Yoga and Taoist practices share many similar techniques and paradigms while also having both subtle and dramatic differences. Each is a master system for human evolution abundant with complex subtleties that have developed over millennia. To try to concisely compare these practices is difficult because of the immense diversity and history of both the Hindu and Taoist theology, sociology, and methodology.
There have been many academics, e.g. Joseph Campbell, who have written a tonnage on the subject, though ultimately an analysis of that which is beyond the rational is fraught with difficulty, if not doomed to failure. However, I will endeavor to succinctly contrast these two cosmologies below.
By "Energy Yoga" I mean those yogic systems that deal with the mastery of life force, consciousness, and subtle energies, e.g. Kundalini Yoga, Tantra Yoga, etc. The "Taoism" I refer to is not just the philosophical precepts (I Ching, Tao Te Ching, etc.) but the concrete and pragmatic applications, e.g. Qigong, Nei Kung, T'ai Chi, Tantric Chi Kung, etc.
Comparison of Intention and Technique of Energy Yoga and Taoist practices
Energy Yoga: Return to Godhead.
Energy Yoga seeks Mystical union with God and this agenda informs yoga technology and practice. All religions have this desire in some form, more or less. Health and longevity are seen as necessary for a long enough life to accrue the needed mastery of technique and wisdom to apply it in an ethical and karmically beneficial manner.
Taoism: Creation of harmony, empowerment, longevity / immortality
Taoism is more concerned with achieving inner and outer harmony, personal power, optimization of health, and achieving longevity or immortality; though there are esoteric sects that have a Buddhist or other religious and / or spiritual nature. Study of Qigong, T'ai Chi, the I Ching, and Tao Te Ching are spiritual pathways to attaining health, harmony, and spiritual power.
Attainment of great mystical power (siddhis) is a phenomenon shared by both Yoga and Taoism, and those practitioners without true Masters are inevitably lured by this detour on the path of pure intent.
Energy Yoga: Ascension
Energy Yoga's desire to achieve Divine Unity is expressed in orthodox schools through techniques that increase consciousness and raise life force through the body in various ways. In it's most zealous forms, ascetic yogis seek to "park" the body so that the consciousness of the aspirant may leave its confines to seek unity with God. More unorthodox schools (left hand path), e.g., Tantra Yoga, may raise, lower, and circulate energies ( ci, Qi, Ki, Prana, Kundalini) for numerous rationales, one of which is the axiom that "The Kingdom of Heaven is within." i.e., The Divine meets the human within the temple of the body.
What is considered a "left hand" path in Yoga is more orthodox in Taoist practice. Much practice is invested in a multitude of techniques for generating and circulating life force (Chi, Qi, Ki), personal power, healing the body, creating personal and social balance (harmony). Mystical experiences that are not centered in the body are less interesting to many Taoists.
The Middle Path
Surveys show that 80% of Americans feel that religion plays an important part in their lives. Yet we remain a highly materialistic, competitive, violent culture. Certainly our approach to institutional religion is highly dogmatic and sometimes extraordinarily judgmental. America is not alone in this. Throughout history, cultures have been shaped, and wars instigated, by religious zealots. Is this spiritual hubris a cause or consequence of personal and social arrogance and rigteousness, or is it both?
Of course, both Chinese culture and that of the Indian subcontinent have aspects of this also. Due to caste doctrine, Brahmins could only practice Tantra in secret. The great wisdom of the Tao was often utilized for pugilism (there are actually T'ai Chi and Qi Gong competitions!) It is just that it is more difficult to see and extract oneself from the psychosocial-religious ideology that one was born into and imprinted by.
Ideally, a middle approach includes a balance of earthly and spiritual intents restorative to mind, body, and spirit. A congruence of strength and compassion, expression and tolerance, freedom and temperance, ascension and embodiment, physical pleasure and transcendental bliss. Tantric Qigong is such a method. Its Taoist and Yogic elements promote health, harmony, empowerment, composure, personal freedom and, if one desires, a foundation for spiritual evolution and ethos.
10 Minutes A Day to A Healthier You!(sm) is a highly efficient system of Tantric Qigong adjusted to the lifestyle and mindset of contemporary Westerners. For more information, go to: http://www.inner-tranquility.com/10-minutes-to-a-healthier-you © 2002 Keith E. Hall. All rights reserved.
Rev. Hall has taught Tai Chi, Qigong, Tantra, & body / mind modalities for 30 years & is a senior student of Prof. Yung-ko Chou, with permission to teach. He has studied at East West Schools across the world & with Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas, S. Saraswati & others. He practices Bioenergetics, Bagua, Tumo, Vipassana, Zen, Spiritual Bodywork, various Yogas, & other East West disciplines. He has published articles on Tantra & Taoist arts in numerous journals & is the Founder of Jade Garden Tantra and www.Inner-Tranquility.com.