Taoism has never been a unified religion, but has rather consisted of numerous teachings based on various revelations. Therefore, different branches of Taoism often have very distinct beliefs. Nevertheless, there are certain core beliefs that nearly all the schools share. Taoism theology emphasizes various themes found in the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, such as naturalness, vitality, peace, "non-action" (wu wei), emptiness (refinement), detachment, the strength of softness (or flexibility), receptiveness, spontaneity, the relativism of human ways of life, ways of speaking and guiding behavior.
Tao can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order. Tao is believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered. Tao is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. The flow of qi, as the essential energy of action and existence, is compared to the universal order of Tao. Tao is compared to what it is not, like the negative theology of Western scholars. It is often considered to be the source of both existence and non-existence. Tao is rarely an object of worship, being treated more like the Indian concepts of atman and dharma. The word "Taoism" is used to translate different Chinese terms. Daojiao/Taochiao (道教 "teachings/religion of the Dao") refers to Daoism as a religion. Daojia/Taochia (道家 "school of the Dao") refers to the studies of scholars, or "philosophical" Taoism. However, most scholars have abandoned the dichotomy of "religious" and "philosophical" Taoism.
Tao is also associated with the complex concept of De (德) "power; virtue", which is the active expression of Tao. De is the active living, or cultivation, of that "way".
Wu wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無為; pinyin: wúwéi) is a central concept in Taoism. The literal meaning of wu wei is "without action". It is often expressed by the paradox wei wu wei, meaning "action without action" or "effortless doing". The practice and efficacy of wu wei are fundamental in Taoist thought, most prominently emphasized in Taoism. The goal of wu wei is alignment with Tao, revealing the soft and invisible power within all things. It is believed by Taoists that masters of wu wei can control this invisible potential, the innate yin-action of the Way.
In ancient Taoist texts, wu wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Water is soft and weak, but it can move earth and carve stone. Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts that harmony. Taoism does not identify man's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that man must place his will in harmony with the natural universe.
Pu (simplified Chinese: 朴; traditional Chinese: 樸; pinyin: pǔ, pú; Wade-Giles: p'u; lit. "uncut wood") is translated "uncarved block", "unhewn log", or "simplicity". It is a metaphor for the state of wu wei (無為) and the principle of jian
Taoists believe that human is a microcosm for the universe. The body ties directly into the Chinese five elements. The five organs correlate with the five elements, the five directions and the seasons. Akin to the "hermetic maxim" of "as above, so below", Taoism posits that by understanding himself, man may gain knowledge of the universe, and vice versa.
In Taoism, even beyond Chinese folk religion, various rituals, exercises, and substances are said to positively affect one's physical and mental health. They are also intended to align oneself spiritually with cosmic forces, or enable ecstatic spiritual journeys. These concepts seem basic to Taoism in its elite forms. Internal alchemy and various spiritual practices are used by some Taoists to extend life, theoretically even to the point of immortality.