In a general way, Taoism may be defined as a traditional form of thought and religion, based on some central notions, cults, and practices but never subject to systematization as a whole, and syncretic but at the same time self-contained--in the sense that while it integrates many elements from other traditions, it frequently emphasizes its distinction from them. These basic features underlie different formulations of doctrinal notions and a large variety of practices, ranging from self-cultivation to communal rituals.
Historically, the Taoist tradition has consisted of several schools, or rather lineages, usually based on one or more primary texts and associated with one or more divine or semi-divine beings. As a whole, these lineages and corpora have represented the higher but "unofficial" form of native religion in China (Seidel, 1997). This definition points to the complexity of questions that surround the status of Taoism and its relation to Chinese religion; it is also relevant to its relation to Chinese thought, for the beliefs and practices of Taoism as a religion were often formulated with reference to ideas and notions formulated in its early doctrinal texts.
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