There is some debate about a distinction between Taoism as a religious tradition and Taoism as a philosophical system. When most Westerners think of Taoism, they are often referring to the works of Laozi and Zhuangzi. These thought systems many be seen as philosophies rather than religions, as they include nothing within themselves about gods, worship or ritual. This type of Taoism is often referred to in Chinese as Daojia, or “Taoist Thinking” (thought, more literally, as “Tao specialists”).
Another aspect of Taoism, more familiar in China or countries under Chinese cultural influence, includes worship of Laozi and other divinities, magic, alchemy, qigong, perfection of immortality, and many other practices. This aspect of Taoism encompasses teaching lineages (where teachers pass on texts, rituals and beliefs to select students), temples, and sects. It is often referred to as Taoist religion, or in Chinese as Daojiao.
The relationship between Taoist religion and Taoist philosophy is complex. One of the original founders of Taoist religious sects, Zhang Daoling, said he had received revelations from Laozi himself. Most Taoist religious sects hold Laozi to be least a god, if not the highest divinity. Taoist religious practice often includes beliefs strongly founded on the Tao Te Ching. There are also hints in the Zhuangzi of immortality, a common feature of Taoist religious practice. Further, many Chinese traditional religious practices are considered “Taoist” even when there is little that specifically makes them so.
A clear and definitive distinction between that which is religion and that which is philosophy in Taoism is difficult. Moreover, a clear distinction between ideas and practices originating with Taoism and those from other sources in Chinese culture is also often impossible.