The Rise of Taoism
The Rise of Taoism and the Blending of Various Cultures.
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Taoism differs greatly from many religions which tend to be exclusive. Taoism is, in a religious form, a cultural system that has incorporated almost everything in its development since it was founded. As a Religion embracing most kinds of cultures, Taoism may be called a "learning of absorption and assimilation."
Taoism was a unique Religion in ancient China with the Tao, or the Way, as its supreme belief. Founded in the mid-stage of the Eastern Hart Dynasty, Taoism deified Lao Zi and his Tao Te Ching, or Dao De ring (Classic of the Way and Virtue). It worshiped Lao Zi as its founder and his Tao Te Ching as the principal classic, to which a religious explanation was also made. It asserts that man can make both his mental and physical life survive forever through a long period of self-cultivation, thus becoming immortal.
Based on religious beliefs in ancient China, Taoism has developed by way of absorbing ideas or ways from various other religious sects and schools such as Alchemist Taoism, Huangdi-Lao Zi Taoism (a legend says that Huangdi matched Lao Zi, who were held in esteem as the founders of Taoism), Jing Xue (study of Confucian classics) and the Mohist doctrine (an important school of thought in the Warring States Period, opposed to Confucianism). It has always been regarded as an eclectic religion.
The cultural compositions of Taoism are of great variety, including Taoist thought, architecture, medicine, music, fine arts and literature.
Taoist place of worship were called "Zhi" in Han Dynasty and known as "Zhi," "Lu," or "Jing" during the Western and Eastern Jin dynasties. In the Southern and Northern Dynasties, they were called "Guan" 馆 (hall) in the south and in the north called "Guan" 观 (monastery) or "Si" (temple). But during the Tang Dynasty, all were known as "Guan" (monastery). During and after the later Tang, "Gong" (palace) was also used to denote some places of worship. Some buildings used for sacrificial ceremonies for common deities by ordinary people were called "Miao" (temple).
The style of Taoist structures was gradually perfected along with the systemization and standardization of Taoist ceremonial rites. During the initial stage of the religion's development, Taoism was usually practiced in simple and crude huts or caves in remote mountains. These were the "Zhi" of the Han and Jin dynasties.
After the Southern and Northern Dynasties, as Taoism flourished, a great number of "Gong" and "Guan" were built across the country and some of the constructions were large and broad in scale. These constructions were usually composed of four parts: a shrine hall, a dining room, a dormitory, and a garden, which were essentially laid out according to the pattern of traditional Chinese courtyard buildings. The main structure was based on a wooden framework and a single building was composed of several "bays." Several individual buildings made up the courtyard construction. On the basis of several courtyard constructions, various types of building groups were formed. A shrine hall was built on the main axial alignment as the principal part of the whole construction, which was flanked by a dining hall and a dormitory. A garden was usually located in a secluded spot. The four sections were clearly defined with easily accessible routes, suggesting a sense of solemnity, tranquility, refreshment and elegance. The construction was generally uniformly decorated together with various art works and paintings such as frescos, sculptures, calligraphy, scrolls, dedications, poems and essays, and stone-carved tablets of writings. With skillful and well-planned execution, the construction was of a high cultural level with colorful and artistic images.
Taoist architecture is designed to express the ideas of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), and other ideas of auspiciousness and longevity, and the Taoist pursuit of immortality. For instance, for architectural adornments, the sun, the moon, stars, clouds, mountains, water, and rocks were painted to imply a meaning of the radiation of light, firmness and eternity. Fans, fish, narcissi, bats, and deer were made symbols of virtue, affluence, happiness, honor and longevity. Pines and cypresses, glossy ganoderma, tortoises, cranes, bamboo, dragons, and phoenixes symbolize longevity, immortality, virtuousness, the exorcising of evil spirits, and auspiciousness. In addition, mythical stories such as "The Eight Immortals Sail Across the Sea" and "The Eight Immortals Celebrate Their Birthdays" are often adopted as the decorative theme of Taoist constructions.
Construction of Taoist palaces and monasteries flourished in the Tang Dynasty with a total of 1,687 such constructions having been built across the country. Frescos covering about 8,524 bays painted during the Tang Dynasty were preserved and left over to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). But after the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), such construction began to decline. Famous surviving Taoist monasteries include the Taiqing Palace in Luyi of Henan Province; the Louguantai Palace in Zhouzhi of Shaanxi Province; the Shangqing Palace on Dragon and Tiger Mountain in Jiangxi Province; the Yuanfu Palace in Maoshan, the Xuanmiao Temple in Suzhou and the Chaotian Palace in Nanjing of Jiangsu Province; the Dongxiao Palace in Yuhang of Zhcjiang Province; the Baiyunguan Temple in Beijing; the Qingyang Palace in Chengdu of Sichuan Province; the Yongle Palace in Ruicheng of Shanxi Province; the Chongyang Palace in Huxian of Shaanxi Province; and the Changchun Temple in Wuhan of Hubei Province.
Taoist fine arts developed in tandem with Taoist architecture. They include sculptures, portraits of immortals, temple frescos, and literary Taoist paintings. At first, they were influenced by Buddhist arts but the images all had a Chinese face. The idea of the creative endeavor was mainly to express the Taoist philosophic doctrine and tenets. They inherited the painting skills directly from Chinese bronze vessels, the Han Dynasty portrait bricks, and portrait-painting skills in ancient times. Specifically, a painting or a portrait was made mainly to express the conceived idea of the maker. With various artistic approaches and the ways of "modeling the image of a god" or "shaping a god’s image," artists expressed in their works various desired requirements of the Taoist god images. The extant famous Taoist stone-carved statues include the 5.1-m-high Lao Zi statue on Mt. Qingyuan in Quanzhou, Fujian Province; the Song Dynasty painted statue in the Goddess Hall of the J in Memorial Temple in Taiyuan and the Yuan Dynasty statues in the Longshan Grottoes, also in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. The facsimile on silk of the stone-carved portrait of Lao Zi, kept in the Xuanmiao Temple in Suzhou is the most treasured extant portrait of Taoist immortals. The masterpieces of frescos in Chinese art history include the extant large fresco "Clearing the Way for the God of Mount Tai to Return on His Carriage" in the Tian-guan Hall of the Dai Temple at Tai’an, Shandong Province, and the Taoist frescos in the Yongle Palace in Shanxi Province. Literary Taoist paintings will be dealt with in the following section.
Taoist literary works in various styles include poems, lyrics and prose and songs, essays and biographies, dramas and novels. They were composed either by Taoist priests or by literati. Poems and Pian Wen (a sort of rhythmical prose characterized by parallelism and ornateness) were composed to eulogize gods and spirits and popularize necromancy and alchemy. Sometimes the prose form was also used for this purpose. The forms of commentary and prose were used to explain the religious teachings and narrative prose was used in biographies of gods. Mythic legends and stories were written in the forms of dramas or novels.
Taoist literature created a unique style of poem, called the "Buxu Ci Poem," with five characters in a line and four, eight or 12 lines of ornate stanzas. This style was later developed into the popular literary form of "Tao Qing," a type of verse different from the Ci poem with tonal patterns modeled on tunes drawn from folk music, chanted and performed by itinerant Taoist priests accompanied by a bamboo-made percussion instrument while asking for alms along the street. This type of verse is popular and easily understood.
Although religious life was the dominant theme of Taoist literature, most works were interspersed with the author’s concerns and worries about his country and people and a true description about some aspects of the social life at the time, which had some academic and ideological value.
Taoist music includes solos, chorus, and the liberal type of song sung in various parts of performance such as drumming and piping, and instrumental ensemble staged during Taoist feasts and sacrificial ceremonies. On such occasions, Taoist priests would act as performers and Taoist believers the audience. The musical instruments included percussive bells, chime stones, drums, pipes and stringed instruments. Instruments were usually used at the beginning and end of the ceremony and between the singing parts of a song, or a change of array of a procession, or when a priest conducted a religious rite in special steps. But the vocal part, which made up most of Taoist music, was made up of many brief songs of two or four lines of verses. A large tonal music usually contained up to a dozen verses to be used on different occasions.
Taoist religious music is characterized by its special local flavor. For instance, a special piece of music performed during a particular religious ritual may differ with local variations in melody when it is played in various places. Another example is that a verse to be used in the same kind of ceremony may be tuned to a particular local melody.
Obviously, the Taoist cultural composition not only represents a compositional uniform of various kinds of forms and disciplines, but also a uniform of multilevel substances of each form and discipline. This is the most outstanding feature of the Taoist culture.
The comprehensive Taoist culture created a cultural pattern, combining Taoism and the Taoist school, Taoism a cultural pattern, combining Taoism and the Taoist school, Taoism and Confucianism, and Taoism and Buddhism.
Taoism established its world outlook of Religion on the basis of the Taoist school of thought, making this world outlook a principal part of the Taoist school of the thought. The integration of Taoism with the Taoist school is reflected not only in making Lao Zi its founder and the Tao Te Ching the classic of Taoism, but also in the worship of and belief in the Tao (the way). No Taoist scholar would not preach the doctrine of the Tao. The doctrine comprehends the following two aspects: on the one hand, it carries on the belief of the universe and the supreme being involving "Heaven and Earth." It believes that the Tao generates everything and all phenomena in the world. But it stresses the mystery of the Tao, personifying the Tao as having ideology, consciousness and temperament. Through several links it makes the "Gods of Pure Trinity" ("Heavenly Treasure Master," "Supreme Taoist Master" and "Supreme Master") the personifications of the "Tao." In this way, the "Tao" is endowed with the implication of immortals creating the world, thus leading the noumenon of the Taoist school to religion.
On the other hand, it developed the idea of Lao Zi about the Te (virtue) and focused on the explanation of "how to attain the Tao." According to its explanation, "Te" (德) is Te (得), or "gain," and to "attain enlightenment" is to gain the achievement of the Tao reside in ego and integrating the Tao with "ego" as a whole so as to make ego an immortal, permanent survival of its mortal body and spirit.
The Tao is achieved through internal self-cultivation and external self-exercise, known as "Nei Dan" and "Wai Dan" in Chinese. The way of "Nei Dan" is to make the body a "furnace and boiler" and one’s own "vitality" and "breath" the medicine to produce a "sacred fetus" or "sacred elixir" through "exhaling the stale and inhaling the fresh." It involves the way of meditation, tranquility, freedom from desire and worry, concentration of the mind, purification and brightness.
The way of "Wai Dan" denotes the elixir medicines produced through alchemy with lead and mercury. Eating them was intended to produce immortality. During the Tang and Song periods, the way of Nei Dan merged step by step with Fang Shu (a general term for certain professions, especially for medicine, divination, astrology and alchemy). It developed to include the way of Qi (breath) promoting, Daoyin (a method for promoting health and curing diseases by combining regulated, controlled breathing with physical exercises), Pigu (a method for improving health by avoiding grain food, only living on drugs) and control of sex. This is a typical example of the merger of the Taoist school with the Fang Shu School.
By adopting the thought of Confucianism, Taoism created its own religious ethics. This is the Taoist thought of the world. Taoism is a Religion of secularity. Since it came into being, it has paid great attention to worldly fife. Taoist priests are generally interested in the study of the Confucian "Five Classics" (The Book of Songs, the Book of History, the Book of Changes, the Book of Rites and Spring and Autumn Annals), creating their ethical system and thought by absorbing materials from Confucianism.
Its ethical system is based on the hierarchy of the imaginary paradise of immortals and the realistic system of priesthood. They introduced the Confucian ethical code into their fast and sacrificial ritual and classified all its true souls including the God of Heaven, God of Earth, ghosts and Taoist gods into different grades. It says that even a Zhen Ren (true man) can be classified into different grades of quality. And it analogized the Taoist true master, true man, true lord, and true minister as emperor, king, and many other officials in the feudal society. A strict hierarchy was created in the Taoist priesthood to correspond to that of the imaginary paradise of immortals. The well-organized hierarchical system was an important step in accelerating the process of its feudalization by way of merging with Confucianism.
Taoism introduced the Confucian ideas of loyalty and filial piety and the theory of life and temperament as a central part of its ethical thought. For instance, disregarding the five constant virtues (benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom and trustiness) is strictly forbidden. Of the 25 articles on the prohibited actions for a Taoist priest, there are 16 which are concerned with maintaining good ethical relationships. It regards loyalty to one's country, filial obedience to one's parents, honesty to one's friends, being kind to one's inferiors, and absence of arrogance and cunning as the necessary conditions to communicate with the "gods and ghosts." It declares that only with this thought, can one be like the immortals. "Although the immortals do not meet me really, yet we meet as if they would like to."
In particular, the Nei Dan School introduced the Confucian theory of life and temperament into its personal cultivation and exercise after modifications and proposed its double cultivation and exercise theory of life and temperament. The cultivation of life means the cultivation of the spirit, breath and vitality in one’s body to meet the requirements of the natural law of growth. This is a development of the Taoist methods of inspiration and expiration, and the Qi-promoting method toward Confucianism. The cultivation of temperament means "no contact with anything" and cutting off any desire from its origin with a clean and bright mind, "doing everything with intelligence," and "not violating the law of nature." That is to say, one has to live up to the ethical standards of being a loyal subject, a filial son or daughter or a decent citizen in one's conscience and behavior.
Taoism completed its religious system by absorbing the thought of Buddhism. In history, there existed a fierce controversy between Taoism and Buddhism. Apart from political factors, the controversy, culturally, was intended to seek a common ground and eliminate the differences. Therefore, in the history of their relationship, the mainstream of its development was a supplement in each other's religious tenets.
In its early stage, Taoism made use of some Buddhist tenets to compile its own Taoist books and imitated the Buddhist commandments to work out its own disciplines and rituals. For example, it has "five commandments of the immortals," that is, killing no living things, eating no meat and, drinking no alcohol, speaking no false words, stealing no things and committing no lewd acts; and the "five ways toward transmigration" including hell, hungry ghosts, animals, human being, and celestial beings. With a few exceptions in wording, most was copied from Buddhism. Legend says that nine dragons were spitting out water when the Supreme Master (Lao Zi) was born. This is also a copy of the legendary story about Sakyamuni. All these show the fact that Taoism has adopted the Buddhist religious system for its own establishment.
Taoism has also absorbed Buddhist religious theories. Taoism originally pursued immortality, and did not talk of "souls" or "transmigration and reincarnation." But this "transmigration and reincarnation" appeared to promote control over the minds of the people and check bad deeds. Taoist scholars introduced this theory into their tenets, beginning to talk of "paradise" and "hell." They depicted mythical scenes in the "paradise" and in the "capital of ghosts." They also said that "human being will suffer all their lives, whether that believe Taoism or not. Their lives are bonded to endless suffering from birth until death." This is much like the Buddhist "Catursatya" the four noble truths, including "Duhkhasatya," meaning everything on earth is in suffering; "Samudyasatya" the innate causes of suffering; "Nirodhasatya," to get rid of all the causes and to be liberated from existence; and "Margasatya," meaning self-cultivation in Buddhism to attain Nirvana). To meet this requirement, Taoism made some modifications in its ways of self-cultivation and practice. It developed the ways from "training the outer form" to strengthen one's external vigor to "nourishing the vitality and spirits" to cultivate one's mind. In particular, after the rise of the Chan Sect, a trend of thought that combined Taoism and Chan appeared, advocating that the initial step in one's self-cultivation was the pursuit of becoming an immortal and then making good use of the skills of various Buddhas, and finally with the consciousness of Bhutatathata (eternal, impersonal and unchangeable reality), one must eliminate such illusions and fantasy as to take all objective things as the truth, and arrive at one's ultimate desire of taking everything as "void of the world of senses," the origin of noumenon of the boundless universe. It specifically took the teaching of "discovering the truth of Bhutatathata" in the text of the Chan Sect as a key link of its way to achieve the aim of" Taoism. On the issues of the nature of mind, Taoism and Buddhism and Confucianism come to the same goal at last from different directions.