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Taoism (also known as Daoism) is a Chinese philosophy attributed to Lao Tzu (c. 500 BCE) which developed from the folk religion of the people primarily in the rural areas of China and became the official religion of the country under the Tang Dynasty. Taoism is therefore both a philosophy and a religion.
It emphasizes doing what is natural and "going with the flow" in accordance with the Tao (or Dao), a cosmic force which flows through all things and binds and releases them. The philosophy grew from an observance of the natural world, and the religion developed out of a belief in cosmic balance maintained and regulated by the Tao. The original belief may or may not have included practices such as ancestor and spirit worship but both of these principles are observed by many Taoists today and have been for centuries.
Taoism exerted a great influence during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and the emperor Xuanzong (reigned 712-756 CE) decreed it a state religion, mandating that people keep Taoist writings in their home. It fell out of favor as the Tang Dynasty declined and was replaced by Confucianism and Buddhism but the religion is still practiced throughout China and other countries today.
The historian Sima Qian (145-86 BCE) tells the story of Lao-Tzu, a curator at the Royal Library in the state of Chu, who was a natural philosopher. Lao-Tzu believed in the harmony of all things and that people could live easily together if they only considered each other's feelings once in a while and recognized that their self-interest was not always in the interest of others. Lao-Tzu grew impatient with people and with the corruption he saw in government, which caused the people so much pain and misery. He was so frustrated by his inability to change people's behavior that he decided to go into exile.
As he was leaving China through the western pass, the gatekeeper Yin Hsi stopped him because he recognized him as a philosopher. Yin Hsi asked Lao-Tzu to write a book for him before he left civilization forever and Lao-Tzu agreed. He sat down on a rock beside the gatekeeper and wrote the Tao-Te-Ching (The Book of the Way). He stopped writing when he felt he was finished, handed the book to Yin Hsi, and walked through the western pass to vanish into the mist beyond. Sima Qian does not continue the story after this but, presumably (if the story is true) Yin Hsi would have then had the Tao-Te-Ching copied and distributed.
The Tao-Te-Ching is an attempt to remind people everyone could live together peacefully if people would only be mindful of how their thoughts and actions affect themselves, others, and the earth.
The Tao-Te-Ching is not a 'scripture' in any way. It is a book of poetry presenting the simple way of following the Tao and living life at peace with one's self, others, and the world of changes. A typical verse advises, "Yield and overcome/Empty and become full/Bend and become straight" to direct a reader to a simpler way of living. Instead of fighting against life and others, one can yield to circumstances and let the things which are not really important go. Instead of insisting one is right all the time, one can empty one's self of that kind of pride and be open to learning from other people. Instead of clinging to old belief patterns and hanging onto the past, one can bend to new ideas and new ways of living.
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The Tao-Te-Ching was most likely not written by Lao-Tzu at the western pass and may not have been written by him at all. Lao-Tzu probably did not exist and the Tao-Te-Ching is a compilation of sayings set down by an unknown scribe. Whether the origin of the book and the belief system originated with a man named Lao-Tzu or when it was written or how is immaterial (the book itself would agree) and all that matters is what the work says and what it has come to mean to readers. The Tao-Te-Ching is an attempt to remind people that they are connected to others and to the earth and that everyone could live together peacefully if people would only be mindful of how their thoughts and actions affect themselves, others, and the earth.
A good reason to believe that Lao-Tzu was not the author of the Tao-Te-Ching is that the core philosophy of Taoism grew up from the peasant class during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) long before the accepted dates for Lao-Tzu. During the Shang era, the practice of divination became more popular through the reading of oracle bones which would tell one's future. Reading oracle bones led to a written text called the I-Ching (c. 1250-1150 BCE), the Book of Changes, which is a book still available today providing a reader with interpretations for certain hexagrams which supposedly tell the future.
A person would ask a question and then throw a handful of yarrow sticks onto a flat surface (such as a table) and the I-Ching would be consulted for an answer to the person's question. These hexagrams consist of six unbroken lines (called Yang lines) and six broken lines (Yin). When a person looked at the pattern the yarrow sticks made when they were thrown, and then consulted the hexagrams in the book, they would have their answer. The broken and the unbroken lines, the yin and yang, were both necessary for that answer because the principles of yin and yang were necessary for life. Historian John M. Koller writes:
Yin-yang thought began as an attempt to answer the question of the origin of the universe. According to yin-yang thought, the universe came to be as a result of the interactions between the two primordial opposing forces of yin and yang. Because things are experienced as changing, as processes coming into being and passing out of being, they must have both yang, or being, and yin, or lack of being. The world of changing things that constitutes nature can exist only when there are both yang and yin. Without yang nothing can come into existence. Without yin nothing can pass out of existence (207).
Although Taoism and the Tao-Te-Ching were not originally associated with the symbol known as the yin-yang, they have both come to be because the philosophy of Taoism embodies the yin-yang principle and yin-yang thought. Life is supposed to be lived in balance, as the symbol of the yin and the yang expresses. The yin-yang is a symbol of opposites in balance - dark/light, passive/aggressive, female/male - everything except good and evil, life and death, because nature does not recognize anything as good or evil and nature does not recognize a difference between life and non-life. All is in harmony in nature, and Taoism tries to encourage people to accept and live that kind of harmony as well.
Other Chinese texts relating to Taoism are the Chaung-Tzu (also known as the Zhuangzi, written by Zhuang Zhou, c. 369-286 BCE) and the Daozang from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and Sung Dynasty (960-1234 CE) which was compiled in the later Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE). All of these texts are based on the same kinds of observation of the natural world and the belief that human beings are innately good and only needed a reminder of their inner nature to pursue virtue over vice. There are no "bad people" according to Taoist principles, only people who behave badly. Given the proper education and guidance toward understanding how the universe works, anyone could be a "good person" living in harmony with the earth and with others.
According to this belief, the way of the Tao is in accordance with nature while resistance to the Tao is unnatural and causes friction. The best way for a person to live, according to Taoism, is to submit to whatever life brings and be flexible. If a person adapts to the changes in life easily, that person will be happy; if a person resists the changes in life, that person will be unhappy. One's ultimate goal is to live at peace with the way of the Tao and recognize that everything that happens in life should be accepted as part of the eternal force which binds and moves through all things.
This philosophy corresponds closely with the Logos of the Roman stoics like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. They claimed the Logos was a force of reason and that nothing which happened according to the Logos could be bad; only people's interpretations of what happened made those circumstances seem bad. Taoism claims the same thing: nothing is bad in itself, only our self-interest makes us think that some events in life are bad and others good. Actually, all things happen in accordance with the flow of the Tao and, since the Tao is natural, all things are natural.
Unlike Buddhism (which came from India but became very popular in China), Taoism arose from the observations and beliefs of the Chinese people. The principles of Taoism impacted Chinese culture greatly because it came from the people themselves and was a natural expression of the way the Chinese understood the universe. The concept of the importance of a harmonious existence of balance fit well with the equally popular philosophy of Confucianism (also native to China). Taoism and Confucianism were aligned in their view of the innate goodness of human beings but differed in how to bring that goodness to the surface and lead people to act in better, unselfish, ways.
Taoism & Confucianism
The philosophy of Taoism grew into a religion of the peasant classes of the Shang Dynasty, who lived closely with nature. Their observations of the natural world influenced their philosophy, and one of the things they incorporated was the concept of eternity. The tree which seemed to die came back to life in the spring season and the grass grew again. They concluded that when people died they went somewhere else where they continued to live, they did not just disappear. Everyone's ancestor who had ever died still lived on in another place and in the presence of the gods; Confucians believed in this same concept and revered their ancestors as part of their daily practices.
Ancestor worship became a part of Taoist rituals, although the Tao-Te-Ching does not support it outright, and a reverence for nature and the spirits in nature - very similar to the Shintoism of Japan - came to characterize Taoist observances. Even though Taoism and Confucianism are very similar in many core beliefs, they are different in significant ways. A refusal to participate in strict rites and rituals sets Taoism apart most dramatically from the philosophy of Confucius. Koller writes:
Confucius advocated rites and music so that the desires and emotions might be developed and regulated, for therein lay the development of humanity. To Lao-Tzu, efforts to develop and regulate the desires and emotions seemed artificial, tending to interfere with the harmony of nature. Rather than organize and regulate things to achieve perfection, Lao-Tzu advocated letting things work to their perfection naturally. This means supporting all things in their natural state, allowing them to transform spontaneously (245).
To Lao-Tzu (the name is used here as an expression of Taoist thought), the more regulations one demanded, the harder one made one's life and the lives of others. If one relaxed the artificial rules and regulations which were supposed to improve life, only then would one find that life naturally regulates itself and one would fall into pace with the Tao which runs through and regulates and binds and releases all things naturally.
This belief in allowing life to unfold in accordance with the Tao does not extend to Taoist rituals, however. The rituals of Taoist practice are absolutely in accordance with the Taoist understanding but have been influenced by Buddhist and Confucian practices so that, in the present day, they are sometimes quite elaborate. Every prayer and spell which makes up a Taoist ritual or festival must be spoken precisely and every step of the ritual observed perfectly. Taoist religious festivals are presided over by a Grand Master (a kind of High Priest) who officiates, and these celebrations can last anywhere from a few days to over a week. During the ritual, the Grand Master and his assistants must perform every action and recitation in accordance with tradition or else their efforts are wasted. This is an interesting departure from the usual Taoist understanding of "going with the flow" and not worrying about external rules or elaborate religious practices.
Taoist rituals are concerned with honoring the ancestors of a village, community, or city, and the Grand Master will invoke the spirits of these ancestors while incense burns to purify the area. Purification is a very important element throughout the ritual. The common space of everyday life must be transformed into sacred space to invite communion with the spirits and the gods. There are usually four assistants who attend the Grand Master in different capacities, either as musicians, sacred dancers, or readers. The Grand Master will act out the text as read by one of his assistants, and this text has to do with the ascent of the soul to join with the gods and one's ancestors. In ancient times, the ritual was performed on a staircase leading to an altar to symbolize ascent from one's common surroundings to the higher elevation of the gods. In the present day, the ritual may be performed on a stage or the ground, and it is understood from the text and the actions of the Grand Master that he is ascending.
The altar still plays an important part in the ritual as it is seen as the place where the earthly realm meets with the divine. Taoist households have their own private altars where people will pray and honor their ancestors, household spirits, and the spirits of their village. Taoism encourages individual worship in the home, and the rituals and festivals are community events which bring people together, but they should not be equated with worship practices of other religions such as attending church or temple. A Taoist can worship at home without ever attending a festival, and throughout its history most people have. Festivals are very expensive to stage and are usually funded by members of the town, village, or city. They are usually seen as celebrations of community, though are sometimes performed in times of need such as an epidemic or financial struggle. The spirits and the gods are invoked during these times to drive away the dark spirits causing the problems.
Taoism significantly influenced Chinese culture from the Shang Dynasty forward. The recognition that all things and all people are connected is expressed in the development of the arts, which reflect the people's understanding of their place in the universe and their obligation to each other. During the Tang Dynasty, Taoism became the state religion under the reign of the emperor Xuanzong because he believed it would create harmonious balance in his subjects and, for awhile, he was correct. Xuanzong's rule is still considered one of the most prosperous and stable in the history of China and the high point of the Tang Dynasty.
Taoism has been nominated as a state religion a number of times throughout China's history but the majority preferred the teachings of Confucius (or, at times, Buddhism), most likely because of the rituals of these beliefs which provide a structure Taoism lacks. Today, Taoism is recognized as one of the great world religions and continues to be practiced by people in China and throughout the world.
The term Daoism (or, in the spelling of the older Wade-Giles transcription system, Taoism ) refers very broadly to a cultural, intellectual, religious, and textual tradition ranging from about 500 BCE to today. The founding of this tradition has been attributed to a probably legendary person named Laozi (Wade-Giles: Lao Tzu). Laozi has also been regarded as the author of the most venerated text in Daoism, which was named after its presumed author and later given the honorific title Daodejing (Wade-Giles: Tao te ching, meaning The Classical Scripture of dao and Its Efficacy). It is now commonly assumed that this text is an anthology of previously orally transmitted materials. The oldest extant manuscripts stem from the late fourth or early third century BCE and contain only fragments of what later became the standard text. The present textus receptus goes back to the editorial work of the philosopher Wang Bi (third century CE).
The second foundational Daoist text is Zhuangzi (Wade-Giles: Chuang Tzu), which is named after the author (as assumed by the present state of philological research) of the first seven chapters of this text, the so-called Inner Chapters, which are also considered as being the philosophical core of the whole book. Zhuangzi lived in the fourth century BCE. The remaining 26 chapters of this work are later additions of various materials related to Zhuangzi’s works in content and style. The present textus receptus goes back to the editor Guo Xiang, who lived in the fourth century CE.
A number of other books or parts thereof that were written, collated, and edited between the third century BCE and the third century CE constitute the main body of what has been labeled philosophical Daoism among these are the Liezi, the Huainanzi, and the Wenzi. Philosophical Daoism was distinguished from religious Daoism. The latter term referred to an organized religious practice that began to emerge in the second century CE. Zhang Daoling was the leader of an important movement at this time that encompassed religious, economic, and political dimensions. Since this time, Daoism has been uninterruptedly practiced in the Chinese cultural hemisphere, and recently also globally, in manifold ways.
The distinction between philosophical and religious Daoism has recently been criticized as an artificial categorization and is no longer commonly accepted in the scholarly world. On the one hand, the distinction had been used (by Western academics) to introduce a hierarchy between a supposed high culture of Daoist philosophy and a bastardized, popular type of it, which took on the shape of religious superstition. On the other hand, the distinction tended to marginalize the religious aspects within the so-called philosophical wing of Daoism and also turned a blind eye to the fact that its writings constituted the core of the enormous scriptural canon that evolved within the history of the so-called religious tradition. This article will thus simply historically distinguish between ethical aspects of early Daoist texts (Laozi, Zhuangzi, and others) and the practical, or in contemporary terms ‘applied,’ Daoist ethics of later centuries.
Spelling and pronunciation Edit
Since the introduction of the Pinyin system for romanizing Mandarin Chinese, there have been those who have felt that "Taoism" would be more appropriately spelled as "Daoism". The Mandarin Chinese pronunciation for the word 道 ("way, path") is spelled as tao 4 in the older Wade–Giles romanization system (from which the spelling 'Taoism' is derived), while it is spelled as dào in the newer Pinyin romanization system (from which the spelling "Daoism" is derived). Both the Wade–Giles tao 4 and the Pinyin dào are intended to be pronounced identically in Mandarin Chinese (like the unaspirated 't' in 'stop'), but despite this fact, "Taoism" and "Daoism" can be pronounced differently in English vernacular. 
The word Taoism is used to translate different Chinese terms which refer to different aspects of the same tradition and semantic field: 
- "Taoist religion" ( 道敎 Dàojiào lit. "teachings of the Tao"), or the "liturgical" aspect  – A family of organized religious movements sharing concepts or terminology from "Taoist philosophy"  the first of these is recognized as the Celestial Masters school.
- "Taoist philosophy" ( 道家 Dàojiā lit. "school or family of the Tao") or "Taology" ( 道學 dàoxué lit. "learning of the Tao"), or the "mystical" aspect  – The philosophical doctrines based on the texts of the Yi Jing, the Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing, 道德經 dàodéjīng ) and the Zhuangzi ( 莊子 zhuāngzi ). These texts were linked together as "Taoist philosophy" during the early Han Dynasty, but notably not before.  It is unlikely that Zhuangzi was familiar with the text of the Tao Te Ching,  and Zhuangzi would not have identified himself as a Taoist as this classification did not arise until well after his death. 
However, the discussed distinction is rejected by the majority of Western and Japanese scholars.  It is contested by hermeneutic (interpretive) difficulties in the categorization of the different Taoist schools, sects and movements.  Taoism does not fall under an umbrella or a definition of a single organized religion like the Abrahamic traditions nor can it be studied as a mere variant of Chinese folk religion, as although the two share some similar concepts, much of Chinese folk religion is separate from the tenets and core teachings of Taoism.  The sinologists Isabelle Robinet and Livia Kohn agree that "Taoism has never been a unified religion, and has constantly consisted of a combination of teachings based on a variety of original revelations." 
The philosopher Chung-ying Cheng views Taoism as a religion that has been embedded into Chinese history and tradition. "Whether Confucianism, Taoism, or later Chinese Buddhism, they all fall into this pattern of thinking and organizing and in this sense remain religious, even though individually and intellectually they also assume forms of philosophy and practical wisdom."  Chung-ying Cheng also noted that the Taoist view of heaven flows mainly from "observation and meditation, [though] the teaching of the way (Tao) can also include the way of heaven independently of human nature".  In Chinese history, the three religions of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism stand on their own independent views, and yet are "involved in a process of attempting to find harmonization and convergence among themselves, so that we can speak of a 'unity of three religious teachings' ( 三敎合一 Sānjiào Héyī ). 
The term "Taoist" and "Taoism" as a "liturgical framework" Edit
Traditionally, the Chinese language does not have terms defining lay people adhering to the doctrines or the practices of Taoism, who fall instead within the field of folk religion. "Taoist", in Western sinology, is traditionally used to translate Taoshih ( 道士 , "master of the Tao"), thus strictly defining the priests of Taoism, ordained clergymen of a Taoist institution who "represent Taoist culture on a professional basis", are experts of Taoist liturgy, and therefore can employ this knowledge and ritual skills for the benefit of a community. 
This role of Taoist priests reflects the definition of Taoism as a "liturgical framework for the development of local cults", in other words a scheme or structure for Chinese religion, proposed first by the scholar and Taoist initiate Kristofer Schipper in The Taoist Body (1986).  Taoshih are comparable to the non-Taoist fashi ( 法師 , "ritual masters") of vernacular traditions (the so-called "Faism") within Chinese religion. 
The term dàojiàotú ( 道敎徒 'follower of Taoism'), with the meaning of "Taoist" as "lay member or believer of Taoism", is a modern invention that goes back to the introduction of the Western category of "organized religion" in China in the 20th century, but it has no significance for most of Chinese society in which Taoism continues to be an "order" of the larger body of Chinese religion.
Lao Tzu is traditionally regarded as one of the founders of Taoism and is closely associated in this context with "original" or "primordial" Taoism.  Whether he actually existed is disputed   however, the work attributed to him—the Tao Te Ching—is dated to the late 4th century BCE. 
Taoism draws its cosmological foundations from the School of Naturalists (in the form of its main elements—yin and yang and the Five Phases), which developed during the Warring States period (4th to 3rd centuries BCE). 
Robinet identifies four components in the emergence of Taoism:
- Philosophical Taoism, i.e. the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi
- techniques for achieving ecstasy
- practices for achieving longevity or immortality . 
Some elements of Taoism may be traced to prehistoric folk religions in China that later coalesced into a Taoist tradition.  In particular, many Taoist practices drew from the Warring-States-era phenomena of the wu (connected to the shamanic culture of northern China) and the fangshi (which probably derived from the "archivist-soothsayers of antiquity, one of whom supposedly was Lao Tzu himself"), even though later Taoists insisted that this was not the case.  Both terms were used to designate individuals dedicated to ". magic, medicine, divination. methods of longevity and to ecstatic wanderings" as well as exorcism in the case of the wu, "shamans" or "sorcerers" is often used as a translation.  The fangshi were philosophically close to the School of Naturalists, and relied much on astrological and calendrical speculations in their divinatory activities. 
The first organized form of Taoism, the Way of the Celestial Masters's school (later known as Zhengyi school), developed from the Five Pecks of Rice movement at the end of the 2nd century CE the latter had been founded by Zhang Taoling, who said that Lao Tzu appeared to him in the year 142.  The Way of the Celestial Masters school was officially recognized by ruler Cao Cao in 215, legitimizing Cao Cao's rise to power in return.  Lao Tzu received imperial recognition as a divinity in the mid-2nd century BCE. 
By the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the various sources of Taoism had coalesced into a coherent tradition of religious organizations and orders of ritualists in the state of Shu (modern Sichuan). In earlier ancient China, Taoists were thought of as hermits or recluses who did not participate in political life. Zhuangzi was the best known of these, and it is significant that he lived in the south, where he was part of local Chinese shamanic traditions. 
Female shamans played an important role in this tradition, which was particularly strong in the southern state of Chu. Early Taoist movements developed their own institution in contrast to shamanism but absorbed basic shamanic elements. Shamans revealed basic texts of Taoism from early times down to at least the 20th century.  Institutional orders of Taoism evolved in various strains that in more recent times are conventionally grouped into two main branches: Quanzhen Taoism and Zhengyi Taoism.  After Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi, the literature of Taoism grew steadily and was compiled in form of a canon—the Tao Tsang—which was published at the behest of the emperor. Throughout Chinese history, Taoism was nominated several times as a state religion. After the 17th century, however, it fell from favor.
Taoism, in form of the Shangqing school, gained official status in China again during the Tang dynasty (618–907), whose emperors claimed Lao Tzu as their relative.  The Shangqing movement, however, had developed much earlier, in the 4th century, on the basis of a series of revelations by gods and spirits to a certain Yang Xi in the years between 364 and 370. 
Between 397 and 402, Ge Chaofu compiled a series of scriptures which later served as the foundation of the Lingbao school,  which unfolded its greatest influence during the Song dynasty (960–1279).  Several Song emperors, most notably Huizong, were active in promoting Taoism, collecting Taoist texts and publishing editions of the Taotsang. 
In the 12th century, the Quanzhen School was founded in Shandong. It flourished during the 13th and 14th centuries and during the Yuan dynasty became the largest and most important Taoist school in Northern China. The school's most revered master, Qiu Chuji, met with Genghis Khan in 1222 and was successful in influencing the Khan towards exerting more restraint during his brutal conquests. By the Khan's decree, the school also was exempt from taxation. 
Aspects of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were consciously synthesized in the Neo-Confucian school, which eventually became Imperial orthodoxy for state bureaucratic purposes under the Ming (1368–1644). 
During the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), however, due to discouragements of the government, many people favored Confucian and Buddhist classics over Taoist works.
During the 18th century, the imperial library was constituted, but excluded virtually all Taoist books.  By the beginning of the 20th century, Taoism went through many catastrophic events. (As a result, only one complete copy of the Tao Tsang still remained, at the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing). 
Today, Taoism is one of five official recognized religions in the People's Republic of China. The government regulates its activities through the Chinese Taoist Association.  However, Taoism is practiced without government involvement in Taiwan, where it claims millions of adherents.
World Heritage Sites Mount Qingcheng and Mount Longhu are thought to be among the birthplaces of Taoism.
Taoism tends to emphasize various themes of the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, such as naturalness, spontaneity, simplicity, detachment from desires, and most important of all, wu wei.  However, the concepts of those keystone texts cannot be equated with Taoism as a whole. 
Tao and Te Edit
Tao ( 道 dào ) literally means "way", but can also be interpreted as road, channel, path, doctrine, or line.  In Taoism, it is "the One, which is natural, spontaneous, eternal, nameless, and indescribable. It is at once the beginning of all things and the way in which all things pursue their course."  It has variously been denoted as the "flow of the universe",  a "conceptually necessary ontological ground",  or a demonstration of nature.  The Tao also is something that individuals can find immanent in themselves. 
The active expression of Tao is called Te (also spelled—and pronounced—De, or even Teh often translated with Virtue or Power 德 dé ),  in a sense that Te results from an individual living and cultivating the Tao. 
The ambiguous term wu-wei ( 無爲 wú wéi ) constitutes the leading ethical concept in Taoism.  Wei refers to any intentional or deliberated action, while wu carries the meaning of "there is no . " or "lacking, without". Common translations are "nonaction", "effortless action" or "action without intent".  The meaning is sometimes emphasized by using the paradoxical expression "wei wu wei": "action without action". 
In ancient Taoist texts, wu-wei is associated with water through its yielding nature.  Taoist philosophy, in accordance with the I Ching, proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts their will against the world in a manner that is out of rhythm with the cycles of change, they may disrupt that harmony and unintended consequences may more likely result rather than the willed outcome. Taoism does not identify one's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that one must place their will in harmony with the natural universe.  Thus, a potentially harmful interference may be avoided, and in this way, goals can be achieved effortlessly.   "By wu-wei, the sage seeks to come into harmony with the great Tao, which itself accomplishes by nonaction." 
Ziran ( 自然 zìrán tzu-jan lit. "self-such", "self-organization"  ) is regarded as a central value in Taoism.  It describes the "primordial state" of all things  as well as a basic character of the Tao,  and is usually associated with spontaneity and creativity.  To attain naturalness, one has to identify with the Tao  this involves freeing oneself from selfishness and desire, and appreciating simplicity. 
An often cited metaphor for naturalness is pu ( 樸 pǔ, pú p'u lit. "uncut wood"), the "uncarved block", which represents the "original nature. prior to the imprint of culture" of an individual.  It is usually referred to as a state one returns to. 
Three Treasures Edit
The Taoist Three Treasures or Three Jewels ( 三寶 sānbǎo ) comprise the basic virtues of ci ( 慈 cí , usually translated as compassion), jian ( 儉 jiǎn , usually translated as moderation), and bugan wei tianxia xian ( 不敢爲天下先 bùgǎn wéi tiānxià xiān , literally "not daring to act as first under the heavens", but usually translated as humility).
As the "practical, political side" of Taoist philosophy, Arthur Waley translated them as "abstention from aggressive war and capital punishment", "absolute simplicity of living", and "refusal to assert active authority". 
The Three Treasures can also refer to jing, qi and shen ( 精氣神 jīng-qì-shén jing is usually translated as essence, qi as life force, and shen as spirit). These terms are elements of the traditional Chinese concept of the human body, which shares its cosmological foundation—Yinyangism or the Naturalists—with Taoism. Within this framework, they play an important role in neidan ("Taoist Inner Alchemy"). 
Taoist cosmology is cyclic—the universe is seen as being in a constant process of re-creating itself.  Evolution and 'extremes meet' are main characters.  Taoist cosmology shares similar views with the School of Naturalists (Yinyang)  which was headed by Zou Yan (305–240 BCE). The school's tenets harmonized the concepts of the Wu Xing (Five Elements) and yin and yang. In this spirit, the universe is seen as being in a constant process of re-creating itself, as everything that exists is a mere aspect of qi, which "condensed, becomes life diluted, it is indefinite potential".  Qi is in a perpetual transformation between its condensed and diluted state.  These two different states of qi, on the other hand, are embodiments of the abstract entities of yin and yang,  two complementary extremes that constantly play against and with each other and one cannot exist without the other. 
Human beings are seen as a microcosm of the universe,  and for example comprise the Wu Xing in form of the zang-fu organs.  As a consequence, it is believed that deeper understanding of the universe can be achieved by understanding oneself. 
Taoist theology can be defined as apophatic, given its philosophical emphasis on the formlessness and unknowable nature of the Tao, and the primacy of the "Way" rather than anthropomorphic concepts of God. This is one of the core beliefs that nearly all the sects share. 
Taoist orders usually present the Three Pure Ones at the top of the pantheon of deities, visualizing the hierarchy emanating from the Tao. Lao Tzu is considered the incarnation of one of the Three Purities and worshiped as the ancestor of the philosophical doctrine.  
Different branches of Taoism often have differing pantheons of lesser deities, where these deities reflect different notions of cosmology.  Lesser deities also may be promoted or demoted for their activity.  Some varieties of popular Chinese religion incorporate the Jade Emperor, derived from the main of the Three Purities, as a representation of the most high God.
Persons from the history of Taoism, and people who are considered to have become immortals (xian), are venerated as well by both clergy and laypeople.
Despite these hierarchies of deities, traditional conceptions of Tao should not be confused with the Western theism. Being one with the Tao does not necessarily indicate a union with an eternal spirit in, for example, the Hindu sense.  
Tao Te Ching Edit
The Tao Te Ching or Taodejing is widely considered the most influential Taoist text.  According to legend, it was written by Lao Tzu,  and often the book is simply referred to as the "Lao Tzu." However, authorship, precise date of origin, and even unity of the text are still subject of debate,  and will probably never be known with certainty.  The earliest texts of the Tao Te Ching that have been excavated (written on bamboo tablets) date back to the late 4th century BCE.  Throughout the history of religious Taoism, the Tao Te Ching has been used as a ritual text. 
The famous opening lines of the Tao Te Ching are:
道可道非常道 (pinyin: dào kĕ dào fēi cháng dào )
"The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao"
名可名非常名 (pinyin: míng kĕ míng fēi cháng míng )
"The name that can be named is not the eternal name." 
There is significant, at times acrimonious, debate regarding which English translation of the Tao Te Ching is preferable, and which particular translation methodology is best.  The Tao Te Ching is not thematically ordered. However, the main themes of the text are repeatedly expressed using variant formulations, often with only a slight difference. 
The leading themes revolve around the nature of Tao and how to attain it. Tao is said to be ineffable, and accomplishing great things through small means.  Ancient commentaries on the Tao Te Ching are important texts in their own right. Perhaps the oldest one, the Heshang Gong commentary, was most likely written in the 2nd century CE.  Other important commentaries include the one from Wang Bi and the Xiang'er. 
The Zhuangzi ( 莊子 ), named after its traditional author Zhuangzi, is a composite of writings from various sources, and is generally considered the most important of all Taoist writings.  The commentator Guo Xiang (c. CE 300) helped establish the text as an important source for Taoist thought. The traditional view is that Zhuangzi himself wrote the first seven chapters (the "inner chapters") and his students and related thinkers were responsible for the other parts (the "outer" and "miscellaneous" chapters). The work uses anecdotes, parables and dialogues to express one of its main themes, that is aligning oneself to the laws of the natural world and "the way" of the elements.  
I Ching Edit
The I Ching was originally a divination system that had its origins around 1150 BCE.  Although it predates the first mentions of Tao as an organized system of philosophy and religious practice, this text later became of philosophical importance to Taoism and Confucianism.
The I Ching itself, shorn of its commentaries, consists of 64 combinations of 8 trigrams (called "hexagrams"), traditionally chosen by throwing coins or yarrow sticks, to give the diviner some idea of the situation at hand and, through reading of the "changing lines", some idea of what is developing. 
The 64 original notations of the hexagrams in the I Ching can also be read as a meditation on how change occurs, so it assists Taoists with managing yin and yang cycles as Laozi advocated in the Tao Te Ching (the oldest known version of this text was dated to 400 BCE). More recently as recorded in the 18th century, the Taoist master Liu Yiming continued to advocate this usage. 
The Taoist Canon Edit
The Taoist Canon ( 道藏 , Treasury of Tao) is also referred to as the Taotsang. It was originally compiled during the Jin, Tang, and Song dynasties. The extant version was published during the Ming Dynasty.  The Ming Taotsang includes almost 1500 texts.  Following the example of the Buddhist Tripiṭaka, it is divided into three dong ( 洞 , "caves", "grottoes"). They are arranged from "highest" to "lowest": 
- The Zhen ("real" or "truth" 眞 ) grotto. Includes the Shangqing texts.
- The Xuan ("mystery" 玄 ) grotto. Includes the Lingbao scriptures.
- The Shen ("divine" 神 ) grotto. Includes texts predating the Maoshan ( 茅山 ) revelations.
Taoist generally do not consult published versions of the Taotsang, but individually choose, or inherit, texts included in the Taotsang. These texts have been passed down for generations from teacher to student. 
The Shangqing School has a tradition of approaching Taoism through scriptural study. It is believed that by reciting certain texts often enough one will be rewarded with immortality. 
Other texts Edit
While the Tao Te Ching is most famous, there are many other important texts in traditional Taoism. Taishang Ganying Pian ("Treatise of the Exalted One on Response and Retribution") discusses sin and ethics, and has become a popular morality tract in the last few centuries.  It asserts that those in harmony with Tao will live long and fruitful lives. The wicked, and their descendants, will suffer and have shortened lives. 
The taijitu ( 太極圖 tàijítú commonly known as the "yin and yang symbol" or simply the "yin yang") and the Ba-gua 八卦 ("Eight Trigrams") have importance in Taoist symbolism.  In this cosmology, the universe creates itself out of a primary chaos of material energy, organized into the cycles of Yin and Yang and formed into objects and lives. Yin is the receptive and Yang is the active principle, seen in all forms of change and difference such as the annual season cycles, the natural landscape, the formation of both men and women as characters, and sociopolitical history.  While almost all Taoist organizations make use of it, its principles have influenced Confucian, Neo-Confucian or pan-Chinese theory. One can see this symbol as a decorative element on Taoist organization flags and logos, temple floors, or stitched into clerical robes. According to Song dynasty sources, it originated around the 10th century CE.  Previously, a tiger and a dragon had symbolized yin and yang. 
Taoist temples may fly square or triangular flags. They typically feature mystical writing or diagrams and are intended to fulfill various functions including providing guidance for the spirits of the dead, bringing good fortune, increasing life span, etc.  Other flags and banners may be those of the gods or immortals themselves. 
A zigzag with seven stars is sometimes displayed, representing the Big Dipper (or the Bushel, the Chinese equivalent). In the Shang Dynasty of the 2nd millennium BCE, Chinese thought regarded the Big Dipper as a deity, while during the Han Dynasty, it was considered a qi path of the circumpolar god, Taiyi. 
Taoist temples in southern China and Taiwan may often be identified by their roofs, which feature dragons and phoenixes made from multicolored ceramic tiles. They also stand for the harmony of yin and yang (with the phoenix representing yin). A related symbol is the flaming pearl, which may be seen on such roofs between two dragons, as well as on the hairpin of a Celestial Master.  In general though, Chinese Taoist architecture lacks universal features that distinguish it from other structures. 
In ancient times, before the Taoism religion was founded, food would sometimes be set out as a sacrifice to the spirits of the deceased or the gods. This could include slaughtered animals, such as pigs and ducks, or fruit. The Taoist Celestial Master Zhang Taoling rejected food and animal sacrifices to the Gods. He tore apart temples which demanded animal sacrifice and drove away its priests. This rejection of sacrifices has continued into the modern day, as Taoism Temples are not allowed to use animal sacrifices (with the exception of folk temples or local tradition.)  Another form of sacrifice involves the burning of joss paper, or hell money, on the assumption that images thus consumed by the fire will reappear—not as a mere image, but as the actual item—in the spirit world, making them available for revered ancestors and departed loved ones. The joss paper is mostly used when memorializing ancestors, such as done during the Qingming festival.
Also on particular holidays, street parades take place. These are lively affairs which invariably involve firecrackers and flower-covered floats broadcasting traditional music. They also variously include lion dances and dragon dances human-occupied puppets (often of the "Seventh Lord" and "Eighth Lord"), Kungfu-practicing and palanquins carrying god-images. The various participants are not considered performers, but rather possessed by the gods and spirits in question. 
Fortune-telling—including astrology, I Ching, and other forms of divination—has long been considered a traditional Taoist pursuit. Mediumship is also widely encountered in some sects. There is an academic and social distinction between martial forms of mediumship (such as tongji) and the spirit-writing that is typically practiced through planchette writing. 
Physical cultivation Edit
A recurrent and important element of Taoism are rituals, exercises and substances aiming at aligning oneself spiritually with cosmic forces, at undertaking ecstatic spiritual journeys, or at improving physical health and thereby extending one's life, ideally to the point of immortality.  Enlightened and immortal beings are referred to as xian.
A characteristic method aiming for longevity is Taoist alchemy. Already in very early Taoist scriptures—like the Taiping Jing and the Baopuzi—alchemical formulas for achieving immortality were outlined. 
A number of martial arts traditions, particularly the ones falling under the category of Neijia (like T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Pa Kwa Chang and Xing Yi Quan) embody Taoist principles to a significant extent, and some practitioners consider their art a means of practicing Taoism. 
The number of Taoists is difficult to estimate, due to a variety of factors including defining Taoism. According to a survey of religion in China in the year 2010, the number of people practicing some form of Chinese folk religion is near to 950 million (70% of the Chinese).  Among these, 173 million (13%) claim an affiliation with Taoist practices.  Furthermore, 12 million people claim to be "Taoists", a term traditionally used exclusively for initiates, priests and experts of Taoist rituals and methods. 
Most Chinese people and many others have been influenced in some way by Taoist traditions. Since the creation of the People's Republic of China, the government has encouraged a revival of Taoist traditions in codified settings. In 1956, the Chinese Taoist Association was formed to administer the activities of all registered Taoist orders, and received official approval in 1957. It was disbanded during the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong, but was reestablished in 1980. The headquarters of the association are at the Baiyunguan, or White Cloud Temple of Beijing, belonging to the Longmen branch of Quanzhen Taoism.  Since 1980, many Taoist monasteries and temples have been reopened or rebuilt, both belonging to the Zhengyi or Quanzhen schools, and clergy ordination has been resumed.
Taoist literature and art has influenced the cultures of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Organized Taoism seems not to have attracted a large non-Chinese following until modern times. In Taiwan, 7.5 million people (33% of the population) identify themselves as Taoists.  Data collected in 2010 for religious demographics of Hong Kong  and Singapore  show that, respectively, 14% and 11% of the people of these cities identify as Taoists.
Followers of Taoism are also present in Chinese émigré communities outside Asia. In addition, it has attracted followers with no Chinese heritage. For example, in Brazil there are Taoist temples in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro which are affiliated with the Taoist Society of China. Membership of these temples is entirely of non-Chinese ancestry. 
Art and poetry Edit
Throughout Chinese history, there have been many examples of art being influenced by Taoist thought. Notable painters influenced by Taoism include Wu Wei, Huang Gongwang, Mi Fu, Muqi Fachang, Shitao, Ni Zan, T'ang Mi, and Wang Tseng-tsu.  Taoist arts represents the diverse regions, dialects, and time spans that are commonly associated with Taoism. Ancient Taoist art was commissioned by the aristocracy however, scholars masters and adepts also directly engaged in the art themselves. 
Political aspects Edit
Taoism never had a unified political theory. While Huang-Lao's positions justified a strong emperor as the legitimate ruler,  the "primitivists" (like in the chapters 8-11 of the Zhuangzi) argued strongly for a radical anarchism. A more moderate position is presented in the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi in which the political life is presented with disdain and some kind of pluralism or perspectivism is preferred.  The syncretist position in texts like the Huainanzi and some Outer Chapters of the Zhuangzi blended some Taoist positions with Confucian ones. 
Relations with other religions and philosophies Edit
Many scholars believe Taoism arose as a countermovement to Confucianism.  The philosophical terms Tao and De are indeed shared by both Taoism and Confucianism.  Zhuangzi explicitly criticized Confucian and Mohist tenets in his work. In general, Taoism rejects the Confucian emphasis on rituals, hierarchical social order, and conventional morality, and favors "naturalness", spontaneity, and individualism instead. 
The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by significant interaction and syncretism with Taoism.  Originally seen as a kind of "foreign Taoism", Buddhism's scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary.  Representatives of early Chinese Buddhism, like Sengzhao and Tao Sheng, knew and were deeply influenced by the Taoist keystone texts. 
Taoism especially shaped the development of Chan (Zen) Buddhism,  introducing elements like the concept of naturalness, distrust of scripture and text, and emphasis on embracing "this life" and living in the "every-moment". 
On the other hand, Taoism also incorporated Buddhist elements during the Tang dynasty. Examples of such influence include monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture in tripartite organization in certain sects.
Ideological and political rivals for centuries, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism deeply influenced one another.  For example, Wang Bi, one of the most influential philosophical commentators on Lao Tzu (and the I Ching), was a Confucian.  The three rivals also share some similar values, with all three embracing a humanist philosophy emphasizing moral behaviour and human perfection. In time, most Chinese people identified to some extent with all three traditions simultaneously.  This became institutionalized when aspects of the three schools were synthesized in the Neo-Confucian school. 
Some authors have undertaken comparative studies between Taoism and Christianity. This has been of interest for students of history of religion such as J. J. M. de Groot,  among others. The comparison of the teachings of Lao Tzu and Jesus of Nazareth has been done by several authors such as Martin Aronson,  and Toropov & Hansen (2002), who believe that they have parallels that should not be ignored.  In the opinion of J. Isamu Yamamoto the main difference is that Christianity preaches a personal God while Taoism does not.  Yet, a number of authors, including Lin Yutang,  have argued that some moral and ethical tenets of these religions are similar.   In neighboring Vietnam, Taoist values have been shown to adapt to social norms and formed emerging sociocultural beliefs together with Confucianism. 
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More is known about the fangshi during the Qin and Han dynasties. Many fangshi came to the court of Qin Shihuang when he became ruler, as he was deeply interested in the concept of immortality. He sent expeditions to try to locate the famed Isle of the Immortals, and some think he may have died, as others had, from consuming a poisonous elixir of immortality. There were also Han emperors who were interested in immortality, particularly Han Wudi (140-87 B.C.E.), who employed numerous fangshi. He too sought the lands of the immortals, and also reinstated ancient sacrifices that he hoped would make him immortal.
The fangshi were not part of an organized school. It is likely that their knowledge, including the passing of secret texts, was transferred from master to disciple. Among the skills attributed to the fangshi were the ability to communicate with spirits, to exorcise demons, to heal illness, and to summon rain. Their self-cultivation practices included partaking of special diets and elixirs, meditative exercises, sexual techniques, and special body movements, all of which were believed to increase one's lifespan and, potentially, to lead to the immortality of one's physical body.
1. How do politics and education interact with each other in early Taoist history?
2. Elaborate on the relationship between immortality and wealth.
3. How have the fangshi contributed to the emergence of Taoism?
TAOISM UNDER SIEGE: "LATE IMPERIAL TAOISM"
In “Late Imperial” times—from late T’ang times through the Sung (960-1279), Yüan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644), and Ch’ing (1644-1911)—Taoism evolved in new ways, which remain poorly known even by most scholars and historians. Certain trends continued throughout those periods:
(1) Taoism was constantly re-imagined and re-formulated to suit the needs of people in a changing society
(2) Taoism spread more fully into all segments of Chinese society, including the new “gentry” and
(3) Taoism was forced to accommodate itself to other traditions (especially Confucianism) by the increasingly oppressive regimes of the Yüan, Ming, and Ch’ing periods.
In the 10th-century, part of north China was annexed into a new nation ruled by a non-Chinese people called Khitan (source of the old name “Cathay”). In 1126, the entire northern half of China was conquered by another people, the Jurchen the Sung government was re-established in the south, in a much weakened condition, and by 1279 the whole of China was conquered by the Mongols, whose dynasty (Yüan) made Beijing (the old Khitan capital) the capital of China for the first time. Through the “Northern Sung” (i.e., to 1126), Taoism was still supported by most emperors, and in 1114 the emperor Hui‑tsung brought Taoists from across the empire to compile a new collection of all Taoists texts, in part to demonstrate his empire’s spiritual superiority over the “barbarian” states to the north. Among them were not only the Shen-hsiao founder Lin Ling-su but also Ts’ao Wen-i, a woman poet who commentaries on the Tao te ching and Hsi-sheng ching.
But after the fall of the north, Taoism had to survive in a new set of social and political conditions, and by late Sung times, the strong “sense of identity” of medieval Taoists faded. The institutions of medieval Taoists (e.g., the abbeys where tao-shih practiced Taoist ideals) gave way to new social realities: (a) monastic traditions, (b) new vernacular traditions, and (c) ongoing literati traditions re-defined for the new “gentry” class (which replaced the old aristocracy). From Sung times on, Taoism never had the same kind of focus or leadership that it had had in T’ang times. Whereas the T’ang rulers, strong and confident, encouraged and patronized strong Taoist leaders, the weaker rulers of Sung times could not afford to do so and the alien rulers of the Yüan and Ch’ing periods sometimes shackled Taoism’s leadership. The succeeding dynasties usually “recognized” a single group (often Cheng-i, sometimes Lung-men) as the “official” leaders of Taoism, without regard for what the Taoists of the day believed or practiced. Government domination forced Taoists to abandon all traditions that the rulers would not tolerate, and to develop in new ways.
The new developments included:
(1) creation of a new power-base that could survive suppression, by accepting as “Taoist”:
(a) a variety of new revelations and new movements (see below) and
(b) a variety of non-Taoist local cults.
(2) greater personalization of religious ideals and practices, especially in terms of “Inner Alchemy.”
I. New Traditions of Individual Practice
Chin‑tan ("Golden Elixir") Taoism: A system of spiritual refinement through meditation, better known as "Inner Alchemy." Not an organization or social movement, but rather a new approach to the Taoist life, as expressed chiefly by such writers as Chang Po-tuan (11th century author of Wu-chen p’ien, “On Awakening to Transcendental Reality”) and Li Tao-ch'un (13th century author of Chung-ho chi, “On Centered Harmony,” also called “The Book of Balance and Harmony”). In this tradition, based in part on the Ts’an-t’ung ch’i, older practices of physiological refinement are re-interpreted as a more abstract process of purifying the mind however, the elements of the process are couched, often cryptically, in symbolic language (e.g., as “uniting the dragon and the tiger”). Such presentations were increasingly simplified during Ming and Ch’ing times, e.g., in the Hsing-ming kuei-chih [“Balanced Instructions about Inner Nature and Life-Realities”] of 1615, and in the writings of Taoists like Liu I-ming (1734-1821). Much of this tradition was absorbed into the later Ch'üan‑chen tradition, including Lung-men.
II. New Ritual Traditions of Sung Times
- Began before the conquest of the north in 1126
- Survived by providing efficacious practices helpful to the community, especially healing
- Made little use of “inner alchemy,” or of earlier traditions of meditative self-cultivation
- Made little use of Confucian or Neo-Confucian ideas or practices
- Unknown today, except for Cheng-i, which survives in Taiwan and southeastern China
1. Ch'ing‑wei ("Clarified Tenuity") Taoism: A complex of ritual traditions claimed to go back to a young woman, Tsu Shu (fl. 900). Its "thunder rites" (lei-fa) enabled a priest to internalize the spiritual power of thunder to facilitate meditative union with the Tao, whereupon he/she could perform healings. In the 13th-century, disciples of an official named Huang Shun-shen reworked Ch’ing-wei traditions as part of a comprehensive ritual system that also included elements of the earlier Shang-ch’ing and Ling-pao traditions, along with Tantric Buddhist forms. A century later, the syncretist Chao I-chen edited the surviving Ch’ing-wei texts, and apparently incorporated them into a comprehensive ritual collection called the Tao-fa hui-yüan, the largest work in today’s Taoist canon. Thereafter, Ch’ing-wei had no separate existence.
2. T'ien‑hsin ("Heart of Heaven") Taoism: A tradition of ritual healing based upon scriptures discovered in the early Sung period by a retired official, Jao Tung-t’ien, who devised “a ritual system for literati in both local and national society.” When Sung Hui-tsung summoned Taoists to the capital to compile a comprehensive canon, the T’ien-hsin material was presented to the Sung court. Its scriptures teach priests how to heal illness by drawing down spiritual power from stars. It influenced several important novels, and is still practiced among some Chinese in Thailand.
3. Shen‑hsiao ("Divine Empyrean") Taoism: A liturgical tradition established by Lin Ling-su at the court of the Sung emperor Hui‑tsung (early 12th century). Lin expanded the Ling-pao Tu‑jen ching and presented Hui‑tsung as a divine ruler whose reign would provide salvation to all by sponsoring re-enactments of the original Ling-pao revelation. Shen-hsiao traditions survived as a combination of “salvation through (personal) refinement” (lien-tu) and various therapeutic rituals. In modern China, Cheng‑i leaders gave the Shen‑hsiao title to some priests, but deemed them inferior.
4. T'ung-ch'u ("Youthful Incipience") Taoism: An obscure tradition of therapeutic rituals founded by a young man in 1121, claiming continuity with the Shang-ch'ing tradition. Its texts were preserved in the the Tao-fa hui-yüan, but the movement had no separate existence after the 13th-century.
5. CHENG-I ("Orthodox Unity") Taoism: The only liturgical tradition surviving today.
This sect, centered at Mt. Lung‑hu in south China, flourished under imperial patronage from the 11th to 18th centuries. It is led by hereditary clerics of the Chang clan, who claim (groundlessly, we now know) to be direct descendents of Chang Tao‑ling and successors to his "Celestial Master" mandate. In the 11th‑13th centuries, this sect was patronized by the Sung and Yüan emperors, and in the 14th century, the founder of the Ming dynasty gave it formal jurisdiction over all Taoists in the south. To the present day, Cheng-i Taoism is found generally in South China (and among the Chinese of Taiwan, most of whom emigrated from South China). Hence, the modern Cheng-i tradition is sometimes known as "Southern Taoism." As in the old T'ien‑ shih tradition, Cheng‑i leaders from the outset sought to undermine all local cults, and they branded all other forms of Taoism (e.g., Shen‑hsiao) as dangerous (i.e., as evil and/or subversive). In the mid‑18th century, the Ch'ing court lost interest in them, and early Western references to Cheng-i leaders as Taoist "popes" constituted gross exaggerations. Cheng-i continue to practice, but their authority in modern times has been negligible. Cheng‑i priests maintain the old chiao liturgies (harmonizing the local community with the cosmos), and they also serve the public with healing rituals. Unlike the other surviving form of Taoism—the less visible meditative tradition of Ch'üan‑chen Taoism—Cheng‑i has generally appealed to the public, wherefore Chinese rulers and modern intellectuals came to dismiss "Taoism" as nothing but the worthless superstitions of the ignorant masses. A few Westerners have been ordained as Cheng-i priests. Their writings sometimes exaggerate the importance of the liturgical Cheng-i tradition, and contribute to the misconception that Cheng-i (sometimes derided by modern observers as "popular Taoism") is all that remains of Taoism in modern times.
III. New Self-Cultivation Traditions in “The Conquest States” of North China
- Arose in North China under the conquest regimes—the Jurchens’ “Chin” dynasty and the Mongols’ “Yüan” dynasty
- Attracted followers from all levels of society
- Disregarded earlier liturgical traditions
- Stressed attainment of “spiritual transcendence” (shen-hsien) through self-cultivation
- Synthesized elements of Confucianism and Buddhism into Taoism
- Stressed dedication to moral ideals, and sometimes healing
- All except Ch'üan‑chen lost their separate existence by the 14th century
1. T'ai‑i ("Supreme Union") Taoism: Founded by Hsiao Pao‑chen in the 12th century, it stressed ritual healing and social responsibility. Though popular among emperors (like Khubilai Khan), the sect's leaders left no writings, and their movement is therefore poorly known.
2. Chen‑ta ("Perfected Greatness") or Ta-tao ("Great Way") Taoism: Founded by Liu Te-jen in the 12th- century, it syncretized the basic moral teachings of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, and was patronized by the Chin government. It sought healing through prayer rather than ritual, and stressed the classical Taoist moral values of "yielding," simplicity, humility, and respect for others. Like T'ai-i Taoism, the Chen-ta Taoists left few writings.
3. CH'ÜAN-CHEN ("Integral Perfection") Taoism: The only self-cultivation tradition surviving today.
Ch'üan‑chen originated in the teachings of Wang Che (Wang Ch'ung-yang), a 12th-century scholar. Wang taught that immortality can be attained in this life by entering seclusion, cultivating one's internal spiritual realities (hsing), and harmonizing them with one's external life (ming). His seven famous disciples included a woman (Sun Pu-erh) and a man named Ch’iu Ch’u-chi (also known as Ch'iu Ch'ang‑ ch'un), who was courted by several rulers, including the Mongol general Chinggis Khan. The tradition soon adopted a monastic setting, and its teachings became a spiritualized re-interpretation of the older Taoist practices known as Chin‑tan ("Golden Elixir") or "Inner Alchemy." Ch'üan‑chen Taoism paralleled—and interacted with—the meditative traditions of Ch'an Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism: all three stress individual moral and spiritual discipline rather than a philosophical, scriptural, or ritual focus. Up to forty percent of the early Ch'üan‑chen clerics were women, though all Ch'üan‑chen texts of Chin and Yüan times had male authors. From late Yüan times onward, fewer women appeared in leadership roles, mostly because of diminishing roles for women in the ambient society.
Ch'üan‑chen Taoism endures today, both intellectually and institutionally, though it is largely unknown to Westerners, and has attracted little attention from Western scholars. Since its traditional focus was always in North China, and its headquarters today remains the White Cloud Abbey (Po-yün kuan) in Beijing, Taoists today often call the Ch'üan‑chen tradition "Northern Taoism." A few Taoist masters (such as Ni Hua-ching) brought related traditions to America in the late 20th-century and re-interpreted them for an American audience.
IV. Accommodations with Confucianism in Ming Times
Ming Taoists maintained their traditions as best they could, given the rigid strictures imposed by the government. Though Chinese (unlike the previous Mongol rulers and the subsequent Manchu rulers), the Ming emperors imposed a “unifying” vision that reinforced, and justified even further hardening of, the political strictures that had been imposed by the Yüan regime. Late-imperial China was not “modern” in any Western sense: it had nothing comparable to Western capitalism, individualism, democracy, or even Marxism: political authority in late-imperial China had nothing to do with the consent of the governed, and no one was free to speak or act in ways that might (even theoretically) effect socio-political change. The Mongols had put the Chinese people on “a reservation” in their own land, and nothing changed under the Ming or Ch’ing regimes. Both Buddhists and Taoists realized the necessity to avoid controversy, to find “safe” ways to explain and practice their traditions. So if Taoists wished to survive, they had to (1) accept a role as puppets of the throne, doing nothing but what they were told, or (2) camouflage their teachings and practices in innocuous garb, practicing and teaching in ways that seemed to have no socio-political significance. Thus, a tradition that had been central to imperial power structures for a millennium was forced either to confess irrelevancy or to cater obsequiously to imperial whims. Such thoroughgoing intimidation of Taoism persisted into the modern period, and became even worse under Communist rule, especially during the “Cultural Revolution” of 1966-1976.
In 1374, the founder of the Ming dynasty praised Cheng-i Taoism for its focus on local mores, and disparaged Ch’an Buddhism and Ch'üan‑chen Taoism for “devoting themselves to the cultivation of the person and the improvement of the individual endowment.” Since tyrants always denounce individualism and praise obsequious conformity to established social patterns, it is no wonder that six-hundred years later such ideological pronouncements continued to color the minds of all Chinese men who sought social and cultural advancement, as well as the minds of their Western students, throughout the 20th-century.
Ching-ming (“Pure Illumination”) Taoism:
Origins associated with a Six-Dynasties official, Hsü Sun, who reportedly used ritual powers to save people from diasters in the southeast, and became the focus of an enduring local cult. According to the T’ang chronicler Tu Kuang-t’ing, a local tradition arose there, called the Chung-hsiao tao (“Way of Loyalty and Filiality,” two Confucian virtues), also called Ching-ming (“Pure Illumination”). In 1131, Hsü reportedly revealed a set of talismanic rituals, ethical teachings, and instructions on self-cultivation to the local cult’s leader Ho Chen-kung. A century later, a Shen-hsiao leader named Po Yü-ch’an (Pai Yü-ch’an) promoted it along with other location traditions. Then in early Yüan times, Liu Yü (1257-1308) reformulated the movement, teaching that ritual practices were needed to stimulate the virtues of loyalty and filiality, which were necessary for stilling the heart/mind—self-cultivation ideals that went back to the classical Nei-yeh. The movement absorbed the T’ai-i and Chen-ta traditions, and was embraced by leading Confucian literati of the Yüan and Ming periods, including Kao P’an-lung (1562-1626) who advocated meditation practices. The local cult survived into the 20th-century, alongside teachings that appealed to literati and coincided with government interests in maintaining Confucian values among the populace. Literati participation continued in Ch’ing times, as seen in the writings of Fu Chin-ch’üan (b. 1765), including texts on Inner Alchemy for women. Ching-ming teachings were absorbed into the modern Lung-men tradition.
V. Survivals: Through the Ch’ing Dynasty into the 20th-Century
The Manchus, who took over China in 1644, maintained Ming policies of strict government control of religion, exacerbated by their need to suppress their much-more-numerous Chinese subjects in order to maintain control. To demonstrate resistance, many Chinese literati identified themselves as Ch’üan-chen Taoists, and Taoism thus regained a measure of the prestige that it had enjoyed in earlier times.
Lung-men (“Dragon Gate”) Taoism:
At the end of the Ming dynasty, a re-efflorescence of Chin-tan (Inner Alchemy) Taoism occurred in southeast China, spread by disciples of Wu Shou-yang (1552-1641), who claimed to have received “Dragon-Gate” credentials going back to the early Ch’üan-chen leader Ch’iu Ch’u-chi. In 1628, a young Taoist named Wang Ch’ang-yüeh met Chao Fu-yang, who allegedly transmitted such credentials (in a style based on “transmission” in early Ch’an Buddhism, as in the Platform Sutra of Hui-neng) and predicted that Wang would soon establish the “Dragon-Gate” tradition at the White Cloud Abbey (Po-yün kuan) in Beijing, which he did in 1656. Wang established a form of Taoism that would flourish into modern times, by integrating an imperially approved set of Confucian ethical teachings into a well-regulated set of Taoist priestly institutions based upon T’ang-dynasty precedents. He thus gave Inner Alchemy practices an institutional basis that passed government muster, and gave both men and women a structured system in which to practice Taoist self-cultivation. For legitimacy, Lung-men Taoists fabricated a Ch’an-like “lineage” going back to Ch’iu Ch’u-chi, and claimed to maintain the Ch’üan-chen legacy. Literati like Liu I-ming (1734-1821) simplified “Inner Alchemy,” removing its esoteric symbolism to make it more accessible. As a result, Taoist teachings became a part of popular culture, as seen most clearly in several important novels, and in a meditation text called “The Secret of the Golden Flower,” which became famous in the 20th-century West. By that time, most Taoist temples in north and south China alike claimed Lung-men affiliation, and the White Cloud Abbey remains the center of Taoism in China today.
Addendum: The Taoist Corpus (Tao‑tsang)
Size: 1120 titles in 5,305 volumes.
Contents: All Taoist texts (and texts held in high esteem by Taoists) that were extant in 1445:
a. Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, Huai-nan-tzu, etc., and numerous commentaries from all periods
b. scriptures, biographical texts, ritual texts, etc., from all segments of Later Taoism.
History: Since T'ang times, emperors had commissioned the compilation of a definitive library of Taoist sacred works. The current edition (the Cheng-t'ung Tao-tsang) was completed in 1445. It was preserved in only a few monasteries (such as Beijing's White Cloud Abbey) until it was finally lithographed in 1926. Hence it was little known to either Asian or Western scholars until the 1930's. Relatively little of the material in the Tao‑tsang has yet received serious scholarly attention, and very little has yet been translated into any Western language.
HISTORY OF TAOISM
HISTORY OF TAOISM
Rooted in the ancient Chinese systems of beliefs, influenced by primitive shamanism and observation of natural cycles, Taoism recognises Laozi as its founder and Zhuangzi as one of its most brillant representatives. Early Taoism developed as an original answer to the bitter debates during the philosophically fertile time of the Hundred Schools of Thought, corresponding to the Warring States period. It was a time of seemingly endless warfare and chaos. This turbulent era gave rise to a kind of naturalistic quietism in accordance with the “process” of the universe: Tao. Action through inaction (wei wu wei), the power of emptiness, detachment, receptiveness, spontaneity, the strength of softness, the relativism of human values and the search for a long life, are some of its preferred themes.
Taoism is rooted in the oldest belief systems of China, dating from a time when shamanism and pantheism were prevalent. Elements of primitive Taoist thought include the cyclic progression of seasons, growth and death of sentient beings and their endless generation and questions about the origin of life. Observation of natural processes lead to divination pratices where the operator tries to detect opportunities in natural phenomenons (like crackles made in bones).
The oldest Chinese scripture is said to be the I Ching, a compilation of readings based on sixty-four hexagrams. The hexagrams are combinations of eight trigrams or gua, (collectively called bagua), resulting in sixty-four possible combinations. Laozi was intimately familiar with the I Ching, and the Tao Te Ching shows that he was profoundly inspired by it.
The Earliest Appearance Of Taoism (Huang-Lao Tradition)
The Huang-Lao Tradition(1) flourished after the Magic and Immortality Tradition(2). Later integrated into Daoism, it constitutes an important component of the religious background to the birth of Daoism. The Huang-Lao Tradition is a product of the marriage of Huang-Lao philosophy with the Immortalist(3) practises of the Magic and Immortality Tradition.
Huang-Lao philosophy emerged in the Qi state during the middle of the Warring States period (475-221 BC). It emphasized the cultivation of virtue as advocated by the Yellow Emperor and Laozi. By the early Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 24), the mainstream of Huang-Lao thought concerned itself with the Art of Government(4) and with Yin-Yang studies, but also included Immortalism. During the reign of the Han emperor Wu, the Magicians(5) reinterpreted the Yellow Emperor’s teachings, to the point of completely merging them with Immortalist thought, so that the Immortalist Tradition(6) came to be associated with the Yellow Emperor.
As Huang-Lao philosophy flourished in the Qi state, where the Immortalists were also most active, the two schools developed in the same environment, mutually influenced each other, and finally merged to form the Huang-Lao Tradition. This mutual integration was a long process which took place in three stages.
The first stage occurred when the Han emperor Wu gave exclusive patronage to Confucianism, leading the Huang-Lao and Immortalist schools to come closer together. The second phase occured from the reign of Han emperor Xuan to the end of the Western Han dynasty (AD 24). Emperor Xuan approved of Huang – Lao philosophy, and allowed the Magic and Immortality Tradition to flourish. During the third phase, the two currents merged to form the Huang-Lao Tradition in the reign of emperor Huan of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 147-167).
During the reigns of emperors Ming and Zhang of the Eastern Han dynasty, the Huang-Lao Tradition had already become popular in the Imperial Court, and by the time of emperor Huan it was recorded in the official histories. In the Story of Wang Huan in the History of the Later Han, it is recorded that emperor Huan (reigned AD 158-167) patronized the Huang-Lao Tradition and ordered the destruction of the old sacrificial halls. After emperor Huan openly recognized the Huang-Lao Tradition, he sent officials twice a year to Laozi’s ancestral shrine at Ku Xian, and to the Yellow Emperor’s Guanlong Hall, marking the final stage of the formation of the Huang-Lao Tradition.
During the reign of emperor Ling, Zhang Jiao, founder of the Supreme Peace Tradition(7), gave himself the title of Great Virtuous Master(8) , affiliated himself to the Huang-Lao Tradition, took disciples and was honoured by the common people.
During the period of integration of Huang-Lao philosophy with the Magic and Immortality Tradition, there was a strong wave effect of magicalized Confucianism, leading the literary school of Esoteric Speculations 9 to stimulate the formation of the Huang-Lao Tradition.
Like the Magic and Immortality Tradition, the Huang-Lao Tradition did not have systematic teachings or religious doctrines, nor did it have a religious organization. But it was the predecessor to Daoism without understanding the Huang-Lao Tradition, it is impossible to come to a full knowledge of the history of Daoism.
Author: Li Gang
Translator: David Palmer
(Courtesy of: Taoism Culture & Information Centre)
Other Historical Developments
- The Supreme Peace Tradition takes its name from the Book of Supreme Peace . It was founded during the reign of emperor Ling (AD172-178) of the Eastern Han dynasty, by Zhang Jiao, a native of Julu in present-day Hebei. Initially, Zhang Jiao called himself the “Great Virtuous Master”, recognized his sins, affiliated himself to the Huang-Lao Tradition , took disciples, and claimed that his Talismanic Water and Incantations could cure illnesses. Many sick were indeed healed, and so he was believed in by the common people.
- During emperor Shun’s reign in the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 126-144), the “Mighty Commonwealth of the Orthodox Oneness‘ — which was popularly called the “Five Pecks of Rice Tradition‘ — was founded in ancient Sichuan by Zhang Ling, who had originally come from ancient Shandong. According to historical books such as the Biography of Zhang Lu in the Records of the Three Kingdoms, and the Biography of Liu Yan in the History of the Later Han, Zhang Ling came to Sichuan during Emperor Shun’s reign and started to study Dao on Mt. Heming, which is located in Dayi county, Sichuan Province. He wrote Talismanic Books there and spread Daoism among the local people. Because each follower was supposed to offer him five pecks of rice, the government called them “Rice Robbers”.
II) Daoism during the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-581)
- The Northern Celestial Masters Tradition
- The Southern Celestial Masters Tradition
III) Daoism during the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907)
- Flourishing of Daoism and Development of Religious Teachings during the Sui and Tang Dynasties(AD 581-907)
- Tortuous Development of Daoism from the An-Shi Rebellions to the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period
IV) Daoism during the Song and Yuan Dynasties (581-907)
V) Daoism during the Ming and Qing Dynasties
(Courtesy of: Taoism Culture & Information Centre)
From the 1940s to 1982, Taoism was suppressed along with other religions in accordance with Communist Party policy. Much of the Taoist infrastructure was destroyed, monks and priests were sent to labor camps. This intensified during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, nearly eradicating most Taoist sites.
Deng Xiaoping eventually restored some religious tolerance beginning in 1982. Since, communist leaders have recognized Taoism as an important traditional religion of China devoted to universal unity and peace and many temples and monasteries have been repaired and re-opened.
There are scholars who argue that Taoism is still a prevalent belief within China itself, estimating that the true number of Taoists worldwide, once Chinese believers are accounted for, may be over one billion, making it the second largest religion of the world however due to the intertwined nature of Chinese traditional religion and other restrictions, a census on the number of adherents in China is not possible.
Taoism outside China
Modern estimates put the number of Taoists outside of Mainland China at 31,000,000, located predominantly in Taiwan. Around 30,000 Taoists live in North America. The oldest Taoist temple in the United States is Tien Hau Temple in San Francisco, built in 1852. Taoism has had a significant influence world-wide: in many Western societies it can be seen in acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation, martial arts, Feng Shui, and Tai Chi.
People in countries other than China practise the Taoist philosophy in various forms, especially in Vietnam and in Korea. Kouk Sun Do in Korea exemplifies one such variation. The Yao have a written religion based on medieval Chinese Taoism, although in recent years there have been many converts to Christianity and Buddhism. Outside China, they are to be found in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
Taoist philosophy has found a large following throughout the world, and several traditional Taoist lineages have set up teaching centers in countries
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Daoism, also spelled Taoism, indigenous religio-philosophical tradition that has shaped Chinese life for more than 2,000 years. In the broadest sense, a Daoist attitude toward life can be seen in the accepting and yielding, the joyful and carefree sides of the Chinese character, an attitude that offsets and complements the moral and duty-conscious, austere and purposeful character ascribed to Confucianism. Daoism is also characterized by a positive, active attitude toward the occult and the metaphysical (theories on the nature of reality), whereas the agnostic, pragmatic Confucian tradition considers these issues of only marginal importance, although the reality of such issues is, by most Confucians, not denied.
What is Daoism?
Daoism is a philosophy, a religion, and a way of life that arose in the 6th century BCE in what is now the eastern Chinese province of Henan. It has strongly influenced the culture and religious life of China and other East Asian countries ever since.
What does dao mean?
The term dao predates the rise of Daoism and is used in all schools of Chinese philosophy, including Confucianism. Its literal meanings include “way,” “path,” “road,” “course,” “speech,” and “method,” among others.
What are the basic teachings of Daoism?
The concept of dao is broad and plays various roles in Daoist philosophy. The Cosmic Dao, or the Way of the Cosmos, is an indeterminate force or principle that latently contains all things and spontaneously generates the universe through its constant rhythmic fluctuations. Humanity will flourish only if its dao, or “way,” is attuned with this natural order. The wise ruler or self-cultivated sage is so attuned to the Dao that his actions leave no traces of themselves and so pass completely unnoticed.
Who were the great teachers of Daoism?
The founding figure is Laozi, who flourished in the 6th century BCE but about whom little else is known. The Daodejing (“Classic of the Way to Power”), the earliest work of Daoist philosophy, is traditionally attributed to him but was probably composed after his death by many authors. Zhuangzi (“Master Zhuan”), who lived from 369 to 286 BCE, was a major interpreter of Daoism. His work, the Zhuangzi, partly composed by his disciples, is considered more comprehensive than the Daodejing.
How does Daoism differ from Confucianism?
Daoism and Confucianism present contrasting, though not incompatible, understandings of human flourishing or well-being. Whereas Daoism seeks harmony between the individual (or human) way and the natural order and tends to dismiss human society as artificial and constrained, Confucianism emphasizes the achievement of a kind of moral excellence (ren, or “humaneness”) that is cultivated and manifested by conscientious behaviour within social institutions such as the family, the school, the community, and the state.
More strictly defined, Daoism includes: the ideas and attitudes peculiar to the Laozi (or Daodejing “Classic of the Way of Power”), the Zhuangzi, the Liezi, and related writings the Daoist religion, which is concerned with the ritual worship of the Dao and those who identify themselves as Daoists.
Daoist thought permeates Chinese culture, including many aspects not usually considered Daoist. In Chinese religion, the Daoist tradition—often serving as a link between the Confucian tradition and folk tradition—has generally been more popular and spontaneous than the official (Confucian) state cult and less diffuse and shapeless than folk religion.
Daoist philosophy and religion have found their way into all Asian cultures influenced by China, especially those of Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. Various religious practices reminiscent of Daoism in such areas of Chinese cultural influence indicate early contacts with Chinese travelers and immigrants that have yet to be elucidated.
Both Western Sinologists and Chinese scholars themselves have distinguished—since Han times (206 bce –220 ce )—between a Daoist philosophy of the great mystics and their commentators (daojia) and a later Daoist religion (daojiao). This theory—no longer considered valid—was based on the view that the “ancient Daoism” of the mystics antedated the “later Neo-Daoist superstitions” that were misinterpretations of the mystics’ metaphorical images. The mystics, however, should be viewed against the background of the religious practices existing in their own times. Their ecstasies, for example, were closely related to the trances and spirit journeys of the early magicians and shamans (religious personages with healing and psychic transformation powers). Not only are the authors of the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi (book of “Master Chuang”), and the Liezi (book of “Master Lie”) not the actual and central founders of an earlier “pure” Daoism later degraded into superstitious practices but they can even be considered somewhat on the margin of older Daoist traditions. Therefore, because there has been a nearly continuous mutual influence between Daoists of different social classes—philosophers, ascetics, alchemists, and the priests of popular cults—the distinction between philosophical and religious Daoism in this article is made simply for the sake of descriptive convenience.
There is also a tendency among scholars today to draw a less rigid line between what is called Daoist and what is called Confucian. The two traditions share many of the same ideas about man, society, the ruler, heaven, and the universe—ideas that were not created by either school but that stem from a tradition prior to either Confucius or Laozi.
Viewed from this common tradition, orthodox Confucianism limited its field of interest to the creation of a moral and political system that fashioned society and the Chinese empire whereas Daoism, inside the same worldview, represented more personal and metaphysical preoccupations.
In the case of Buddhism—a third tradition that influenced China—fundamental concepts such as the nonexistence of the individual ego and the illusory nature of the physical world are diametrically opposed to Daoism. In terms of overt individual and collective practices, however, competition between these two religions for influence among the people—a competition in which Confucianism had no need to participate because it had state patronage—resulted in mutual borrowings, numerous superficial similarities, and essentially Chinese developments inside Buddhism, such as the Chan (Japanese Zen) sect. In folk religion, since Song times (960–1279), Daoist and Buddhist elements have coexisted without clear distinctions in the minds of the worshippers.
In the Tao te ching that modern readers know, there is no suggestion that the practitioner should follow any specific code of behavior. In fact, many later Taoists continued to understand "goodness" as a general element of personal self-cultivation. By about the third century, however, Taoists had begun reading the Tao te ching as an expression of the wisdom of Lord Lao (Laochün), a divine being whom the emperors of the Han dynasty (206 b.c.e.–221 c.e.) had begun venerating. Taoists thus began reading the Tao te ching as explaining Lord Lao's expectations regarding moral conduct. A fragmentary commentary from that period, the Hsiangerh ("Just Thinking"), advocates biospiritual cultivation, yet it once also included 36 moral precepts. Nine of them promote virtues tagged to the Tao te ching (for example, stillness and clarity), while the others proscribed negative behaviors that had been obliquely criticized in the Tao te ching and the T'ai-p'ing ching.
By the fourth century Taoists had become familiar with the monastic precepts of Chinese Buddhists, which inspired them to particularize their own moral ordinances further in order to be more competitive with the Buddhist's model. The eventual result was The 180 Precepts of Lord Lao, which scholars wholly ignored until the closing years of the twentieth century. No one knows when the 180 Precepts were first compiled. The scholararistocrat Ko Hung seems to have been familiar with some such precepts, and when later aristocrats such as Lu Hsiu-ching wove together Taoist traditions in the fourth and fifth centuries, they considered the Precepts essential for living the Taoist life. The Tao-tsang contains several versions of the Precepts, showing that they had remained important to centuries of Taoists.
Overall, the Precepts require that a person govern his behavior and restrain all thoughtless and self-indulgent impulses. By doing so, the person ensures that he does no harm to others or to the world in which we live. In format the 180 Precepts follow the Hsiang-erh's briefer list: They first explain what "you should not" do (140 precepts) and then outline what "you ought to" do (the remaining 40). The dicta gave specific standards concerning what is right and wrong regarding common aspects of everyday life. For instance, they require proper restraint in eating and drinking and respectful behavior toward women, servants, family members, teachers, disciples, and the general public. The Precepts also forbid abuse of animals, both wild and domestic one ought not even frighten birds or beasts, much less cage them. Proper respect for nature is also required by prohibitions against improperly felling trees, draining rivers and marshes, or even picking flowers. Generally, a person should avoid activities that might harm anyone or anything and should assuredly take no part in the killing of anyone, even the unborn.
The audience of Lord Lao's Precepts apparently consisted of men. (Precepts intended specifically for women appeared in a now-lost text called the "Pure Precepts of Grand Yin.") Research has shown that the people expected to follow the 180 Precepts were laymen, not clerics. Nevertheless, it is hard to say how fully Taoists of any era may have believed in such itemized codes of morality. By medieval times Taoist writers seldom mentioned Lord Lao's Precepts. In monastic institutions, however, detailed codes of behavior endured into the twentieth century.
One might be tempted to construe the 180 Precepts as "the Taoist Ten Commandments," but their role was different from that of the Decalogue in Jewish or Christian tradition. Lord Lao was never viewed as "the One True God" by Taoists of any stripe, nor was "obeying the will of Lord Lao" ever part of any "Taoist catechism."
Some scholars believe that the "Celestial Master" community of late antiquity paralleled that of the Hebrews in the so-called wilderness period—a closed community that conceived its distinctive identity in terms of a covenant handed down by a deity who simply "chose" them. Surviving texts show that the early "Celestial Masters" expressly distinguished themselves from followers of other "cults" in the surrounding society. After the sixth century, however, most Taoist leaders were highly cultured aristocrats who had no worries about differentiating their religion from superstitious cults (as the earlier "Celestial Masters" had struggled to do). Thus, Lord Lao's Precepts faded into the back-ground, and their underlying principles simply became taken for granted as general moral expectations. With-out a theology of sin or a worldview assuming a fight between good and evil, Taoists were usually confident that any serious practitioner of their faith would seldom need more than occasional reminders that the spiritual life must rest upon a solid foundation of good character and moral conduct. Such reminders restated the common Taoist virtues—such as stillness, purity, and self-restraint—and trusted the practitioner to cultivate them as he or she worked toward spiritual perfection.
Unlike Christians, Jews, and Muslims, Taoists have never understood their religion as the faithful practice of teachings found in a clearly defined set of writings. Certain "Taoist ideas" did originate in classical texts like the Nei-yeh and the Tao te ching, but research has not yet revealed any "religious community" devoted to following their teachings. In that sense, the first "Taoist scripture" may have been the T'ai-p'ing ching ("Scripture of Grand Tranquility")—a massive work of late antiquity. In another sense, the first "scripture" could be said to have been the Tu-jen ching (late fourth century "Scripture for Human Salvation"), which presents itself as a verbalization of Tao itself.
History shows that some Taoist writings that had been influential in early periods eventually lost their impact. For instance, neither "Northern Taoists" nor "Southern Taoists" today make much use of ancient texts such as the T'ai-p'ing ching or Tu-jen ching. Likewise, the writings of subtraditions such as T'ai-ch'ing and Shang-ch'ing are read today only by scattered practitioners at Taoist temples and by a few dozen scholars around the world. On the other hand, the beliefs and practices presented in ancient texts on self-cultivation—particularly the Nei-yeh—were preserved over the centuries, because they were continually repackaged in new writings that appealed to ever-changing audiences. For instance, the Nei-yeh's promotion of "biospiritual cultivation" reappeared in works as disparate as the "philosophical" Huai-nan-tzu (second century b.c.e.) the early "Celestial Master" Tao te ching commentary called the Hsiang-erh (second century c.e.) a still-used guide to Taoist practice called the T'ien-yin-tzu (c. 700 c.e.) and even a late-imperial novel, Ch'i-chen chuan ("Seven Taoist Masters"). So a true understanding of Taoist practice requires not just the study of one basic "scripture" but rather careful study of centuries of such largelyunknown texts, which were produced by men and women of different social classes and spiritual aspirations and which were honored and read but never "canonized" in quite the sense that the Bible was.
In the fifth century Lu Hsiu-ching hoped to create a sense of Taoist identity, so he compiled a list of writings that expressed ideas that would appeal to other likeminded aristocrats. The actual gathering of those writings (sixth century) resulted in a collection called "The Three Caverns" (San-tung), which stressed texts of the Ling-pao and Shang-ch'ing subtraditions. Soon fu (supplements) were added, including such writings as the Tao te ching and T'ai-p'ing ching, texts on ritual alchemy, and texts from the "Celestial Master" movement. "The Three Caverns" continued to grow, incorporating writings by and about Taoists of every description, partly because centuries of emperors wished to honor the Taoist community. For instance, the T'ang emperor Hsüantsung (reigned 713–56) commissioned the first systematic assemblage of Taoist writings. Such imperial sponsorship was vital before printing was invented (in the tenth century), for Taoist manuscripts—theretofore copied by hand—otherwise easily perished. In the twelfth century the Sung emperor Hui-tsung ordered the engraving of a new and larger "Library of Tao," and the subsequent Jurchen rulers did likewise. The result was the most massive collection of Taoist writings in history, completed in 1244 under the auspices of the new Ch'üan-chen movement. Later Mongol rulers, how-ever, were less tolerant, and in 1258 Qubilai (commonly called Khubilai Khan) ordered all Taoist writings except the Tao te ching to be burned. Many survived, but today's library of Taoist literature, called the Tao-tsang, is far smaller than that of Jurchen times, despite its inclusion of materials composed in the intervening years.
Today's Tao-tsang consists of 1120 separate works totaling 5,305 volumes. They include all of the Taoist writings that could be found in the year 1445, from the Tao te ching and Chuang-tzu to the texts of all later segments of Taoism. Late-imperial Confucians despised Taoism, however, so the "Library of Tao" was ignored both by centuries of Chinese scholars and by their Western disciples. Nonetheless, it was preserved by Taoists at such centers as the White Cloud Abbey in Beijing. A lithographic edition (1926) gradually found its way into some major libraries.
Yet few of its contents have been studied by scholars, and fewer still have been translated into any modern language—not even modern Chinese. Hence, most Taoist texts remain inaccessible to all but the most expertly trained scholars, and even they must travel to a major library to find it. Though many persist in calling the Tao-tsang the "Taoist canon," it should be thought of not as a sacred "canon" but rather as an ever-expanding library of materials in which Taoists have found value. There has never actually been a definitive collection of "canonical" scriptures that Taoists—of any period—have honored to the exclusion of "noncanonical" works, nor has there been any boundary between "sacred scripture" and other cherished texts.
Given the nature of Taoist values, there has never been a central symbol, in the sense of a visual representation believed to convey a transcendent truth. The well-known yin-yang symbol is actually a common element of Chinese culture, not a symbol specific to Taoism, and it has held little importance for most Taoists throughout history. Instead, Taoist "symbolism" consists of an array of varied images that obliquely suggest the effectiveness of spiritual practice. An example is the crane, whose red crown is understood as representing cinnabar, a symbol of spiritual perfection.
EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS
For two generations scholars associated the beginnings of the religious institutions of Taoism with a shadowy figure of Han times (206 b.c.e.–221 c.e.) named Chang Tao-ling. Hitherto unstudied texts, mostly from the Tao-tsang, led those scholars to believe that Chang was a major historical figure. Those writings suggested that he had founded the "Celestial Master" (T'ien-shih) organization, which the modern Cheng-i priests of Taiwan (the only region of China accessible to foreigners from the 1950s to the 1980s) claimed to have maintained. Scholars eager to redeem the reputation of living Taoist traditions—dismissed by earlier audiences as popular superstition—were excited by the apparent discovery that today's Cheng-i liturgists maintained practices that went back nearly two millennia to a figure who could even be likened to Moses. Texts of uncertain date report that in 142 c.e. Chang received a revelation from Lord Lao, who recognized Chang as the "Celestial Master" promised in the T'ai-p'ing ching and established a meng-wei (covenant) with Chang to take over from the failing Han emperors. Today scholars are unsure whether Chang was even a historical person, and they debate the historical impact of the traditions associated with his name.
Despite the early-fourth-century migration of the "Celestial Master" leadership to the south, Taoists in the north did not abandon their religion. One site where Taoism flourished was the Lou-kuan Abbey. It had been established near the spot where people of that era said that "Lao-tzu" had "departed to the west," so many Lou-kuan texts feature teachings of Lord Lao, a divine being who periodically descends to earth to impart his wisdom. A major Lou-kuan text was the Hsi-sheng ching ("Scripture of Western Ascension"), which features practices of self-cultivation from classical times, updated for contemporary tastes.
According to most scholars, the most influential figure of this era was an aristocrat named K'ou Ch'ienchih (365–448). K'ou tried to restore the "Celestial Master" community in the north. He reported that he had received a revelation from Lord Lao in 415, primarily in the form of the "Precepts of the New Code" for the Taoist community. It is unclear whether anyone at the time accepted K'ou's claims, but by 424 he had befriended a Confucian official at the court of the Wei dynasty (386–534/35), founded by a people called the Toba who were influenced by Chinese culture. Together K'ou and his ally made themselves important by granting the Wei emperor the title of "Perfected Ruler of Grand Tranquillity," and later Wei emperors were ceremonially inducted into Taoist holy orders. The Toba rulers ordered that K'ou's "Precepts of the New Code" be put into effect throughout the countryside. Some have therefore said that the Toba adopted Taoism as a state religion, but it is unclear whether their decrees really affected many people's lives. After K'ou died, state patronage ceased, and other Taoist (and Buddhist) traditions gained more impetus. K'ou is thus a notable figure, though he was not really an heir to Chang Taoling's "Celestial Master" organization, and his historical effect may have been less important than was once thought.
For centuries Taoist leaders allied themselves with the rulers who were then in power. Such was true of the pivotal master Lu Hsiu-ching (406–77). Until the 1980s few had ever heard of Lu. At that time scholars began realizing that Lu Hsiu-ching had played a crucial role in stimulating a sense of common identity, and even common institutions, among people who had previously followed quite distinct traditions. Lu is best remembered for having conceptualized the first great Taoist "canon"—a forerunner of today's Tao-tsang ("Library of Tao"). Lu also helped codify and spread new models for Taoist liturgies, such as the chiao, and he instituted a religious establishment that once again legitimized the rulers of his day (the Liu-Sung dynasty, 420–79). Taoist leaders such as Lu and his eventual successor, T'ao Hung-ching (456–536), recognized those emperors (and their successors) both as fulfillers of earlier messianic prophesies and as the legitimate successors of the powerful rulers of Han times (206 b.c.e.–221 c.e.). Leaders such as Lu and T'ao established a model that would help centuries of later Taoist aristocrats secure government blessings and spread Taoist teachings and practices more fully throughout society.
The T'ang period (618–907) was when China was at its most powerful its civilization overflowed into neighboring lands, from Tibet to Japan. It was also the time when Taoism was at its height. The many great leaders of T'ang Taoism belonged not to the tradition of the "Celestial Masters" (then all but extinct) but rather to the aristocratic traditions that such figures as Lu Hsiu-ching and T'ao Hung-ching had built up during the fifth and sixth centuries. A representative T'ang leader was Li Han-kuang (683–769), disciple and successor to the great Ssu-ma Ch'eng-chen. Like Ssu-ma, Li was a skilled calligrapher and accomplished scholar he compiled a pharmacological guide as well as writings about Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. Li was also responsible for preserving the texts of the "Supreme Clarity" revelations and for rebuilding the religious center at Mount Mao, an active Taoist center today. Because of Li's aristocratic lineage, scholarly attainments, and position as Ssu-ma's spiritual heir, the great emperor Hsüan-tsung persistently summoned him to the court and even accepted formal religious orders in a ceremonial transmission from Li.
The living Ch'üan-chen tradition, commonly called "Northern Taoism," arose from the life of Wang Che (1113–70, also known as Wang Ch'ung-yang). Wang was a scholar and poet from a well-to-do family and the presumed author of a clear guide to living the Taoist life, known as "The Fifteen Articles." They teach that a person can achieve "spiritual immortality" within this life by cultivating one's internal spiritual realities (hsing) and harmonizing them with the realities of one's external life (ming). Wang's seven renowned disciples included a woman, Sun Pu-erh (1119–82), who couched some of her teachings in the form of poetry and presumably helped stir the great interest in Ch'üan-chen Taoism among Chinese women. Another disciple of Wang was Ch'iu Ch'u-chi (1148–1227, also known as Ch'iu Ch'ang-ch'un), who taught Taoism to several rulers, even the Mongol general Chingghis (widely called Genghis Khan).
By Ming times (1368–1644) the leading form of Taoism among scholars was called Ching-ming ("Pure Illumination"). Like most other Taoist traditions of that day, it traced its origins back to a legendary figure of early medieval times. By the twelfth century Chingming Taoism had combined self-cultivation with talismanic rituals and ethical teachings. Soon after the Mongol conquest a man named Liu Yü (1257–1308) reformulated the movement, teaching that ritual activity helped stimulate the virtues of loyalty and filial devotion, which in turn facilitated the stilling of the heart/mind. Over the next few centuries Confucian scholars were drawn into the practice of Ching-ming Taoism, which was finally absorbed into the "Dragon Gate" tradition of "Northern Taoism." Like Ching-ming Taoism, the Lung-men ("Dragon Gate") tradition was designed to preserve Taoist institutions within society so that Taoist self-cultivation practices could survive the oppressive social and political environment of lateimperial times.
"Dragon Gate" Taoism originated among disciples of Wu Shou-yang (1552–1641), who reputedly had received divine certification linking him and his teachings back to the early Ch'üan-chen leader Ch'iu Ch'u-chi. Eventually his "Dragon Gate" credentials were passed to a young man named Wang Ch'ang-yüeh, who established the "Dragon Gate" tradition at the White Cloud Abbey in Beijing in 1656. Wang thus established the form in which "Northern Taoism" would endure to the present day. "Dragon Gate" Taoism integrated ethical teachings that would suit all social classes with both the meditative tradition of "Inner Alchemy" and the priestly institutions that went back to Lu Hsiu-ching. By modern times its practitioners increasingly identified their tradition as a continuation of the Ch'üan-chen movement. Consequently, the achievements of "Dragon Gate" leaders such as Wang Ch'ang-yüeh are generally overlooked, though today's "Northern Taoism" owes much to them.
In China today it is difficult to identify any great Taoist leaders. That is not because of a shortage of conscientious men and women practicing Taoism at China's temples but rather because of the restrictive society in which they live. As a result, Taoist leaders—whether from the White Cloud Abbey, Mao-shan, or any of Taoism's other living centers—are not in a position to achieve acclaim among the populace of China or a conspicuous position in government, academia, or the media.
MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS
Taoism has had few "theologians"—people concerned with intellectual analysis or articulation of doctrinal principles. For more than 2,000 years it has had writers who explained their own views and values but who frequently did so anonymously. Moreover, many of their writings have long been lost, and of those that survive, few have yet to receive much attention from scholars or the public. A few of the Taoist writers whose works are known to today's scholars illustrate the range of Taoist ideas and activities.
The most renowned and well-studied Taoist thinker is Chuang Chou, the presumed author of the "inner chapters" of a classical text known as the Chuang-tzu. The Chuang-tzu is one of the most colorful and compelling works of world literature, and the writers who took part in compiling it—from perhaps 430 to 130 b.c.e.—were as witty as they were profound. The actual text that has been handed down to us, however, is really the work of a "commentator" of the third century c.e. named Kuo Hsiang. Kuo inherited 52 chapters of material bearing Chuang's name, threw away the parts that he confessed himself too dense to understand, and left 33 chapters that "made some sense" to him.
Virtually nothing is known of the historical life of Chuang himself, except that he lived in the second half of the fourth century b.c.e. At the end of the twentieth century many scholars believed that internal references to "Chuang Chou" within the text itself can be accepted as autobiographical confessions. In reality, the Chuangtzu consists of tales and parables whose characters include not just Chuang himself but Confucius, unknown beings, and even birds and insects—all of whom simply appear to express and debate ideas from the minds of the Chuang-tzu's contributors.
For the most part, those contributors urge readers to question the utility of rational thought as a reliable guide to life, to see "common-sense" ideas as cultural constructs bearing no clear relationship to truth, and to "leap into the boundless" instead of trying to figure out life and make it work as we wish it to. Yet as fascinating as those ideas may be, nothing in the text tells the reader how to do those things or what to do about real-life problems. Though Chinese and Western writers often tried to explain the Chuang-tzu and the Tao te ching together—as the "primary texts" of "classical Taoism"—the two works have little in common and were clearly not composed by people whose ideas about life were the same.
Until the 1970s it was widely, though inaccurately, believed that a primary "theoretical" work of "religious Taoism" was the Pao-p'u-tzu ["(The Writings of) the Master who Embraces Simplicity"]. The Pao-p'u-tzu was written by Ko Hung (283–343), an aristocrat of the early fourth century to whom are attributed various other Taoist writings, including the Shen-hsien chuan ("Accounts of Divine Transcendents"). In some senses Ko was indeed a key figure, though less for his thought, or for his effect on people of his day, as for the fact that he collected (or at least reported) all manner of data that were later accepted as "Taoist." For scholars today the writings attributed to Ko are thus a treasury of early-medieval "Taoism," particularly in regard to the tradition of ritual alchemy called T'ai-ch'ing. Yet in Ko's day Taoism had not yet coalesced, and if twentieth-century scholars were correct in thinking of the "Celestial Masters" as Taoism's main tradition, Ko clearly lived and worked on its fringes. Nor did Ko think that classical texts such as Chuang-tzu or Lao-tzu held the answers to life.
Far from having been an "alchemist," as most once believed, Ko was a Confucian official who held minor military and clerical posts before retiring to Mount Luo-fu near the south coast. The so-called "Outer Chapters" of his Pao-p'u-tzu express the interests and values of the Confucians of his day so thoroughly that the only scholar ever to translate them calls Ko "a conservative defender of common sense." Ko was also proud to own various writings on alchemy and ritual, some of which had been bequeathed to him by his own ancestors. The "inner chapters" of his Pao-p'u-tzu maintain that the ritual methods described in those writings could elevate a person to a deathless state. Such an outspoken advocate of "immortality" struck later generations of Confucians—and the Western scholars whom they mentored—as so bizarrely "un-Chinese" (and contrary to modern beliefs) that caricatures of his ideas were long cited to show how stupid the Taoists of imperial times supposedly were. In reality, Ko was simply an eclectic aristocrat who might best be called a maverick Confucian. By maintaining that a pursuit of immortality—a goal to which both the Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, unlike "Celestial Master" texts, often allude—was a fitting goal for upstanding "gentlemen" like himself, Ko attempted to integrate the divergent beliefs and traditions that gave his own life meaning and value.
Arguably the single most influential Taoist of all time was Ssu-ma Ch'eng-chen (646–735). He was the greatest Taoist leader of an age when Taoism was a major force among the Chinese elite. Ssu-ma was descended from relatives of the rulers of the Chin dynasty (266–420), and his father and grandfather had both held government posts. An associate of renowned poets such as Li Po, Ssu-ma was not only an accomplished poet but also a musical composer and a distinguished painter and calligrapher. For centuries Chinese annals of history's greatest artists all celebrated Ssu-ma Ch'engchen. It is thus no surprise that when he died, Ssu-ma's life was commemorated in eulogies by government officials and even by the emperor Hsüan-tsung himself. Ssuma had been a frequent guest at the court of several emperors, and he was remembered as a sagely counselor who helped give their reign legitimacy. His disciples include Li Han-kuang, discussed above under EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS, and Chiao Ching-chen, a lien-shih (refined mistress) who was also acclaimed by the land's most eminent poets.
Of more lasting importance was Ssu-ma's work copying, collating, and composing Taoist texts. His expertise on the Tao te ching, for instance, was so great that the emperor commissioned him to write it out in three styles of script so that "the correct text" could be engraved in stone. He also edited T'ao Hung-ching's "Secret Directives for Ascent to Perfection" and himself wrote the now-lost "Esoteric Instructions for Cultivating Perfection." Some writings attributed to Ssu-ma are probably not in fact his work, but scholars today acknowledge him as the author of such important works as the Fu-ch'i ching-i lun ("On the Essential Meaning of the Absorption of Life-Energy [Ch'i]") and the Tso-wang lun ("On 'Sitting in Forgetfulnes's"]—a meditation text known in the West as "Seven Steps to the Tao." The teachings in that work were influenced by those of the Taoist physician Sun Ssu-miao in his T'sun-shen lien-ch'i ming ("Visualization of Spirit and Refinement of Ch'i"). Ssu-ma hails the unknown "Master of Heavenly Seclusion," T'ien-yin-tzu, whose brief introduction to the Taoist life Ssu-ma edited.
Ssu-ma taught that the path to spiritual transcendence (shen-hsien) requires a lifestyle of moderate self-discipline and practices designed to "cultivate and refine" both one's body and one's spiritual energies. Like other Taoist aristocrats of his day, Ssu-ma offered a model of Taoist practice intended to appeal to scholars and officials who had limited knowledge of earlier Taoism and who thus might appreciate clear, simple guide-lines. Those models reappeared in the lives and teachings of centuries of "literati Taoists," including Wang Ch'ung-yang, Liu Yü, and Wang Ch'ang-yüeh, discussed above under EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS.
From today's perspective the most important Taoist of T'ang times may have been Tu Kuang-t'ing (850–933). Besides writing poetry and short stories that people continue to read, the court official Tu also composed numerous little-known religious works of great historical importance. He wrote commentaries on Taoist scriptures and classical texts, instructions for performing liturgies, and a number of historical and biographical collections that tell us much about the Taoists of medieval times. One, called the Li-tai ch'ung-tao chi ("Records of Reverence for Taoism over the Ages"), tells how centuries of rulers sponsored Taoists and their institutions. Another, the Yung-ch'eng chi-hsien lu ("Records of the Assembled Transcendents of the Walled City"), assembled biographies of great Taoist women and female "transcendents." Few of Tu's writings, however, have yet been studied or fully translated.
Around Tu Kuang-t'ing's time some Taoist writers began using the terminology of earlier alchemical traditions to express—and sometimes camouflage—their ideas about spiritual refinement through meditation. Those ideas—known among Taoists as chin-tan ("the Golden Elixir")—have become more generally known as nei-tan ("Inner Alchemy"). That ongoing tradition of meditative practices remains poorly understood in the West, though it has been the central tradition of Taoist self-cultivation practices for the last thousand years.
"Inner Alchemy" actually refers to "purifying the heart/mind" in order to achieve tranquillity and to harmonize oneself with the primordial Tao. In the Wu-chen p'ien ("Folios On Awakening to Reality") of Chang Potuan (eleventh century) and in Chung-ho chi ("On Centered Harmony") by Li Tao-ch'un (thirteenth century), "Inner Alchemy" practices are couched in such cryptic symbols as "uniting the dragon and the tiger." As literacy increased among the expanding "gentry" class, writers of Ming (1368–1644) and Ch'ing (1644–1911) times increasingly recast "Inner Alchemy" in clearer, more accessible terms. One good example is the anonymous Hsing-ming kuei-chih ("Balanced Instructions about Inner Nature and Life-Realities"), published in 1615.
Though these facts are still largely unknown to modern audiences, scholars of the Ch'ing (Manchu) period continued to write about "mind-cultivation," drawing upon those older traditions. Some, such as Min I-te (1758–1836), became regarded as leaders of the "Drag-on Gate" tradition. Another was a scholar named Liu I-ming (1734–1821). One of Liu's writings was the Wu-tao lu ("Record of Awakening to Tao"), whose title recalls the Wu-chen ko ("Song of Awakening to Tao") by Wang Ch'ung-yang, the founder of "Northern Taoism." Liu's numerous writings on self-perfection have survived, but they have seldom been studied or properly translated. When future scholars bring such writings to the attention of readers around the world, the enduring Taoist tradition of self-cultivation will become better appreciated.
Most people who learned about Taoism from twentieth-century representations would assume that Taoism could, by its nature, have no organization at all. Of course, Taoism has never had a hierarchy like that which the emperor Constantine imposed upon Roman Christians in the early fourth century. For many centuries there have been Taoist priests, male and female alike, but they have never supervised the religious lives of all believers in a parish, nor have they reported to a bishop who reports to a pope. For that reason, today's scholars of Taoism are often reluctant to use any terminology drawn from Christian traditions when trying to explain Taoist institutions. The truth is that centuries of Taoists did attempt to organize their practitioners to some degree, sometimes following successful Buddhist models. Because Taoist's historical challenges, however, were different from those that Christians or Buddhists faced, Taoists could usually flourish with only a limited organizational structure, and they have never attempted any actual unification.
Before the second or third century c.e., there was no "Taoist community" to be organized. The followers of Chang Tao-ling's "Celestial Master" tradition assigned specific roles to its local leaders, the chi-chiu (libationers). Those forerunners of the later Taoist clergy could be male or female, Chinese or "barbarian," and they were ranked according to their level of religious attainment. The organization's headman claimed descent from Chang himself. The organization clearly died out in medieval times, but in the early modern era a band of Taoists surnamed Chang, based at Dragon-and-Tiger Mountain (Lung-hu shan), claimed to continue the old "Celestial Master" lineage. Until the mid-nineteenth century emperors nominally recognized the Cheng-i leaders, but Western reports that Cheng-i leaders were Taoist "popes" had no basis in fact. Even leading scholars of Taoism have inadvertently perpetuated some confusion about the role of Taoist leaders in relation to the religious community and its institutions. Some continue to believe that the Cheng-i liturgists of "Southern Taoism" truly continue institutions put in place by Chang Tao-ling. In other words, they see modern Cheng-i authorities as veritable papal successors to Chang himself. Since about the year 2000, other scholars have increased that confusion by labeling certain ill-defined traditions of early-medieval times the "Southern Celestial Masters" and the "Northern Celestial Masters." Most of those traditions seem to have little to do with either the earlier organization of Chang Tao-ling or the modern Cheng-i tradition.
Originally the term t'ien-shih (celestial master) simply meant an especially insightful teacher. Such "celestial masters" appear as characters in both the Chuang-tzu and the T'ai-p'ing ching but clearly not as historical figures related to Chang Tao-ling. In early medieval times the title "celestial master" was claimed by, or applied to, a wide variety of historical individuals—all apparently male—in various contexts. Few of them were named Chang, and none had any clear connection to the earlier followers of Chang Tao-ling. Chang's descendants appear in early-medieval sources, but there is no evidence that any of them claimed the title t'ien-shih, much less that anyone in that day regarded them as "apostolic" leaders.
Even less "papal" was the only person surnamed Chang to be mentioned as a t'ien-shih in regard to T'ang times (618–907), when Taoism was at its zenith. That man, Chang Kao, first appears in a text written in about 1300, which claims that the emperor Hsüan-tsung gave him the title of "Celestial Master in the Han Lineage." Taken at face value, that report would appear to bolster the idea of an "apostolic lineage" of leaders named Chang. Historical analysis has conclusively demonstrated, however, that no such event is mentioned in any historical or religious sources prior to the year 1300. The abundant sources of the period in question—including the detailed chronicles of the eminent Taoist historian Tu Kuang-t'ing—nowhere mention "Chang Kao" and nowhere mention any other person receiving such a title from a T'ang emperor.
T'ang sources do call quite a few historical Taoists "celestial masters" but in ways that show that in those days t'ien-shih was a general honorific term that could be casually applied to any memorable Taoist. The "celestial masters" of T'ang times thus included Ssu-ma Ch'engchen and his successor, Li Han-kuang the aforementioned historian Tu Kuang-t'ing a famous poet named Wu Yün and even the wonder-worker Yeh Fa-shan (who was thought to have miraculous powers). Clearly none of those men were "popes." In T'ang times, in fact, the highest Taoist title may have been lien-shih (refined master/mistress), a title sometimes applied to venerable women as well as men. Lien-shih was apparently also an honorific term, not an ecclesiastical office that gave one person authority over other's religious lives.
By the twelfth century followers of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism had concocted a story designed to legitimize one particular set of teachers as heirs to an apostolic lineage that was traceable back to the historical Buddha (15 centuries earlier). That lineage was entirely fabricated, as is clear from the fact that no such beliefs can be found among the earliest Ch'an Buddhists—not even in writings by or about their earliest Chinese "patriarchs." Yet the story proved effective in stimulating interest in Buddhism (even among modern Westerners), and two contemporary groups of Taoists fabricated analogous stories of an "apostolic succession." One group was based at a mountain called Mao-shan, where certain historical Taoists, such as Li Han-kuang, had earlier practiced. That group wrote up "historical records" designed to show that the recipients of the Shang-ch'ing revelations in the fourth century had founded a lineage of tsung-shih ("Grand Masters"), which had run through such historical figures as Ssu-ma Ch'eng-chen before culminating in the leaders of Mao-shan in that day. The competing group was composed of the Taoists of Lunghu shan, who purported to be descendants of Chang Tao-ling.
The reason that modern people, including most scholars of Taoism, have often talked about the "Celestial Masters" of Lung-hu shan but never about the "Grand Masters" of Mao-shan is simply that centuries of emperors gave political precedence to the Taoists of Lung-hu shan, thereby disempowering the Taoist leaders of Mao-shan and other centers. Imperial recognition of the Cheng-i lineage ended only in the mid-nineteenth century, at precisely the time that Western powers wrested real control of China away from the Manchus. Nevertheless, even that recognition never gave Cheng-i leaders any actual power they could never do anything more than control the distribution of ordination certificates. So it would be a serious mistake to imagine them ever to have been "Taoist popes."
Likewise, the roles of Taoist "priests" must not be misconstrued. Scholarly explanations of the Taoist priesthood have often been confused and misleading. One problem is that few such scholars have ever had extensive personal contacts with living Taoist priests. Because of historical and political factors Taoist priests have been displaced for generations from China's government, academic institutions, and public media. Even in China today most Taoist priests have little contact with the educated public or the outside world. People trying to understand the roles and functions of Christian or Buddhist priests have generally been able to meet, observe, and learn from priests. Students of Taoism have had few such opportunities and were further misled by twentieth-century scholars who frequently confused literary images with historical data and who even anachronistically conflated social data from contemporary Taiwan with data from ancient and medieval texts. Moreover, some such scholars used terms such as "Taoist priest" or "Taoist master" as an indiscriminate translation for a range of unrelated Chinese terms, making it difficult for today's readers to get an accurate idea of Taoist priests through the ages.
Taoism - History
f you want to learn Taoism, you truly cannot afford to miss out on this information from the man who re-established Taoist understanding in Taiwan and Mainland China
Discover materials on Chinese Taoism that include correct meditation practice principles, the history of Taoism, gong-fu explanations . and honest advice . from a recognized Taoist master! Hard to find info on the founders of Taoism, history of Taoism, Taoist religion, Taoist meditation practice and more.
China's only surviving tripartite Zen, Esoteric and Taoist master . who has sold over seven million books in China . recounts the history of Taoism and the principles of proper Taoist meditation practice. Inside you'll find fully comprehensive explanations of Taoism along with recommended methods and results of body-mind cultivation. For the first time in English , Nan Huai-chin's Taoist breakthrough insights are available to true Taoist seekers.
Inside this work, which is the other half of The Story of Chinese Zen, published by Charles E. Tuttle, you will find discussions of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Wei Bo-Yang, fang-shih (or ancient "magicians" of China), the Yin-Yang school, kundalini, pranayama, chi, Taoism and the sciences, feng shui, Confucianism, medical longevity sciences, I-Ching, popular Taoist meditation methods and all the major topics of Taoism, including a trustworthy history of Taoism with critical analysis (something missing in most texts). You will find information on the battles Taoism fought with Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism.
This is a veritable treasure trove of Taoist practice insights and history, and more importantly, it contains the proper road of meditation practice according to the real Taoism that has all but disappeared from the world. What Master Nan teaches is different than any other Taoist information you can find today as he weaves practical experience together with Taoism history of practice,and proper meditation technique. In your hands you'll have Chinese Taoism details - never before available in English - that illuminate a safe and correct road of meditation practice according to the correct Taoist vision.
I'm ever grateful to Bill Bodri who has tirelessly and generously organized and brought out the essence of Master Nan's work, including The Story of Chinese Taoism , into the English speaking public. The materials in this book have reoriented Taoism practices and scholarship in its right direction. If I was still in graduate school, I would like to be a proud holder of a PhD based on the materials presented in this volume. For scholars in this area, there are so much new materials (in almost every other page) for reference and research that it'll break new ground, make you all excited and perhaps not finish your graduate studies!
More importantly, seasoned cultivation practitioners (of all schools), will gain further insights and guidance on the most popular Taoist practices so popularly promulgated like microcosmic orbit circulation, Qi-gong, sexual cultivation, anti-aging and alchemical formulations. You'll see how and when all these practices have been put aside in one way or another, in favor of something better that has come along. The tricky thing with Chinese historical thought is that nothing is ever fully abandoned, out of respect to scholarship. Most of the time, it's just put aside, and there lies the problem. If you don't know when and how they've been put aside, it's always available somewhere and you'll ignorantly picked up something that has been deemed less effective. It has happened to me and please don't let that happen to you.
The Story of Chinese Taoism is no easy read, but it's worth it if you are serious into Taoist practices as it is full of secrets that most masters don't even know (most do not have the luxury, merit and wisdom to ponder, practice and experience the full scope of Chinese spirituality). Matured cultivators should use it for reference either for themselves or keep it for posterity.
-- Lee, Malaysia
"I just got your e-book on Taoism and couldn't wait--I stopped everything and read it! I had a successful Chiropractic practice in San Diego and gave it all up to move to Taiwan and study Internal Kong-fu and Taoism 20 years ago. Luckily for me, a Chinese patient of mine who is an entepreneur and philanthropist, introduced me to Bill Bodhri and his teacher Master Nan, in Hong Kong. They are truly for real, and can explain theory & practice in an understandable way that NOBODY else can. They kindly straightened out many of my errors on understanding & practice. (The truth be told, finding 'real Taoism' is almost impossible, and most Chinese are nearly as confused as the rest of us!). Master Nan's scholarship, experience, as well as personal cultivation practice is without peer in the world of Chinese Philosophy and Spiritual disciplines. Master Nan had privately told me a number of times that Bill is his finest student, and I know this to be true- as I know him and have seen him firsthand in his practice and study. We are unbelievably lucky to finally have such authoratative information presented in English, by someone who has "sat at the feet" of perhaps the last genuine Master of our time! In this age where the confusion surrounding Taoism is taken for fact (don't believe me? look at all the mis-information and crap on the internet!) and the tide of "new age" confusion is mixing with it, this wonderful book sets it straight and sets the ground work for authetic, genuine Taoist Cultivation. Bill has a great sense of humor, but deep down he is a low-key humble person. So, I hope you guys print what I wrote in its' entirety- so that others can have an appreciation for what Bill is doing with his website and books, and understand the rare value of what he is making available to the western world.
-- Dr. Mark W. Griffin DC, Taipei Taiwan
The translator, Dr. William Brown, once spoke to me about this text saying, "I've translated Nan Huai-Chin's works on both Confucianism and Taoism. You know the scholars say one thing about these fields, and he says another, and frankly, to tell you the truth, his revolutionary ideas are right and they're wrong!" That's why the author has sold over 7 million books in Asia, and is widely recognized as the premier Chinese authority on Taoism today.
Scholars typically write dry books without any experience of the matter they're discussing, but this one seamlessly weaves a master's interpretations of facts and trends together with meditation principles and personal insights to provide you with guidance for your own spiritual efforts, even if you don't follow Taoism. In fact, the whole purpose of the book is to help you practice better by understanding how body-based cultivation schools (such as Taoism, yoga, Tantra, and Tibetan Buddhism) should be practiced correctly .
With this sensational information in your hands you will avoid many of the detours discarded by ancient Taoist practice . but popularized today by uninformed teachers. Now you can challenge them yourself using this material. Having met dozens of Taoist practitioners who hurt themselves because they thought they understood things, I have to say that what they were lacking was Nan Huai-chin's insights! At last you have a chance to have them yourself without having to learn Chinese, travel to Asia, and then spend years collecting the same sort of information.
This book is itself an important development in the history of Taoism. To give you just a small flavor of this 205 page ebook, let's take a peek at a tiny section discussing the Taoist idea of cultivating the body's ching (jing), ch'i (chi) and shen -- akin to cultivating our body, mind and spirit:
The first wrong path taken by this sect of alchemy was the absurd idea that the ching of the spiritual vitality (ching shen) spoken of in the Taoist School was referring to sperm and blood. This was a fundamental error. Most people initiate their practice by quiet sitting and a great number of them experience some physiological reactions. They feel that there is circulatory flow through the ch'i channels in the body, and pulsations in some of their muscles. These are natural effects of practicing alchemical methods, and they consider them the achievements of having already opened up their conception and governor channels as well as the eight extra channels.
In reality, these are all physiological reactions that naturally occur in quiet psychological states. There is not anything strange about them as they only verify the initial effects of quiet cultivation. Actually, the governor channel is the function of the spinal nervous system, the conception channel is the function of the autonomic nervous system, ching is the endocrine functions of the kidney glands and reproductive organs, and the spiritual saliva of the mouth is the endocrine functions of the pituitary and lymph glands.
If we integrate certain common knowledge of modern physiology and medicine, psychological and philosophical knowledge, and various scientific theories and experience, we can then know that this is a very ordinary method of cultivating one's health. It is the result of the blending of spiritual vitality and psychology and not any mysterious secret of orthodox alchemy and immortality.
There are also some schools of thought in modern medicine that are now studying the relationship between sexual hormones, blood and the restoration of youth. However, those are the ideals of medical science experiments such as the implantation of pituitary glands and afterbirths, and the injection of various types of hormones. These still remain within the ideological sphere of 2,000 years ago when the "fang-shih" were searching for means to extend life. The only difference lies in the theoretical names, drugs and methods employed. It can thus be seen that human wisdom is forever young, and this is another major problem in the cultural history of mankind.
To summarize, the ching, ch'i and shen brought forth by the Taoist School are, from the scientific point of view, the spiritual functions of the eyes, ears and mind in terms of the physical and mental lives of people. The manifestation and application of spirit (shen) is then the function of one's vision, the manifestation and application of ch'i is then the function of one's sense of hearing, and the manifestation and application of ching are then the active thoughts of the mind and the inherent activities of the body.
If we approach this from the point of view of the physical functions of the unity of Heaven and man, shen, ching and ch'i are then the functions of light, heat and power. From a philosophical perspective, the shen mentioned by the Taoist School is close to the "nature" spoken of in Buddhism, and the ching of the Taoist School is close to the "mind" in Buddhism. We therefore see the line "the essence (ching) of the mind is perfected" in the T'ang Dynasty translation of the Surangama Sutra the ching referring to sperm (ching ye) is the stimulation of psychological desires triggering the functions of the internal secretions of the sex glands and the circulation of blood by the heart. It is just as Kuang Ch'eng-tzu of the Taoist School stated: "With the arousal of sexual desires there is necessarily stirring of the ching."
The ch'i spoken of by the Taoist School is close to the breathing discussed in Buddhism, the function of postnatal life. If we draw from phenomena of the physical world for purposes of illustration, shen is comparable to the light energy bestowed upon the myriad things by the sun as it gives energy to all life on earth. Ch'i is comparable to the vapors issued forth from the light energy of the sun radiating on the earth. Ching is then comparable to the combined physical effects produced by the sun bestowing light energy on the myriad things in the world. However, it should be noted that I have employed illustrations because there is no way of explaining the conditions of ching, ch'i and shen in detail, and illustrations are merely analogies, and not the essence of the original.
The Taoist practices of the Chou and Ch'in dynasties began with the cultivation of the spirit which encompassed the functions of ching and ch'i. The methods of the Taoist School during and after the Ch'in and Han dynasties emphasized the cultivation of ch'i, and although they varied slightly from the cultivation of the spirit, they changed from the metaphysical to the physical realm. The cultivation of ching during and after the Sung and Yuan dynasties descended even deeper into the physical realm, and the techniques completely focused on postnatal concepts of form quality. The principles of form and spirit involve a very broad area and for the moment we will not discuss them here.
Let us further explain by discussing the relationship between sitting in meditation, the Tantric School, and yoga. Sitting meditation was introduced into China from India as a Buddhist method for concentrating the mind so as to enter a state of deep contemplation. This method of sitting with folded legs was a form derived from ancient Indian yoga, and it was not originally from the Buddhist School nor from the alchemical sect of the Taoist School. It is a method which can be utilized in all forms of cultivation of the mind and body, but we rarely see mention of the relationship to sitting meditation in the alchemical texts of the Taoist School prior to the T'ang and Sung dynasties. However, there is no doubt that sitting meditation is a very useful method which can aid in the cultivation of the Tao. It would be a mistake to discuss the cultivation of the path of immortality and the meditation (ch'an) of the Ch'an School of Buddhism together.
During and after the Sung and Yuan dynasties, the Tantric Sect of Buddhism transmitted from Tibet, like the Taoist School, paid serious attention to the cultivation of the ch'i channels and realizing bliss, clarity and a state of no thought. These were also originally excellent Buddhist methods of practice which focused on verification of the material by means of the metaphysical. However, by the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties, they had become like the alchemical methods of the Taoist School which focused on the effects of form quality and cultivation of the ch'i channels. It had thus taken a plunge down from the original profound sublimity. The highest achievements in yoga techniques are only equivalent in value to the internal practices of the ch'i guidance and health cultivation school of Taoism, and are not the ultimate teaching.
Most people who study the alchemical arts often mix up sitting meditation, Tantric, yoga and other methods of cultivation popular throughout the world without clarifying the differences in focus among them. Purity of mind and few desires is always the starting point in practice whether one is studying the path of the immortals or Buddhism, and the ultimate aim is calmness, extinction and non-action. This is aptly stated in the Taoist text Classic of Purity and Quietness (Ch'ing Ching Ching): "If one can constantly be pure and quiet, both Heaven and earth will revert to you." However, people in the real world are often as Confucius mentioned: "Food and sex are the major desires of people." Kao Tzu also stated: "Food and sex are the nature of people." It is quite impossible for people who desire after food and sex, and scheme to enjoy wealth and fame to want to accomplish "abandoning desires and cutting off entanglements."
Here's another lesson taken from the The Story of Chinese Taoism . which has implications for the use of vitamins and nutritional supplements in holistic medicine:
The "fang-shih" invented and refined mineral drugs made from metals and other substances. In terms of medical and pharmaceutical worth, they made doses for physically treating the human body, and only if suitable doses were applied, not only would it be correct but it would be extremely valuable. However, these types of drugs refined from mineral substances were all irritating in nature, and moreover they acted to fiercely develop physiological functions much like modern vitamins.
The first important point in the methods of ingestion by the "fang-shih" orthodox Taoist School is the need to very thoroughly "purify the mind and restrict the passions" in terms of psychological behavior and one can absolutely not be covetous of sexual activities and the consumption of meat before beginning to take the drugs. Otherwise, one will have a very intense tonifying yang reaction as soon as the drug is consumed, which will necessarily promote sexual impulses. There is no doubt that this became an amulet for hastening on death by those emperors and famous nobles who spent their days dallying in wine, women and song. This is not at all surprising!
The second important point is that the alchemical drugs consumed by the Taoists required first practicing up to the level wherein the spirit was fixed and the ch'i accumulated, grains were avoided and one did not eat the food cooked in the world of men. Only then could one absorb and fuse the drugs, otherwise one could actually be poisoned by food or die from the ingestion of the drug. In sum, generally those who took alchemical drugs were unable to cut off the desire for "food and sex," but rather, on the other hand, they came to rely upon the effects of the alchemical drugs to realize the pleasures of "food and sex." Then "the taking of drugs to seek immortality contrarily became a misunderstanding of the use of these drugs." This was a necessary outcome but this great mess need not be blamed on the "fang-shih." Don't you think so?
Here is an abbreviated Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: The Origins of the Learning and Thought of the Taoist School and Those of Huang-Lao and Lao-Chuang
· The Relationship of the Taoist School with Huang-Lao
· The Relationship of the Taoist School and Lao-Chuang
Chapter 2: The Relationship of the Thought of the Recluse and the Taoist School
· Counter-Evidence to the Legends of Ancient History
· The Relationship of the Thought of Confucius and the Recluse
· Relationship of the Recluses and Historical Politics
Chapter 3: The Learning of the Fang-shih (Occultist) and the Taoist School
· Early Natural Sciences
· The Yin-Yang School Evolved Into the Humanities
· Theoretical Physical Sciences
Chapter 4 : Origins of the Learning and Thought of the Fang-shih in the Taoist School
· Ancient Traditional Culture and the Taoist School During the Chou Dynasty
· Cultural Background of the Northern Chinese States of Ch'i, Lu, Yen and Sung During the Warring States Period
· The Culture and Thought of the Southern State of Ch'u During the Warring States Period
Chapter 5 : Contents of the Learning and Thought of the Taoist School and Taoist Religion
· Cosmological Theories of Heaven and Man in the Taoist School and Taoist Religion
-- The Concept of the Yin and Yang
-- The Concept of the Five Elements
-- The Concept of Sixty Year Cycle Using the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches
· Learning and Thought of the Cultivation of Immortals in the Taoist School
· Estimation of the Meaning of Human Life by the Taoist School and Taoist Religion
The Influence of the Thoughts of the "Fang-shih"
(A) The theories and methods on the cultivation of the spirit were naturally first advocated by Lao Tzu
(B) The first theories of the cultivation of ch'i and the refinement of ch'i
(C) The reasons for the taking of drugs
(D) The two theories related to the taking of alchemical drugs
(E) The three types of alchemical drugs ingested
(F) The three methods for ingesting alchemical drugs
(G) The cultivation and practices of the sect of worship and prayer
Chapter 6: The Immortal Alchemical Sect During and After the Han and Wei Dynasties
· The Originator of Alchemical Texts Wei Po-Yang
· The Alchemical Method of Refining Ch'i and Nourishing Life Through the Combination of the Medical Sciences of the Fang-shih and the Representations and Numerology of the Book of Changes
Chapter 7 : General Discussion on the Thoughts of the Founders of the Taoist School and Taoist Religion
· The Meaning of "Heaven" Prior to the Split of the Confucian and Taoist Schools
· The Meaning of "Tao" Prior to the Split of the Confucian and Taoist Schools
· Lao Tzu
-- The Concepts of the Way of Heaven, Non-Action and Spontaneity in the Thought of Lao Tzu
-- Lao Tzu's Views on Benevolence, Righteousness and the Sage
-- Misunderstanding of Lao Tzu's Political Thought
-- Lao Tzu Has Been Falsely Charged as the Instigator of Schemes and Intrigues
-- The Focal Point of Lao Tzu's Political Thought
-- Lao Tzu's Theories on the Cultivation of Life
(A) The cultivation of quietude begins with attaining utmost emptiness and internal stillness
(B) The cultivation of the spirit proceeds from utmost stillness to being dimly visible as if not present
(C) The cultivation of ch'i is designed to aid the cultivation of stillness and the spirit
(D) Realizing that which is shadowy and indistinct
(E) The results of the cultivation of life
·The Classic of Purity and Stillness
· Chuang Tzu
-- The Fables in the Chuang Tzu
-- Chuang Tzu's Free and Easy Wandering and the Seven Inner Chapters
-- The Style of the Outer Chapters of the Chuang Tzu
-- The Mutual Causation of the Ideas of Caring for Life in the Chuang Tzu and the Fang-shih Immortals
· The Influences of the Yin-Yang School and Fang-shih of the Warring States Period
· The Learning and Thought of Tsou Yen
-- The Motives and Aims of Tsou Yen's Theories on Yin and Yang
-- The Contents of the Yin-Yang Theory
-- The Geophysical Thought of Tsou Yen
-- The Prevalent Trend of Learning in the State of Ch'i
· The "Fang-shih" of the States of Yen and Ch'i and the Origins of the Thought of Immortals During the Ch'in and Han Dynasties
· Emperor Ch'in Shih Huang and the Feng and Shan Sacrifices
· The Spirit Way and Spirit Immortals at the Beginning of the Han Dynasty
· General Contents of the Learning and Thought of the Taoist School During and After the Han and Wei Dynasties
Chapter 8 : The Taoist Religion
· Reasons for the Formation of the Taoist Religion at the End of the Han Dynasty
· The Taoist School and Taoist Religion During and After the Chin and Wei Dynasties
· The Taoist Religion During the T'ang Dynasty
· The Taoist Religion During the Sung, Yuan, Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties
Chapter 9: The Ideas of the Taoist School and Taoist Religion and the Educational Spirit of Chinese Culture
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The Rise of the Tao
YIN XINHUI reached the peak of Mount Yi and surveyed the chaos. The 47-year-old Taoist abbess was on a sacred mission: to consecrate a newly rebuilt temple to one of her religion’s most important deities, the Jade Emperor. But there were as yet no stairs, just a muddy path up to the pavilion, which sat on a rock outcropping 3,400 feet above a valley. A team of workers was busy laying stone steps, while others planted sod, trees and flowers. Inside the temple, a breeze blew through windows that were still without glass, while red paint flecked the stone floor.
“Tomorrow,” she said slowly, calculating the logistics. “They don’t have much ready. . . .” Fortunately, a dozen of her nuns had followed her up the path. Dressed in white tunics and black trousers, their hair in topknots, the nuns enthusiastically began unpacking everything they would need for the next day’s ceremony: 15 sacred scriptures, three golden crowns, three bells, two cordless microphones, two lutes, a zither, a drum, a cymbal and a sword. Soon the nuns were plucking and strumming with the confidence of veteran performers. Others set up the altar and hung their temple’s banner outside, announcing that for the next few days, Abbess Yin’s exacting religious standards would hold sway on this mountain.
The temple she was to consecrate was born of more worldly concerns. Mount Yi is in a poor part of China, and Communist Party officials had hit upon tourism as a way to move forward. They fenced in the main mountain, built a road to the summit and declared it a scenic park. But few tourists were willing to pay for a chance to hike up a rocky mountain. Enter religion. China is in the midst of a religious revival, and people will pay to visit holy sites. So the local government set out to rebuild the temple, which was wrecked by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, modestly rebuilt then torn down when the park was first constructed. Officials commissioned a 30-foot statue of the Jade Emperor, had it hauled to the peak and encased in the brilliant red pavilion. They then built a bell and a drum tower, as well as another set of halls devoted to minor deities.
All that was missing was a soul. For that, the temple had to be properly consecrated. The officials got in touch with Abbess Yin, widely regarded as a leading expert in Taoist ritual, and soon she was driving the 350 miles from her nunnery to Mount Yi.
As her rehearsals drew to a close, the abbess went over the next day’s schedule with a local official. All was in good shape, he said, except for one detail. Government officials were due to give speeches at 10:30 a.m. She would have to be finished by then, he said.
“No,” she replied. “Then it won’t be authentic. It takes four hours.” Could she start earlier and wrap up by then? No, the sun won’t be in the right position, she replied. The official peered up from the schedule and took a good look at her — who was this?
Abbess Yin smiled good-naturedly. At a little over five feet tall, she was solidly built, with a full, smooth face tanned from spending much of her life outdoors in the mountains. Her dress was always the same plain blue robe, and she did not wear jewelry or display other signs of wealth. She shunned electronics her temple did not have a phone or Internet access. But over the past 20 years she had accomplished a remarkable feat, rebuilding her own nunnery on one of Taoism’s most important mountains. Unlike the temple here on Mount Yi — and hundreds of others across China — she had rejected tourism as a way to pay for the reconstruction of her nunnery, relying instead on donors who were drawn to her aura of earnest religiosity. She knew the real value of an authentic consecration ceremony and wasn’t about to back down.
The official tried again, emphasizing the government’s own rituals: “But they have planned to be here at 10:30. The speeches last 45 minutes, and then they have lunch. It is a banquet. It cannot be changed.”
She smiled again and nodded her head: no. An hour later the official returned with a proposal: the four-hour ceremony was long and tiring what if the abbess took a break at 10:30 and let the officials give their speeches? They would cut ribbons for the photographers and leave for lunch, but the real ceremony wouldn’t end until Abbess Yin said so. She thought for a moment and then nodded: yes.
RELIGION HAS LONG played a central role in Chinese life, but for much of the 20th century, reformers and revolutionaries saw it as a hindrance holding the country back and a key reason for China’s “century of humiliation.” Now, with three decades of prosperity under their belt — the first significant period of relative stability in more than a century — the Chinese are in the midst of a great awakening of religious belief. In cities, yuppies are turning to Christianity. Buddhism attracts the middle class, while Taoism has rebounded in small towns and the countryside. Islam is also on the rise, not only in troubled minority areas but also among tens of millions elsewhere in China.
It is impossible to miss the religious building boom, with churches, temples and mosques dotting areas where none existed a few years ago. How many Chinese reject the state’s official atheism is hard to quantify, but numbers suggest a return to widespread religious belief. In contrast to earlier surveys that showed just 100 million believers, or less than 10 percent of the population, a new survey shows that an estimated 300 million people claim a faith. A broader question in another poll showed that 85 percent of the population believes in religion or the supernatural.
Officially, religious life is closely regulated. The country has five recognized religions: Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and Christianity, which in China is treated as two faiths, Catholicism and Protestantism. Each of the five has a central organization headquartered in Beijing and staffed with officials loyal to the Communist Party. All report to the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which in turn is under the central government’s State Council, or cabinet. This sort of religious control has a long history in China. For hundreds of years, emperors sought to define orthodox belief and appointed many senior religious leaders.
Beneath this veneer of order lies a more freewheeling and sometimes chaotic reality. In recent months, the country has been scandalized by a Taoist priest who performed staged miracles — even though he was a top leader in the government-run China Taoist Association. His loose interpretation of the religion was hardly a secret: on his Web site he used to boast that he could stay underwater for two hours without breathing. Meanwhile, the government has made a conscious effort to open up. When technocratic Communists took control of China in the late 1970s, they allowed temples, churches and mosques to reopen after decades of forced closures, but Communist suspicion about religion persisted. That has slowly been replaced by a more laissez-faire attitude as authorities realize that most religious activity does not threaten Communist Party rule and may in fact be something of a buttress. In 2007, President Hu Jintao endorsed religious charities and their usefulness in solving social problems. The central government has also recently sponsored international conferences on Buddhism and Taoism. And local governments have welcomed temples — like the one on Mount Yi — as ways to raise money from tourism.
This does not mean that crackdowns do not take place. In 1999, the quasi-religious sect Falun Gong was banned after it staged a 10,000-person sit-down strike in front of the compound housing the government’s leadership in Beijing. That set off a year of protests that ended in scores of Falun Gong practitioners dying in police custody and the introduction of an overseas protest movement that continues today. In addition, where religion and ethnicity mix, like Tibet and Xinjiang, control is tight. Unsupervised churches continue to be closed. And for all the building and rebuilding, there are still far fewer places of worship than when the Communists took power in 1949 and the country had less than half the population, according to Yang Fenggang, a Purdue University professor who studies Chinese religion. “The ratio is still radically imbalanced,” Yang says. “But there’s now a large social space that makes it possible to believe in religion. There’s less problem believing.”
Taoism has closely reflected this history of decline and rebirth. The religion is loosely based on the writings of a mythical person named Laotzu and calls for returning to the Dao, or Tao, the mystical way that unites all of creation. Like many religions, it encompasses a broad swath of practice, from Laotzu’s high philosophy to a riotous pantheon of deities: emperors, officials, thunder gods, wealth gods and terrifying demons that punish the wicked in ways that make Dante seem unimaginative. Although scholars once distinguished between “philosophical Taoism” and “religious Taoism,” today most see the two strains as closely related. Taoist worshipers will often go to services on important holy days they might also go to a temple, or hire a clergy member to come to their home, to find help for a specific problem: illness and death or even school exams and business meetings. Usually the supplicant will pray to a deity, and the priest or nun will stage ceremonies to summon the god’s assistance. Many Taoists also engage in physical cultivation aimed at wellness and contemplation, like qigong breathing exercises or tai chi shadowboxing.
As China’s only indigenous religion, Taoism’s influence is found in everything from calligraphy and politics to medicine and poetry. In the sixth century, for example, Abbess Yin’s temple was home to Tao Hongjing, one of the founders of traditional Chinese medicine. For much of the past two millenniums, Taoism’s opposite has been Confucianism, the ideology of China’s ruling elite and the closest China has to a second homegrown religion. Where Confucianism emphasizes moderation, harmony and social structure, Taoism offers a refuge from society and the trap of material success. Some rulers have tried to govern according to Taoism’s principle of wuwei, or nonaction, but by and large it is not strongly political and today exhibits none of the nationalism found among, say, India’s Hindu fundamentalists.
During China’s decline in the 19th and 20th centuries, Taoism also weakened. Bombarded by foreign ideas, Chinese began to look askance at Taoism’s unstructured beliefs. Unlike other major world religions, it lacks a Ten Commandments, Nicene Creed or Shahada, the Muslim statement of faith. There is no narrative comparable to Buddhism’s story of a prince who discovered that desire is suffering and sets out an eightfold path to enlightenment. And while religions like Christianity acquired cachet for their association with lands that became rich, Taoism was pegged as a relic of China’s backward past.
But like other elements of traditional Chinese culture, Taoism has been making a comeback, especially in the countryside, where its roots are deepest and Western influence is weaker. The number of temples has risen significantly: there are 5,000 today, up from 1,500 in 1997, according to government officials. Beijing, which had just one functioning Taoist temple in 2000, now has 10. The revival is not entirely an expression of piety as on Mount Yi, the government is much more likely to tolerate temples that also fulfill a commercial role. For Taoists like Abbess Yin, the temptation is to turn their temples into adjuncts of the local tourism bureau. And private donors who have helped make the revival possible may also face a difficult choice: support religion or support the state.
Zhengzhou is one of China’s grittiest cities. An urban sprawl of 4.5 million, it owes its existence to the intersection of two railway lines and is now one of the country’s most important transport hubs. The south side is given over to furniture warehouses and markets for home furnishings and construction materials. One of the biggest markets is the five-story Phoenix City, with more than four million square feet of showrooms featuring real and knockoff Italian marble countertops, German faucets and American lawn furniture. Living in splendor on the roof of this mall like a hermit atop a mountain is one of China’s most dynamic and reclusive Taoist patrons, Zhu Tieyu.
Zhu is a short, wiry man of 50 who says he once threw a man off a bridge for the equivalent of five cents. “He owed me the money,” he recalled during a nighttime walk on the roof of Phoenix City. “And I did anything for money: bought anything, sold anything, dared to do anything.” But as he got older, he began to think more about growing up in the countryside and the rules that people lived by there. His mother, he said, deeply influenced him. She was uneducated but tried to follow Taoist precepts. “Taoist culture is noncompetitive and nonhurting of other people,” he says. “It teaches following the rules of nature.”
Once he started to pattern his life on Taoism, he says, he began to rise quickly in the business world. He says that by following his instincts and not forcing things — by knowing how to be patient and bide his time — he was able to excel. Besides Phoenix City, he now owns large tracts of land where he is developing office towers and apartment blocks. Although he is reticent to discuss his wealth or business operations, local news media say his company is worth more than $100 million and have crowned him “the king of building materials.” Articles almost invariably emphasize another aspect of Zhu: his eccentric behavior.
That comes from how he chooses to spend his wealth. Instead of buying imported German luxury cars or rare French wines, he has spent a large chunk of his fortune on Taoism. The roof of Phoenix City is now a 200,000-square-foot Taoist retreat, a complex of pine wood cabins, potted fruit trees and vine-covered trellises. It boasts a library, guesthouses and offices for a dozen full-time scholars, researchers and staff. His Henan Xinshan Taoist Culture Propagation Company has organized forums to discuss Taoism and backed efforts at rebuilding the religion’s philosophical side. He says he has spent $30 million on Taoist causes, a number that is hard to verify but plausible given the scope of his projects, including an office in Beijing and sponsorship of international conferences. His goal, he says, is to bring the philosophical grounding of his rural childhood into modern-day China.
Last year, Zhu invited several dozen European and North American scholars of Chinese religion on an all-expenses-paid trip to participate in a conference in Beijing. The group stayed in the luxurious China World Hotel and were bused to Henan province to visit Taoist sites. Demonstrating his political and financial muscle, Zhu arranged for the conference’s opening session to be held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, the Stalinesque conference center on Tiananmen Square. It is usually reserved for state events, but with the right connections and for the right price, it can be rented for private galas. In a taped address to participants, Zhu boasted that “I’ll spend any amount of money” on Taoism.