Terms for understanding Taoism

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. The below is in gratitude from Elizabeth Reninger. (Excerpted & adapted – with additions – from, by James Miller.)

Pinyin Wade-Giles Brief English Definition
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bagua pa-k’ua The eight trigrams; the basis of the divination scheme in the Book of Changes (Yijing)
baguazhang pa k’ua chang ‘Eight Trigrams Palm’; one of the main martial arts forms of the Wudang tradition
beidou pei-tou Lit. ‘northern bushel’; the constellation of the Big Dipper or Great Bear
bianhua pien-hua Transformation; the underlying principle of change within the world
bigu pi-ku Abstention from grains; a Taoist longevity practice based on the notion that Immortals live off the air and ‘soak up the dew’
bugang pu-kang Pacing the net; a Taoist ritual whose choreography is based on the Big Dipper
chujia ch’u-chia Lit. ‘leave home’; the process of becoming a Taoist monk
Damo Tamo Bodhidharma; the Indian Buddhist sage known as the founder of the Shaolin tradition of martial arts
dantian tan-t’ien Cinnabar field; one of three principal locations in the body used in the practice of inner alchemy (neidan)
dao tao Literally “way” or “speak” – the ultimate cosmic principle in Taoism
Daodejing Tao Te Ching Taoism’s principle scripture, attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu)
Daoism Taoism One of China’s three major religious traditions, composed of practices and philosophies addressing ones relationship to the Tao
taojia tao-chia Lit. “Tao-school’; a bibliographical classification used for proto-Taoist texts
daojiao tao-chiao Literally “Tao-tradition’; the Taoist religion
daotan tao-t’an Taoist alter – often erected temporarily to perform a ritual and then disassembled
daozang tao-tsang Lit. ‘Taoist treasury’; the Taoist Canon compiled in 1445
de te Lit. “power’ or ‘virtue’; what one obtains by attaining the Tao
dongtian tung-t’ien Grotto-heavens; the network of caves connecting China’s sacred mountains
fangshi fang-shih ‘Magico-technicians’; Han dynasty practitioners of alchemy and immortality whose methods influenced the later flourishing of Taoism
fuguang fu-kuang Absorbing the light; a Taoist energy practice
fuqi fu-ch’i Absorb qi; a Taoist energy practice
hun hun Heavenly 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
hundun hun-tun Chaos; the state of pregnant non-being from which everything arises, and to which Taoist aim to return
jiao chiao Taoist ritual of renewal; the main ritual performed by Taoist priests today
jing ching Essence; a form of qi manifested in sexual fluids
jing ching Scripture; weft of a piece of fabric
Laozi Lao Tzu Old Master or Old Child; the traditional author of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching)
lingbao ling-pao Numinous Treasure or Numinous Jewel; a classical Taoist religious movement
loupan lo p’an Chinese compass; the primary tool of Feng shui  practice
ming ming Fate, destiny, life; the physiological element of one’s person in Complete Perfection cultivation
neidan nei-dan Inner alchemy
Neijing tu Nei-ching t’u An illustration depicting the internal, energetic transformations of Inner Alchemy practice
niwan ni-wan Mud-pill; the cinnabar field in the head
po p’o Earthly soul; one of the Five Shen; the soul/spirit that resides in the Lungs, and at the time of death descends into the earth
qi ch’i Breath, vital energy, pneuma; life-force
qigong ch’i-kung Life-force cultivation; energy practices with roots in antiquity, that became popular in the 19th century
qinggong ch’ing-kung A qigong/martial arts technique for making the physical body extremely light in weight, by altering the flow of qi
qingjing ch’ing-ching Purity and stillness; the aims of the meditation in the Way of Complete Perfection
quanchen ch’uan-chen Complete Perfection; Total Reality; the monastic Taoist movement founded by Wang Zhe
shangqing shang-ch’ing Highest Clarity, Supreme Purity; the classical Taoist movement
shen shen Spirit; spirits; divine; the most refined form of qi
taiji t’ai-chi Supreme Ridgepole; the center of the heavens; Supreme Ultimate, the foundational metaphysical principle
taijiquan t’ai chi ch’uan Supreme Ultimate Fist; Tao-Chi; a principal practice form of the Wudang tradition
taiqing t’ai-ching Great Clarity; a Taoist alchemical movement
tian shi t’ien-shih Celestial Master, Heavenly Teacher; a title bestowed upon Zhang Daoling and his descendants; the first Taoist religious community
tui t’uei Extend; the process of bringing things into correlation with each other
waidan wai-tan Lit. ‘outer alchemy’; laboratory or operative alchemy
wuwei wu-wei Lit. ‘non-action’; actionless-action; non-assertive action; non-volitional action; action as though non-action
xianren hsien-jen Immortal, transcendent being; sometimes translated in popular literature as ‘fairy’ or ‘wizard’
xin hsin Heart, mind; the seat of the personality and the object of Confucian as well as Taoist self-cultivation
xing hsing Inner nature; the psychological element of one’s person in Complete Perfection cultivation
yang yang Sunny; the complement of yin
Yijing I Ching The Book of Changes; a Chinese text known in the west primarily as a divination system
yin yin Shady; the complement of yang
zhengyi cheng-i Orthodox Unity; the branch of Taoism founded by the Celestial Master; one of two branches officially recognized in China today
zhenren chen-jen Perfected person; a Taoist sage
zhonghe chung-ho Central harmony; the ideal state attained in the Way of Great Peace
Zhuangzi Chuang Tzu Taoist sage who was known for his anecdotal and playful parables, used as teaching stories
ziran tzu-jan Self-so, spontaneous, natural; the basic principle that the Tao follows in its evolution; and the core value of Taoism