Taoism is not the easiest of things to define. The Tao Te Ching begins:
Tao: The tao that can be told is not the eternal tao
However to approach it from a slightly different angle: What is chinese philosophy? Lin Yutang in his introduction to "The Wisdom of China" talks about the differences between western and eastern philosophy. While western philosophy has been centered around the question: "what can we know", eastern philosophy asked the question: "how do we live".
A definition of taoism from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Taoism: One of the two major religio-philosophical traditions (cf Confucianism) that have shaped Chinese life for more than 2 000 years. In the broadest sense, a Taoist attitude toward life can be seen in the accepting and yielding, the joyful and carefree sides of the Chinese character. Taoism is also characterized by a positive, active attitude toward the occult and the metaphysical (theories on the nature of reality). More strictly defined: Taoism includes the ideas and attitudes peculiar to Lao-Tzu (Tao Te Ching), the 6th-century-BC founder of Taoism, and his later commentators Chuang-tzu and Lieh-tzu, all of whom influenced the ritual worship of the Tao (the Way).
From my point of view: I would say taoism is about acceptance and wonder, contentment and excitement. A sort of acceptance of what is, but mixed with that a realisation of just how wonderful everything is.
There is a little piece in the Tao Te Ching which says: "Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it? I do not think it can be done". So if you break your leg, rather than complaining about the harshness of the world that could do such a thing to you, wonder in the fact you have a roof to drink beer on and stumble backwards off of.
Theres the idea that runs through it, that you are such a tiny part of the universe that you shouldn't overestimate your importance, it doesn't matter what you do, the world is ambivalent. Which is obviously true and freeing, not to take yourself too seriously as the world certainly won't. But mixed in with that is the idea that every part of such a wonderful thing is as essential and as wonderful as the whole.
I don't suppose that really explains anything very much. Get a copy of the Tao Te Ching and read it, it will take you a good hour. Its only 81 chapters most of them are only a few lines long. And the whole thing is available on various websites. That will give you a reasonable introduction. Once you have read that, hunt down Chuang Tzu, who is a seriously good and funny writer. Big parts of that are also available on-line, but its a little bit big to read on a computer screen.
The Tao: in common usage it means "the way", or the way to be followed and by extension, a code of behaviour and doctrine. The philosopical notion of tao involves the
bringing together of nature and man. Tao is also the universal force of the cosmos.
wu-wei: The taoist goal brings the world back to the Way by means of quietism, non intervention, inaction. Worldly ambitions, riches, and knowledge scatter the person and drain his energies, wu-wei is about unity and being close to the Tao.
constructs of knowledge and language: Because in the Taoist view, all beings and everything are fundamentally one, opposing opinions can arise only when people lose sight of the Whole and regard their partial truths as absolute. They are then like the frog at the bottom of the well who takes the bit of brightness he sees for the whole sky. The closed systems -- i.e. the passions and prejudices into which petty minds shut themsleves -- hide the true Tao which resides within themselves and is superior to all distinctions. Therefore all notions of good and evil, true and false are relative. "When you argue there are somethings you are failing to see." (Chuang Tzu)
The rest of this site consists of a quick introduction to the main players (Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu and Lieh-tzu) and a few extracts to give you a taste of what they said. I've also included a list of some books on Taoism that are worth tracking down.
I made this site because when i was trying to find some basic introductory information on taoism I found it difficult and somewhat confusing, with this site I think I can safely say I have added to that confusion, but as the old saying goes: "least you're having a go".
Best of luck and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.