natural world in balance.

Death is a Transformation in Taoism

The old Taoist folklore states that death is a transition phase and not the end of life. During this phase, one transition from the being state to the non-being state, which are 2 equally important states in Taoism maintaining the balance of nature.

Whenever someone dies, they are transforming by undergoing the process of change known as the Tao. They believe that death is not the end as it is just another step towards the eternal process, defined by nature.

Thus, if one can live in harmony with the Tao during the physical life then that person would be able to find a balance, even in the eternal life after death.   

Reincarnation After Death in Taoism

The present-day Taoism beliefs on Death and reincarnation is that physical death is the death of the body but the cosmic energy i.e. the soul is still alive and it can migrate to another physical body.

There’s no apparent “end” to one life and the “beginning” of another. Instead, Taoists see reincarnation as an extension of the eternal Tao process.

Human spirits can reincarnate as animals and vice-versa, but no concept such as Karma governs those changes. Instead, the reincarnation process in Taoism is vastly complex and depends on how pleased with the Tao you are in life.

Taoists Beliefs on Afterlife

Taoism beliefs on death and the afterlife have been a topic of debate for centuries. Some religious sects of Taoism have a huge influence on Buddhism and Confucianism.

But the Taoism philosophical teachings have a complete modern view about the afterlife which needs to be discussed.

Afterlife = Life

Taoism beliefs on death and the afterlife are that one must focus on the deeds of life, rather than worrying about the afterlife. It teaches that it is in this life that we are truly eternal and that afterlife exists within life on earth.

As a living person, you exist as part of the Tao, and when you die, you exist as part of the Tao. It believes that the afterlife is nothing but a mirror image of your current life that maintains the balance of nature.

Beliefs Developed Throughout Life

While the old Taoism has its teachings and philosophies, but modern-day Taoism gives great importance to the beliefs of the individuals that are developed through one’s own life experiences.

For example, the afterlife might involve living on in the memories of your loved ones, if that’s what you believe true. If you believe in God or gods, you might join those deities in the afterlife if that’s what you believe.

If one has numerous different ideas and beliefs about life after death, then all the beliefs will come to be true once the afterlife begins.

Worship the Ancestors

The core belief of Taoism lies in the eternity of life and that no one dies as the cosmic energy (spirit) transforms from one form to another. Thus, ancestor worship becomes essential in Taoism. This is even more true due to the influence of other religions like Buddhism.

Moreover, the modern idea of Taoism unites the idea that the dead “live on” in the recalls of their loved ones.

Taoists who believe this is true might unite that belief into their rituals, making sure to honour the memories of loved ones. This includes sharing in spiritual holidays, like the Qingming Festival in China.

Some factions of religious Taoist rites raise and honour the spirits of their ancestors in a strictly sacred fashion. They often create a “pure” space, using incense and prayer, for communion with those who no longer exist physically.


The Taoism beliefs on death and the afterlife have many different variations. Ancient Taoism believes that they could live as immortals in life, while present-day Taoism believes in finding the true meaning of life and balance in nature.

But the central idea behind both the ideologies remains the same i.e. all the things are connected with the Tao (cosmic energy). In life and the afterlife, humans are part of the Tao and remain in perfect accord with the universe as a whole.

Taoism Beliefs on Death, Reincarnation and Afterlife

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What do Taoists believe humans should not do?

It disapproves of killing, stealing, lying and promiscuity, and promotes altruistic, helpful and kindly behaviour. Taoists believe such good behaviour is an essential part not only of self-improvement but of improving the world as a whole.

What are the 3 principles of Taoism?

Simplicity, Passion and Compassion are the 3 core principles of Taoism.