« Back to the Daoists Forum

Organized Daoism and different schools

Posted by Relish Ubiquitous


Forum: Daoists Group

I'm reading Livia Kohn's book Introducing Daoism which is an excellent survey.

There are many schools, pantheons, and ways of practice within Daoism, shaped by historical events and cultural backdrops (cosmology, mythology).

Below is a brief history of how the major schools of organized Daoism formed: 

Although elements and practices of what would be called Daoism were present before Laozi and the Daodejing, the first organized Daoist groups appear during the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD).   

The Way of Great Peace was a Daoist group which rose up in rebellion and after decades of civil war were defeated.

The Celestial Masters, also known as the school of Orthodox Unity, started with Zhang Daoling who was a magical practitioner and alchemist.  In 142 he had a vision of Lord Lao (The Yellow Emperor, a mythic/historical deity) who told him the world was ending and that people should repent so that a new age of great peace could be ushered in.  Zhang Daoling attracted a following and took five pecks of rice from his followers who he organized into a group which followed a ritual schedule and maintained a moral code.  The Celestial Masters developed formal rituals for confession and petitioning.  In 215 Zhang Daoling's grandson Zhang Lu submitted to a warlord named Cao Cao which moved the Celestial Masters to different parts of the empire.  The Celestial Masters school is still present today.

Highest Clarity was founded in Nanjing in southern China where the Celestial Masters combined with local shamanic cults, which led to a set of revelations in the 360s and the name Highest Clarity representing heaven.  The revelations were about the otherworld and how the heavens are organized.  Methods of ecstatic journeys, visualization techniques and alchemical recipes were formalized.  A century later the Daoist master Tao Hongjing discovered early Highest Clarity texts and reconstructed the original canon.  In medieval China Highest Clarity became the center of formal Daoism.

Numinous Treasure was started in the 4th century from Highest Clarity texts.  Named from the talismans which were a key concept ("characters in celestial script written on holy paper that symbolized the key powers of the universe and could both create social harmony and transfer people into the immortal realm"), Numinous Treasure developed "an alternative worldview, one which adopted the ideas of multiple segments of Heaven, celestial administration, and an extensive host of divine beings from Highest Clarity, but which also returned to the cosmology of the five phases in combination with Han deities and practices and which placed a renewed emphasis on Celestial Masters ritual" (68).  Numinous Treasure also adapted aspects of Buddhism including cosmology, scriptures and practices.

In northern China under the rule of the Toba, who adopted the Chinese dynastic name Wei, a Daoist theocracy started with Kou Qianzhi who was born into a Celestial Masters family and received revelations from Lord Lao between 415 and 235.  He was appointed as the head of state-sponsored Daoist administration which established Daoist institutions throughout the country.  At the end of this theocracy a new group called Louguan (Northern Celestial Masters) began which formulated scriptures into a work called the Scripture of Western Ascension.

By the six century the majority of leading schools had been established and there were various other lineages and localized traditions.  Unification and harmonization between schools and between Buddhists, Daoists and Confucians led to a system known as the Three Caverns, a classification of texts written by Lu Xiujong who was a member of both Numinous Treasure and the Celestial Masters school.  Daoist texts were arranged into three main categories, with the work of each school making a "cavern."  The gods of the three caverns were also joined together to form the Three Pure Ones or Daoist trinity.

"Named after the three major heavens of the early medieval system, they had the Heavenly Worthy of Primordial Being (representing Highest Clarity) at the center, the Lord of the Dao (Numinous Treasure) and Lord Lao (adopted from both the Three Sovereigns and Celestial Masters schools)" (73).

The Three Caverns also created a complex priestly hierarchy.  Integrated Daoism became the state religion during the Tang dynasty.  In 739 there were 1,687 Daoist institutions registered, which included major teaching monasteries and small hermitages.  

At the end of the Tang dynasty in 907, the state supported system of Daoism went away and new structures were formed during the Song dynasty.  Schools which linked themselves to the Celestial Masters were mostly lay-based.  An exception was the school of Complete Perfection (Quanzhen) which was monastic.  Founded by Wang Chonyang (1112-1170) who retired from office to become a hermit and had a revelation of the Daoist immortals Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan, the teachings were spread in eastern China where Wang Chonyang began five religious communities.  Seven disciples (The Seven Perfected) continued to spread the teachings in different parts of north China which developed into different lineages, one of the more notable being the Longmen (Dragon Gate) lineage.  The founder of Dragon Gate Qiu Chuji was summoned to see Ghengis Khan who made him the leader of religion in China leading to Complete Perfection being the most popular group in north China.

During the 1600s Wang Changyue, abbot of the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, established a monastic hierarchy and compiled precepts.  The Longmen lineage became the most influential among Daoist monasteries.   

Report Topic

0 Replies