While many in the West associate the term "dao" with Taoism, it was originally used by many participants in a lengthy debate about the proper way to behave and to lead others.
Taoism was influenced by the divine bureaucracy of Shang dynasty religion, by Buddhist social organization and ideas about the afterlife, and by ancient Chinese magical, shamanic, and self-cultivation practices.
Authorship of the Taode jing is traditionally attributed to Laozi, a mythical figure who is often regarded as the founder of Taoism. The founder of organized Taoist religion was Zhang Daoling.
Thousands of Taoist scriptural texts, most said to have been transmitted by deities or immortals, have been collected together in a canon called the "Taozang," or Treasury of Tao.
An old distinction between religious and philosophical Taoism guided scholarship in the West until the last decades of the 20th century. Recent scholarship has questioned this distinction, while focusing on Taoist religious groups.