ON THE DAO DE JING (TAO TE CHING)
The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) or Laozi (Lao Tzu) is a very important book for studying Chinese philosophy. Its other title, when it was written and by whom remain questions that scholars have long discussed. Some assert that it was written by Lao Ran (6th century B.C.) who was the teacher of Confucius. Most Chinese, however, believe that it was perhaps written later around the fifth century B.C. because some of its paragraphs criticize certain Confucians who lived around the Fifth century B.C. It is believed that someone living at that time put in writing the thought of Lao Ran. The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) could not have been written as late as the Zhuangzi, around the fourth century B.C., because there are quotations from the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) in the Zhuangzi. About the third century B.C., a famous scholar, Han Fei, wrote a section entitled "The Interpretation of Laozi (Lao Tzu)" in his book Han Fei zi. This is the earliest known interpretation of Laozi (Lao Tzu). Since, from the Han dynasty till now, there have been more than one thousand different commentaries and annotations of this text. Foreign scholars pay great attention to the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) as well. The English translations of the text already number more than twenty and there are translations into many other languages as well. Of course, in such a long history many of these commentaries and annotations have been lost. According to the old Taiwan scholar, Yen Linfeng, there should be more than five hundred different copies still remaining; he has collected 345 in the series he edited. Among these the following five could be the most important:
- Laozi (Lao Tzu) Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), interpreted by Wang Bi. His interpretation created a new philosophical theory, known as "Mysterious Learning," around the third century A.D.
- Laozi (Lao Tzu) Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), interpreted by He Shang Gong. This is the earliest interpretation from the view of Daoist religion, around second century A.D.
- Xiang'er Commentary on the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching). This interpretation reflects the views of another faction of the Daoist religion around the third century A.D.
- Dao De Zhen Jing Shu, commentary of Emperor Ming Huang of Tang dynasty. This is the first text interpreted by an emperor.
- Laozi Zhu, interpreted by a great politician, Wang An-Shih.
After 1949, many Chinese scholars tried to put the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) into the vernacular, such as A New Translation of Laozi (Lao Tzu), by Ren Jiyu, Translation of Laozi (Lao Tzu) by Yang Liuqiao, and Commentary and Translation of Laozi (Lao Tzu) Written on Silk by Xu Kangsheng, etc.
Regarding the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk, in 1973 many books written during the Han dynasty, in the second century B.C. on silk, the so-called Silk Book (Bo Shu), were excavated from Han Tomb No. 3 at Ma Wang Dui in Hunan Province. These silk books are of two different editions of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), editions A and B, which differ in quite a few words, sentences and even in the number of characters.
These Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk are the earliest known texts of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching). In both editions there is no title, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), but two separated titles: dao (tao) (meaning "way") and De (meaning "virtue"). We can understand then why in the history book, Shi Ji (meaning records of the Historian), the writer said that Laozi (Lao Tzu) wrote two pieces of book, one is dao (tao) and the other is De. Moreover, the order of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk is quite different from the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) circulated today. The former begins with De (while the latter does the contrary), which is the order of the Interpretation of Laozi (Lao Tzu) written by Han Fei.
With the discovery of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk, some long discussed problems were resolved. Now we know that the title, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), was formed only after the time of Emperor Jin of the Han Dynasty (156-141 B.C.). "Jing" means "canon" or "Scripture," so dao (tao) and De became a canon later than many Confucian canons. Besides, there are 5,463 characters in the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk (second century B.C.) and 5,683 characters in the text of Wang Bi (third century A.D.). Later, the text of Doist religion usually includes only 5,000 characters, for which reason the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is called also 5,000 Characters Canon.
The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is especially important because it is one of the two trends which governed the ideology of the Chinese people for two thousand years. As we know, for Chinese culture, philosophy, art and psychology the greatest influences have been Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism), and hence the canon of Daoism (Taoism), the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching). When the Chinese people established their own local Daoist religion, their scripture was the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching).
It seems reasonable to translate Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) as Canon of the Way and Its Virtue, for in fact this book talks about two problems: first, the origin and essence of the universe, that is, the problem of the Way; second, how people can achieve the Way, or in other words how they can reach and understand the way, namely, the problem of Virtue.
In the period of Laozi (Lao Tzu) in answer to the question of how all things in the universe were created most people held that they were created by Heaven or by the God of Heaven. As Heaven is the highest sovereign and has his own will, he is called the God of Heaven. According to the traditional ideology of Confucianism, Heaven is always a willful and distinctly highest sovereign power. But from the beginning Laozi (Lao Tzu) did not believe this. In chapter 4 of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) Laozi (Lao Tzu) said clearly that the Dao, the ancestor of all things, seems to have existed before the lord. It is very important to state the question in this way, because it is the first time that someone denied the consistent belief that all things were created by a God in Heaven and on purpose.
Laozi (Lao Tzu) asserted that the dao (tao) is the source of heaven and earth and everything. What is the meaning of the Dao? Laozi (Lao Tzu) tried to use many different adjectives to modify it. For example, he said: The thing that is called the dao (tao) is elusive and vague, deep and obscure (21), soundless and formless, (25). Therefore, it cannot be seen or touched, does not tangle with anything, does not desire to do anything, and is so huge that nothing cannot be included; yet it is so tiny that it can squeeze in anywhere. As such a source of the universe basically cannot be described by language, we have no choice but to name it dao (tao) inadequately. The descriptions of Dao, are only ways to make people understand. It must be made clear that the explanation of dao (tao) is different from dao (tao) itself; they are two different things and the former should not be mistaken for the latter.
What is the essence of the Dao? According to Laozi (Lao Tzu) the dao (tao) is the absolute supreme existence; no existence is earlier than the Dao. At the beginning of the universe the dao (tao) is undifferentiated: "There was something undifferentiated and yet complete, which existed before heaven and earth" (25), that is Dao. Therefore there is first the Dao, and then there is the integrated universe. Laozi (Lao Tzu) said: "The dao (tao) produced the one. The one produced the two. The two produced the three, and the three produced the ten thousand things" (42). It is often understood that One is the original material force; it produces the two--Yin and Yang--and the Three are their blending with the original force which blending produces ten thousand things. It should be noted that the evolution here is natural and has nothing to do with any personal purposeful will. This is the first systematic theory of the creation of the universe, it is a sort of cosmology. Although cosmology later developed much further, basically it was influenced by the viewpoint of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) just outlined. Of course, there are other theories of cosmology in the classics of Confucianism, for example, the Interpretation of the Book of Change written around the third century B.C. But what the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) emphasized is that although the dao (tao) is the origin of heaven, earth and all things, dao (tao) produced them but never ruled them; everything developed and changed naturally. Therefore the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is negative toward any purposeful or conscious ruling power, and for the same reason often describes the essence of dao (tao) as nameless, formless, having no action, no desire, etc.
Furthermore, Laozi (Lao Tzu) defines the essence of dao (tao) as Wu. All things come from being, and being comes from super being--Wu. All things in the world were produced from something with name and form; while things with name and form were produced by things transcending experience, time and space. In other words, Laozi (Lao Tzu) asserts that dao (tao) which transcends all the sensory experience is the final cause of all things which exist in sensory experience. In this way, the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) touches the problems of ontology. Later during the Wei Jin Period (around third century A.D.) a scholar of mysterious learning named Wang Bi developed the thought of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) from this side; he tried to use Wu, the super being that transcends experience, to prove the rationality of existence in experience: As all things are produced by Wu so they are rational.
How can the dao (tao) be gained by human beings? The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) assumes that people should follow the example of the Dao, which means that people should have De. De means finding the way to reach the Dao. In the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), the supreme moral integrity is to take no action. The Sage said: I take no action, and the people of themselves are transformed. I love tranquility and the people of themselves become correct. I engage in no activity, and the people of themselves become prosperous. I have no desire, and the people of themselves become simple" (57). This, then, is to follow the example of the Dao, and a person who follows the dao (tao) is a sage.
But how can people know the Dao? Laozi (Lao Tzu) emphasized that the way to know the dao (tao) is totally different from the search for general knowledge. Usually, the more you know, the more you want. Since the dao (tao) is nameless and formless, you cannot know it as one knows things with name and form; the way to know the dao (tao) is to get rid of things with name and form step by step. By eliminating all things that bear names and forms, in other words, without any so-called knowledge, you can know the dao (tao) naturally.
How can we grasp the character of the Dao? Laozi (Lao Tzu) assumed that it is impossible to put the dao (tao) into any language. He in fact said: "The dao (tao) that can be told of is not the eternal Dao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name"(1). Therefore the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) uses many metaphors to explain the Dao. For example, it says that the character of dao (tao) is just like water. "There is nothing softer and weaker than water, and yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things."(78) "The great river and seas are kings of all mountain streams, because they skillfully stay below them."(66)
It is especially interesting that the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) often uses a negative way to explain the Dao: nameless, formless, no activity, no desire--all are negative ideas. Usually, what the dao (tao) is makes sense by saying what is not the Dao, and what kind of character the dao (tao) possesses is described by saying what kind of character the dao (tao) does not possess." Reversal is the action of the Dao, weakness is the function of the Dao,(40) sages follow the Dao, what they pursue is just the opposite of what common people chase after. For example, common people seek to be in their prime, but after things reach their prime they begin to grow old and perish. Therefore sages never seek their own prime. In order not to perish common people always compete with one another, that a sage does not. "It is precisely because he does not compete that the world cannot compete with him, so he can protect himself in this way and remain whole." In order to destroy, it is necessary first to give; in order to grasp, it is necessary first to give. This is called the subtle light. The weak and the tender overcome the hard and the strong. All these principles remain till the present very influential in Chinese action and thought.
Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is the most important canon of Daoist philosophy, as well as the most important scripture of the Daoist religion. Daoist religion--the only religion created by the Chinese nation--developed at the end of Han Dynasty in the first century A.D. Its main belief is that one can attain immortality, that one can rise to heaven with body and soul. This belief of the Immortals appeared much earlier than Daoist religion, during the third century B.C. But in the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), we already find certain information. For example, in Chapter 59, we find "that the roots are deep and the stalks are firm, which is the way of long life and everlasting vision." In the Daoist religion people either explain the dao (tao) as a personified god or assume that if people know the Dao, grasp the Dao, they can attain immortality. The Xiang'er commentary, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), described the dao (tao) as qi--Vital energy. The supreme god of Daoist religion was accumulated by Qi. In other words, the Qi accumulated into the being that is the supreme god, Tai Shang Lao Jun'. The He Shang Gong commentary Laozi (Lao Tzu) Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) also said: if you can keep the dao (tao) in your body, if you don't waste your vital energy, don't torture your spirit, then, you can attain immortality. Thus, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) guides people in finding their way to immortality.
THE ORIGIN AND CHARACTERISTICS
Religion is a social phenomenon and studying it with a view to understanding its historical development has special significance today. We can see similar trends in other countries where the rapid developments of science and technology do not in any significant way lessen the people's sense of, nor interests in, religion. Even the people of China, for some reason or other, show similar interests in the development of religion. This phenomenon is enough to raise several theoretical questions concerning the need for a better understanding of religion: what is the nature of religion? Does the human psyche require a religious faith? Is religion synonymous with religious belief? Is religious belief beneficial to social life? Is science complementary to, or inconsistent with, religious belief? Can religion be a modernizing agent? and so forth. This paper does not pretend to deal specifically with these questions, But, why do we study the history of religions? Should an ideal history of religions be time-conscious? Can such an history help people think seriously about the problems of religion that exist in the world today? All historians of religions need to address themselves to these kinds of problems.
The religions which had been popular in Chinese history include Buddhism, Daoism (Taoism), Islam, Christianity and animism. However, of all these religious traditions, only Daoism (Taoism) is indigenous to China. To be sure, Daoism (Taoism) is a Chinese religion; it has characteristics peculiar to the Chinese. Besides, it has exercised considerable influence on the development of Chinese culture and psychology, customs and habits, science and technology, philosophy and thought, medicine and hygiene, and even political life. Can our investigation into one of the more influential religions--the origin of Daoism (Taoism), its development and characteristics--help us deepen our understanding of Chinese culture, personality and way of thinking? Can it indirectly help us understand, more intimately, the theoretical and practical problems of religion in the world today? I think it can and toward this end the present discussion is an attempt to analyze and discuss the following issues.
The development of Daoism (Taoism) was an attempt to orientate the Han Chinese to their social, political, economic, moral and psychological lives at the end of the Eastern Han.
Why did Daoism (Taoism) develop only at the end of the Eastern Han period? Historically, such Daoist ideas, as `immortality' and `sanctification of the bodies' had already existed during the time of the Warring States (Zhanguo). They became even more popular during the Qin and Han dynasties--why? We know that not just any kind of superstition can be called religion, although religion often embodies a good deal of superstitious elements. Neither can we say that any theistic discourse can become a religion, even if it is capable of extending its influence over a sizeable cross-section of the population. Its growth and development were directly related to the social life of the people, their history, and other objective facts. The development of Daoism (Taoism) during the Eastern Han may be attributed to the following factors.
First, the reality of social life at the end of the Eastern Han had laid fertile grounds for the growth of Daoism (Taoism). The social and political conditions, since Shundi of the Eastern Han, had begun to deteriorate. There was outside interference in the day-to-day administration and the administrative machinery was in the hands of a bureaucracy. Debauchery, unruly behavior and social strife, both from within and without, were the order of the day. Finally there were crop failures due to severe drought, and large numbers of people died in ditches (Chong Zhangdong, Changyuan).1
Undue economic exploitations and political pressure at that time had made it impossible for the populace to lead a decent life; bankruptcy and emigration were common. The conflict between the ruling class and the ruled was intense and acute. According to historical records, from Shundi's time, peasant uprisings were rampant. At that time, apart from the common class-interest that united them in social movements, their leaders resorted to magic and superstitions as organizing agents. That is why, in history books, the rebels after Shundi's time were often called yaozei, or `the goblin thieves'.
Two conclusions may be drawn from the above discussion. First, a period of economic and political unrest, as well as spiritual and moral decay, provided an objective vantage for the development of religion. Second, as the leaders of the peasantry had used magic and superstitions to rally support in their movements, they knew that these could be used as tools for mobilizing the people, thus paving the way for the widespread development of religion. As is always the case, social turbulence often caused great hardship and suffering to the lower class. Thus, when people became desperate they tended to hinge their hopes upon some kind of spiritual power, or shenling. This was one of the most common avenues through which people, in antiquity, reconciled themselves with their social reality. This also explains why a majority of the early Daoist believers were members of the lower social strata.
Second, the social conditions at the end of the Eastern Han had provided useful material for the founding of Daoism (Taoism). Since the time of Han Wudi, when Dong Zhongshu pointed out that "of the hundred schools, only Confucianism is the most revered," Confucian thought had adapted itself to the needs of building a unified feudal society and serving as an ideology for the ruling class. From then on the development of Confucianism depended primarily on the teaching of a reciprocal relationship between heaven and man, followed by an increased interest in the development of theology and metaphysics. Though ideally a religion is theistic, not any form of theism is adequate or sufficiently meaningful to become a religion. This is because such a religion (namely, the religion of the masses) must include not only the worship of spiritual beings, but also possess a body of canon together with an endurable form of church organization, doctrines and dogmas, and an historical medium for the dissemination of religious knowledge. Generally, religion must see the world in two forms: the real and the supernatural. Based on this premise, human beings feel that they can only disengage themselves from the problems of social life in a supernatural world--believing that an ideal life can manifest itself only in the yonder shore of the supernatural world.
Despite the fact that Confucianism acknowledged the existence of Shen or God, especially during the Han dynasty, it had never thought it necessary that its ideals be fulfilled outside the world, but required rather that the ideals of "governing the state and pacifying the world" (zhi guo ping tianxia) be actualized in the real world, even though this were merely an illusion. Although religion had played a very important role in feudal China, it had never become a force to reckon with. Instead it had, many a time, occupied a secondary position, which state of affairs clearly bespoke as well the dominance of Confucian ideology.
From the developmental point of view, after the Eastern Han Confucianism could very well have become a religion, because its metaphysics together with the conception of the sacred could be easily converted into religion. However, Confucianism did not become a religion during the Han dynasty for the simple reason that it attempted to materialize the ideals of "governing the state and pacifying the world" in the real world. Thus, following the decay of the Han dynasty, Confucian ideology not only fell short of becoming a religion but its position as an ideology of the ruling class continued to decline. Because of this decline, Confucian thought had given way to the growth of Daoism (Taoism). History shows that, whenever the dominant ideology of the ruling class lost its power, it often signalled the growth and dominance of a countervailing religion.
Even though Confucianism had declined at the end of the Eastern Han, certain facets of its ideology could still be absorbed and put to good use by an ongoing religion. The fact that Confucian ideas are found in Daoism (Taoism) is clear proof that such assimilation did take place. For example, the idea of "the ultimate peace in the unity of the three (heaven, earth and man) in one" (tian-di-ren san heyi zhi taiping) shows that the Confucianists were concerned about political reality and the notion of sancai (three endowments) mentioned in Yi Zhuan2. The idea that the sky and the universe were formed by breath (qi) could have derived from the knowledge of world creation as well as the yin-yang principles and the five elements mentioned in the apocryphal texts. All these ideas were closely connected to Han Confucian thought. That most of the scholars who studied the development of Daoism (Taoism) focused their attention on its relationship with Daoist sources and overlooked the nexus between Daoist and Confucianist ideas is a bias.
Daoism (Taoism) could have another source in its gradual mingling with the tradition of the saints. Although there was a connection between the Daoists and the saints of the early Qin, both seem to belong to quite different schools of thought. Until the beginning of the Western Han, the popular Huang-Lao learning was essentially Daoist. It frequently emphasized the exemplary qualities of the sage and was thus deemed capable of exercising its power over the state and the cosmos. That is why Sima Qian, in his preface, commented that the importance of the Huang-Lao learning lies in the doctrine of "self-actualization through non-action, and self-correction through expiation" (wuwei zihua, qingjing zizheng).
The Huang-Lao Daoist learning underwent a change during the Eastern Han: part of its adherents sought the help of the gods installed in shrines, thus becoming unified with the saints. Huandi, for example, made sacrifices to Laozi (Lao Tzu) at the latter's shrine with the aim to "preserve shen for the uplift of character and the ultimate ascent to heaven," thus signalling the initial transformation of Huang-Lao's Daoist teaching. Also, as early as the end of the Western Han, there was already in existence what was known as "Huang-lao's Dao" (the Way of Huang-Lao) and, later on, the "Fangxian's Dao" (the Way of the Saints), all of which actually belonged to the immortalist sects. Further, the saints' underlying objective was to attain `eternal life' (changsheng busi) and to cause the bodies to be sanctified (routi chengxian). Thus, once it merged with the Daoist ideas of "attaining peace through inaction, and remaining in peace through abstinence" (qingjing wuwei, tiandan guayu), it increasingly began to attract the masses and became a powerful social force. Lastly, the basic tenets of Daoism (Taoism), such as "immortality" and "the sanctification of the bodies," although derived from the Way of the Saints, became part of the Daoist system. Hence, its transformation also represents an important factor contributing to the growth of Daoism (Taoism).
From the above viewpoints, Daoism (Taoism) as a religion may be said to have deviated from the Confucianists' and Daoist' schools of thought. However, its source of ideas was inseparable from both. Hence, from the beginning, it had distinguished itself as a religious system in which Confucian and Daoist ideas supplemented each other. This system represents some of the characteristics typical of Chinese culture, psychology and way of thinking.
Third, the introduction of Buddhism into China had greatly stimulated the development of Chinese religion. From the time Buddhism spread to China during the Western Han till after the middle of the Eastern Han, it maintained a steady level of propagation. Buddhism, acting like a catalyst, escalated the development of Daoism (Taoism). Actually, the school of the saints was already popular during the Western Han, and disciples frequently had given tributes to Huang-Lao. This was evidenced in the existing learnings of "Huang-Lao's Dao" and "Fangxian's
Dao." The former sanctified Huangdi and worshipped him in shrines dedicated to him; the latter talked about "non-death and everlasting life" (zhongshen busi). Shiji3 records that the teacher of the river elder, Le Jigong, learned about Huangdi. The book of Fengchan4 records that Huangdi became an immortal because of Fengchan. Yujie (more appropriately, Ganjie), who compiled the Daoist scripture Taiping Jing,5 suggested that the book was originally by Laozi (Lao Tzu). During Han Mingdi, Chu Wangying had already worshipped Huangdi and Foutu. Chu Wangying recited Huang-Lao's words and honored Foutu's shrine. Huandi erected Huang-Lao's and Foutu's shrines in his palace. The fact that Huang-Lao and Foutu were worshiped manifestly shows that Huangdi was at that time regarded as a deity or a Buddha. Sainthood was in fact a form of sagehood. Living the life of an immortal is but a human discipline. There was no formal, nor endurable form of organization to be used as a base for the interaction of the religious community. But after the spread of Buddhism to China, it became an organized form of religion, possessing not only a set of teaching which differed from that of traditional China, but also an organized church, with a religious canon and a spiritual community, all of which served as a blueprint for the founding of Daoism (Taoism).
It is true that Buddhism had served as a model for the establishment of Daoism (Taoism). Of even greater importance is that Buddhism was alien to Chinese culture, and its propagation in China was greeted with protests by the bearers of Xia's cultural tradition. This defensive attitude acted as a stimulus spurring the Chinese to strive even harder towards establishing an indigenous religion. When an ethnic culture encountered an alien culture it often gave rise to mutual absorption or rejection.
This situation was particularly marked in the case of the Chinese response to Indian Buddhism. We can provide evidence to show how it was actually reflected in the earliest Daoist scripture, Taiping Jing. In this scripture, we see how some Buddhist ideas, like benqi (the primal beginning) and sanjie (the three worlds), had their origins in the Buddhist canon. On the other hand, there were criticisms about Buddhism, for example, the talks that "the conduct of the four destructions collectively denigrates the spiritual way of heaven" (Shihui zhi xing, gong wuru huangtian zhi shendao). Moreover, upon the establishment of Daoism (Taoism), its adherents circulated the story about Laozi (Lao Tzu)'s role in bringing about a renaissance among the northern Chinese (Laozi [Lao Tzu] huahu). This was designed not only as a blow to Buddhism but also as an attempt to boost the image of Daoism (Taoism). All this suggests a kind of antagonistic reaction against the entry of the alien culture.
Therefore, it is not at all surprising that the end of the Eastern Han period saw the need for the development of an indigenous religion. The founding of this religion could be traced to the existing tradition of the saints. The fact that it adopted Confucian and Daoist ideas as a basis for the development of Daoism (Taoism) is even less surprising. Once it emerged, it immediately became charged with an intense ethnic fervor and came into direct conflict with the alien Buddhist religion. The outcome is, precisely, a manifestation of an indigenously endowed Chinese culture.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF DAOISM
The Process through which Daoism (Taoism) developed into an organized religion also a clear manifestation of how a religious community came into being.
What is the nature of religion? It can be defined in a great number of ways. Even in Marx's writings,6 religion is conceived differently under different circumstances. He said, "religion is the opiate of the people," which is interpreted in terms of the use of religion as a way of hypnotising the masses. This statement came not from Marx but Feuerbach.7 It means that the purveyors of religion who claimed that it could bring comfort to humankind were not being honest. Lenin8 conceived of "religion as the workers' groaning sound," which is interpreted as relating to the agony of the proletariat. Brezhnev9 said, "Religion has a countless number of definitions. . . . It may be interpreted as a form of relationship that helps to realize the existence of the mystical superhuman power, for humans believe that they can depend on this power." Brezhnev's definition seems to be more relevant and practical, but is there such a mystical power? How do we adjust to the existence of such a power? Why do people find it necessary to believe in such a power? Is belief in a mystical superhuman power superstitious? This raises some philosophical problems, viz., the problems of religion vis-a-vis superstition and belief.
Is religion a superstition? This question can be debated for a long time and no one knows when it will end, but devout believers most certainly will reject the pronouncement that "religion is superstition." Why? It is because believers frequently rely upon certain ideal principles to interpret what often is called the "mystical superhuman power" in the form of ultimate "truth, goodness, and beauty" (zhen, shan, mei), or else they often look upon the ideals of "truth, goodness, and beauty" as a form of "mystical superhuman power." They sincerely believe it to be true and try very hard to apply these ideals in their social life. Probably the belief in, and dependence upon, this ultimate "truth, goodness and beauty" in the guise of a "mystical superhuman power" is a matter of the human psyche's response to specific social conditions. But believers of the "mystical superhuman power" assume superstition and religion to be two different things. To them, `superstition' can only be a trick played upon those who lack scientific knowledge, i.e. a manifestation of spiritual poverty due to a lack of ideals. Devotees who believe that the "mystical superhuman power" is a manifestation of "truth, goodness, and beauty" may perhaps accept the idea that "religion is synonymous with belief" but certainly will not accept that "religion is superstition." According to them people should have faith: even the agnostics believe in agnosticism.
Religion and belief are undoubtedly related. Religion is based on belief, but whether belief is based on religion, in the classical sense, is a different matter. As a matter of illustration we can say that "we believe in the scientific explanation of atheism" or even accept that "we believe
in Confucian philosophy." Nonetheless, there is no doubt that atheism is not a religion, but a scientific doctrine. Even Confucianism may be said to have embodied certain religious elements, although it is not a religion. Therefore, we should distinguish not only between `religion' and `belief,' but also between `religion' and `religious thought.' Otherwise, almost any kind of philosophical discourse could be regarded as a religion, and if that be the case, it would be as good as abnegating the existence of religion.
Based on our understanding of the human psyche, we may postulate that human beings really need a certain kind of belief. The question is whether there is the need for a religious belief. If we could divide religion into two categories--one a scientific belief--and another a non-scientific belief - religion may be said, generally, to belong to the latter category. What follows immediately will be questions like whether human spiritual life requires a certain kind of self-satisfaction obtained from a non-scientific discipline, or whether social life looks upon religious belief itself as a psychological need. This is too gigantic a problem to be discussed here. We can only postulate that for a non-scientific belief to become an organized religion, it must offer some kind of theoretical bases or support. Also, these arguments must be able to reflect the spirit of the time. If there were no religious teachings to be used as a theoretical system, non-scientific beliefs could become an established religion. Besides, as an established religion, especially one that had colored the history of the social masses, there must be a perduring church organization, a religious canon, a community of devotees, and a history of religion.
In Chinese history, there were thousands of the so-called "religious sects," but not all of them could be regarded strictly as "religious organizations." In fact, a number of them could only be looked upon as "superstitious cults." If that be the case, what then may be thought to be an organized religion? We shall analyze the growth of Daoism (Taoism) first before illuminating the really meaningful form of religious organization.
An organized religion must have a canon with a philosophical base of its own. The religious teachings should not be nonsensical, but must contain a well-organized system of ideas for the advancement of humankind. The reason why Indian Buddhism has become an influential world religion is that it provides an impressive system of thought which is capable of enlightening the human mind. If Daoism (Taoism) merely confined itself to a haphazard way of thinking, as is represented in the Taiping Jing, it would have been difficult to become an established religion in China. Thus, from the end of the Han dynasty, through the Three Kingdoms, till after the Western and Eastern Jin, there emerged Daoists like Ge Hong, Lu Xiujing, Kou Qianzhi, Tao Hongjing and others who, in an attempt to fulfill the requirement of the time, not only integrated some of the Daoist and Confucian ideas but also absorbed some of the Buddhist elements to enrich Daoism (Taoism).
A really meaningful and influential religious community must have a formal or more serious form of church organization. Even though the ideas of `immortality' and `the sanctification of the bodies' were subsequently incorporated into the Daoist religion, the saints relied heavily on personal devotion without developing a distinctive church, and so they failed to develop a religion. It was not until the end of the Han dynasty that Daoism (Taoism) became an established religion with a permanent membership of disciples, together with a body of clergy and church leaders. However, the regimes of the Three Kingdoms and the Western Jin banned this organization, subjecting it to dissolution until the Eastern Jin when Du Zhigong and others revived it and once again set it on course.
An organized religion must also have a more permanent set of religious teaching and canon. Although Daoism (Taoism) had its own precepts and canon when it was first instituted at the end of the Eastern Han, they were rather simple and impermanent in nature. From the Eastern Han onward, Daoism (Taoism) gradually became more firmly established under the impact of Buddhism and with the tireless efforts of Lu Xiujing, Kou Qianzhi and others.
An organized religion must have its own canon and scriptures for the guidance of its believers. Although there were a number of Daoist books, like the Laozi (Lao Tzu)10 and the Zhuangzi,11 before the Wei and the Jin dynasties, these books came to be accepted as scriptures only after being popularized by the devotees. All these books were written by Daoist philosophers of the early Qin, and they had hardly any connection with Daoist religion. It was due to the believers' attempt to look for historical evidences that they decided to upgrade them as scriptures. Taiping Jing, for example, was written before the inception of the Daoist religion. Hence, it served only as a groundwork for the development of Daoism (Taoism). However, by the time of the Eastern Jin and the Northern and Southern dynasties, when Daoism (Taoism) was firmly rooted and a church was organized, a large quantity of scriptures expounding the Daoist canon began to appear (Ge Hong's Pao Pozi,12 This period saw the appearance of three distinctive categories of scriptures: Sanhuangjing13 (the Three Emperors Scripture), Shangqingjing14 (the High Pure Scripture), and Lingbaojing,15 (the Spirit Protected Scripture). All these scriptures subsequently combined to form the `three caves' (sandong) of the Dizhangjing, namely: the cave of the real (dongzhen), the cave of the gods (dongshen), and the cave of the occult (dongxuan).
An established religion must have a spirit being, or shenling, as a specific object of worship and a history of its own. When Daoism (Taoism) was first instituted it had inherited part of the saints' tradition. The Daoist disciples claimed that it was imparted to them by the immortals, mostly with Laozi (Lao Tzu)'s assistance. Until the Northern and the Southern dynasties, Daoist disciples created the "rank of the real being" based on the conception of the social hierarchy prevailing at the time. Tao Hongjing's Zhenlin Yueweitu16 (Real Spirit's Occupational Status Chart) divided the immortals into seven classes, the highest of which was occupied by the first three: the Primal Lord of Heaven (Yuanshi Tianzun), the Daoist Lord on High (Gaoshang Daojun), and the First Divine Daoist Lord (Yuanhuang Daojun). From then on, these three deities became the most honored in the objects of worship in the Daoist temples (daoguan). Since a religion always finds it necessary to undermine the existence of other competing religions, it has to create a history of its own in order to raise its own status. Thus, being an indigenous Chinese religion, Daoism (Taoism) had to tackle the entry of alien Buddhism. Besides emphasizing the differences between `Chinese' and `non-Chinese' (huayi zhi bian) to undermine Buddhism, Daoists also spread the story of "Laozi (Lao Tzu) huahu" and elevated Laozi (Lao Tzu)'s position to that of Buddha Sakyamuni's teacher. Consequently, both Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism) remained in conflict for a long time.
However, it was not until the Eastern Jin and the Northern and Southern dynasties that Daoism (Taoism) finally became an established religion. The various stages of its development may be summarized as follows. First, from the Eastern Jin onward, the Daoists began to revive their religion by reorganizing the Daoist community which had become scattered and unstable. At the same time, in order to overcome the inadequacy of Daoist teaching and theoretical formulations, Ge Hong and others had provided a body of Daoist canon and precepts. Thereafter, as an attempt to consolidate the founding of the Daoist church, a set of religious teaching was formulated; and in order to propagate Daoist teaching the required scriptures were made available. Lastly, so as to set the religion on a proper footing, a compendium of fairy tales and legendary stories was kept alive. The various phases involved in the development of Daoism (Taoism) may thus be said to be characteristic of the circumstances under which a religious body came into existence. One of our aims of studying the history of religion is to use it as a source for illuminating the various phases of its development so as to enable us to assess, more accurately, the role it played in society.
CHARACTERISTICS OF DAOISM
As a form of religious philosophy Daoism (Taoism) has special characteristics which can be illuminated only through comparison with other religions.
An established religion has characteristics which are distinctively different from those of other religions. Besides such external forms, as church organization, religious doctrines and canon, as well as its conception of the sacred, its characteristics should be reflected in the theoretical system which forms the core of the religion. This theoretical system usually contains a body of basic ideals and conceptual schema. For instance, the ultimate reality of the Buddhist belief, as embodied in the concepts of self-denial, transcendentalism and nirvana, is the insignia which distinguishes it from other religions. The three doctrines of the medieval Christianity--namely, "the existence of God," "the resurrection of the soul" and "free will"--form its religious philosophy and conceptual schema. If that be the case, does Daoist philosophy contain any doctrines and tenets which differ from those of other religions? I think it does, especially in the earlier form of Daoism (Taoism). Whilst almost all religions ask the question, "what happens after the demise of a person?" Daoism (Taoism) wanted to know "why humans don't die?" This basic question serves as the key to the theoretical system of Daoism (Taoism). All this shows that it has characteristics different from those of other religions. The early form of Daoism (Taoism) held that its body of belief was made up of the tenet of "the ascent of the three in one," that is, "the unity of heaven, earth, and man for the attainment of the Great Peace" (tian-di-ren, sanzhe heyi yi zhi taiping); "the blending of the essence, breath, and shen to become a saint" (jing-qi-shen, sanzhe hunyi er cheng shenxian). From this it evolves into "non-death and eternal life" (zhongshen busi), "resurrection of the bodies" (routi feisheng), and "transformation of the breath into the three pure ones" (qihua sanqing), thus forming the basis of Daoism (Taoism).
To understand the tenets of the Buddhist philosophy, one must know the meaning of nirvana. Hence, a Russian Buddhist scholar17 wrote a book analyzing the meaning of nirvana. In Mou zhongsan's book,18 he analyzed the concept of nirvana from the Chinese Buddhist viewpoint. In studying Christianity, one should analyze the concept of "God." Thus, Aurelius Augustinus (354-430) in his The City of God,19 formulated his thesis regarding the `godliness' of the `Almighty'. In his Shenxue Dazhuan,20 Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) put forward five parameters to prove that "God exists." In Daoist philosophy, the basic concept is breath (qi), the existence of which may be proved by the following.
First, the unity of the three in one refers to the unity of heaven, earth and man, and the reason why "heaven, earth and man" can be unified is due to the fact that the breaths of Tian-di-ren are the same. The three Jing-qi-shen (essence, breath, and god) blend to become one, and the reason why Jingqishen can be fused in one is due to the fact that the breaths of the Jingqishen are the same.
Second, the so-called one breath giving birth to the three pure ones means the three most respected worthies of Daoism (Taoism) were the manifestations of the breath, or the three layers of the most sacred heaven were manifested by breath, or qi. This also shows how the basic concept of Daoism (Taoism) came to be formed.
Third, although dao (the way) is the highest form of Daoist doctrine. its early period identified three circumstances under which the relationship between dao and qi was highlighted. The first circumstance was that dao is more basic than qi, but dao cannot be isolated from qi. Another circumstance showed that qi is more basic than dao, because Daoism (Taoism) used qi as its prime mover--for example, Liu Xie in his Mie Huo Lun21 (On the Extinction of Illusion), while citing Sampolun2 (The Three Breakthroughs), said "qi is the prime mover of dao." The third circumstance was the synthesis that dao is qi--for example, Tao Hongjing in his Yangsheng Yanminglu23 cited Fuqijing24 (Breathtaking Scripture) that "dao is qi." In studying the philosophical basis of the Daoist canon, if one could analyze the meaning of qi and the conceptual base upon which it is built, one would be able to gain further insight into the various salient features of Daoism (Taoism).
Hegel in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy25 said, "the difference in cultures is due to the difference in the systems of ideas." If we compare Daoism (Taoism) with other religious systems, the doctrines formulated by Daoist ideas, and the school of thought which formed the basis of these doctrines, we would be able to understand more clearly the characteristics of Daoism (Taoism). Although Daoism (Taoism) is indigenous to the Chinese, it actually owes its development to the inspiration of Buddhism when the latter spread to China. Thus, we are able to identify the rival relationship between Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism) as one of its special characteristics.
The earliest Daoist scripture, Taiping Jing, on the one hand, shows that it was influenced by Buddhism. For example, it relates to the question of conformity, a concept which was already in use in traditional Chinese thought. But in Taiping Jing this was discussed in such a detailed and outstanding manner that it became obvious that it was influenced by the Hinayanist Zen Buddhist concept of "mind control" or "control of desire." On the other hand, the scripture also shows that it was antagonistic to Buddhism. For example, Taiping Jing's satirical expression, "the way of the four destructions" (sihui zhi xing), was clearly aimed at Buddhism. It also put forward the argument that "one's burden is one's responsibility" (chengfu) as a direct confrontation to the Buddhist concept of "reincarnation" (laishi baoying). After the Eastern Jin, Daoism (Taoism) gradually developed into a full-fledged religion. It had a theoretical system of its own, and consequently its differentiation from Buddhism became more and more pronounced. At that time, the differences between Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism) might be related to the following problems: (i) life and death and the form of god; (ii) the cause and effect of one's deeds and misdeeds (yinguo baoying); and (iii) this-worldly and other-worldly orientations. By analyzing of all these issues, we would be able to appreciate the special characteristics of Daoism (Taoism) as a religion.
In comparing Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism), we may encounter yet another question: why does not Daoism (Taoism) become a world religion as did Buddhism rather than remaining merely a Chinese religion? From the historical point of view, it is possible that Daoism (Taoism) could have spread to Korea at the end of the Northern and the Southern dynasties. Sanguo Shiji26 (The History of the Three Kingdoms) recorded how Daoism (Taoism) spread to Korea at the beginning of the Tang dynasty but, shortly afterwards, Buddhism became popular in Korea and very soon it outran Daoism (Taoism), which thence forward ceased to retain its foothold there. During the same period, Daoism (Taoism) passed through Korea to Japan, where it might have exercised some influence on Japan's Shinto, though this does not mean that the development of Shinto was due to the Daoist influence. Unlike Buddhism, however, Daoism (Taoism) also failed to spread its wing over Japan. In history Daoism (Taoism) had even less influence on other countries (notwithstanding its continuing impact on Chinese devotees who made their homes outside China).
In my opinion, the main reason why Daoism (Taoism) could not become a world religion is that it not only contains defects in its system of beliefs and practices, but also carries a heavy load of sentiments which are peculiarly Chinese. The goal Daoism (Taoism) seeks to achieve is "non-death and eternal life" and "the sanctification of bodies." All this differs from the monotheistic doctrine that "the soul does not die." On the one hand, its theoretical arguments, such as "the sanctification of bodies" and "non-death and eternal life" are too crude and difficult to be absorbed. Consequently, Daoism (Taoism) had no alternative but to take in some Buddhist ideas, such as "when the form ceases, its spirit remains" (xingjin shen bu mie) and "the three kalpas' wheel of karma" (somshi lunhui). Thus, the spread of Daoism (Taoism) has been seriously restricted, whereas wherever it goes Buddhism has been able to take the place of Daoism (Taoism) wherever the latter goes. On the other hand, Daoism (Taoism) is too closely related to science. For the sake of preserving life, ensuring "non-death and eternal life" and sanctifying the dead it emphasizes a great deal of physical conditioning for lifting the breath (qi) of material reality to the highest level. Consequently, China's science and technology, especially medicine, came to be developed alongside Daoism (Taoism). Daoism (Taoism)'s use of science was bound to curtail its dynamism as a religion. Thus, the "non-science" and "anti-science" components, in conjunction with the basic qualities of science, began to contradict each other. Religion usually emphasizes "other-worldly orientations," but Daoism (Taoism) seems to insist instead on "this-worldly orientations" instead. Its adherents believe that they could blend "the three (jing, qi, shen) to become saints" (sanzhe heyi er cheng xian). But as a religious system Daoism (Taoism) also advocates the unity of the three (tian, di, ren) in one to ensure the Great Peace (sanzhe heyi er zhi taiping) and for this reason can be a potent disruptive force in the political process. In thus fabricating the supernatural world of the saints, Daoism (Taoism) hopes to translate the real world into an ideal one--this undeniably is a conflict of ideas.
The study of the characteristics of Daoism (Taoism) is of great importance for it enables us to understand the difference between Daoism (Taoism) and other religions. By analyzing its characteristics we are able to illuminate the salient features of Chinese culture, psychology and philosophy, as well as the direction of developments in science and technology, medicine and hygiene, and the ensuing shortcomings hidden therein. For a people to succeed in development, they must know not only the present and the future, but also the past. They must come to grips not only with the reality of political life and economic exigencies, but also with their traditional culture, religious belief and pattern of thought. Herein lies the reason why serious research must be conducted on Daoism (Taoism) so as to enable us to understand its role as a Chinese religion.
THE DAOIST RELIGION OF CHINA
In Chinese history there have been various religions such as Buddhism, Daoism (Taoism), Islam and Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, but among them only Daoism (Taoism) is the religion of the Chinese people.* To be more precise, Daoism (Taoism) is a religion of the Han people and has certain concrete features that come from this association. It has had a large influence on Chinese culture, psychology, customs, science and technology, medicine and hygiene, philosophy and even on Chinese politics and economics. How did the Daoist religion arise and what are its particular characteristics relative to other religions?
Daoist religion was born at the time of the Han Emperor Shun-di at the end of the first century A.D. At this time China already had a written history of about 2,000 years. At the end of the Warring States period (that is, the third and second centuries B.C.) there had existed people called "immortals" who claimed that by certain practices they could `extend their lives and not die.' These `immortals' were only individuals practicing by themselves; they never formed any kind of religious organization. However, at the end of the Western Han period (at the beginning of the first century A.D.) Buddhism came to China from India. The entry of Buddhism had a transformative effect and sped up the foundation of a Chinese religion. Because Buddhism was a foreign culture entering China, however, it elicited a strong reaction among the Chinese people.
The interaction of Chinese culture with a foreign culture led to both borrowing and criticizing. We can see both of these in the earliest of the Daoist religious writings, the Taiping Jing. In this work Daoists borrowed such Buddhist terms as the `three realms', but also criticized Buddhists for their so-called `four practices.' (These were the unfilial abandonment of father and mother to become a monk, the abandoning of wife and therefore the cutting off of future generations, the practice of begging, and the practice of eating excrement). The Daoists said that this was contravening the spiritual way of heaven. In particular, once established the Daoist religion set forth the doctrine of `Laozi (Lao Tzu) converting the barbarians' in order to criticize Buddhism. They said that Laozi (Lao Tzu), the original teacher of Daoism (Taoism) in the Zhou period (the sixth century B.C.), had left China through the Hangu Pass and gone to India, where he had taught Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. Therefore, the Buddha was the disciple of Laozi (Lao Tzu).
The founder of the Daoist religion is generally recognized to be Zhang Daoling. There are two views in the Chinese scholarly community as to where the Daoist religion originated. The scholar Chen Yinge claims that the Daoist religion originated in Shandong, Jiangsu and other coastal areas. Another scholar, Meng Wentong, claims that it originated in Sichuan and was influenced by the customs and practices of minority peoples there. I think that the Daoist religion originated in the coastal areas because the immortals were active in this area. Further, Zhang Daoling himself was from Feng County in Jiangsu and only later went to Sichuan, where he formally established the organization of the Daoist religion. It is quite possible that certain elements of minority peoples' customs were absorbed into his teachings at that time.
The Daoist religion that later developed in Sichuan and the Han River area is called Five Pecks of Rice Daoism (Taoism) because people on entering the sect made an offering of five pecks of rice. It is also called Heavenly Teacher Daoism (Taoism) because the leader of this sect, Zhang Daoling, was called the Heavenly Teacher. Heavenly Teacher Daoism (Taoism) was passed on from Zhang to his son, Zhang Heng, and again transmitted to Zhang Lu, the latter's son. Zhang Lu established a Daoist kingdom in the Han River area, which he ruled for thirty years. Eventually he was defeated by Cao, to whom he surrendered. Zhang Lu's son, Zhang Sheng, fled to Longhu Mountain in Jiangxi where he became the fourth generation Heavenly Teacher. At the present time this sect of Daoism (Taoism) has already been transmitted to its sixty-fifth generation. The sixty-fourth generation Heavenly Teacher is in Taiwan. His nephew is on the Chinese mainland continuing the tradition as the sixty-fifth generation Heavenly Teacher. This young Heavenly Teacher, a man in his twenties, came to my home to study the Daoist religion.
After the Five Pecks of Rich school, in Yan (Hebei), Qi (Shandong), Jiang (Jiangsu), and Huai (Huaihe, Anhui), another sect of the Daoist religion was founded by Zhang Jiao called Taiping Daoism (Taoism). Zhang Jiao used the Daoist religion to organize an extremely large-scale peasant uprising. When this was put down, Taiping Daoism (Taoism) largely disappeared.
In the Three Kingdoms and Western Jin periods (the third century A.D.) the Daoist religion was hemmed in by imperial rulers and developed very little. However, in the Eastern Jin period (fourth century A.D.) the Daoist religion began to develop speedily and many nobles adhered to it. For example, the most famous aristocratic families of the time for generations believed in Daoism (Taoism). The most famous calligrapher in Chinese history, Wang Xizhi, was also a follower of the Daoist religion. One story recounts that Wang Xizhi particularly loved geese and wanted to buy the dozen or so geese raised by a Daoist priest. The priest would not sell, and Wang asked a second and a third time. Finally the priest said that if Wang would copy out for the whole Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) he would give him the geese. So Wang copied the entire work.
An interesting development occurred in the Tang period (618-907), whose rulers had the surname Li. At this time the leaders of the Daoist religion were looking for a mythological figure they could venerate as the founder of the religion, and they came upon Laozi (Lao Tzu), who was also named Li. This was not a coincidence. First of all, even before the Daoist religion was formally established, Laozi (Lao Tzu) had been mythologized. Second, the Han dynasty had venerated Confucian thought as orthodoxy, which, of course, honored Confucius. The Daoists claimed that Laozi (Lao Tzu) was Confucius's teacher, thus hoping to overcome the Confucianists. Now, according to the Shiji, Laozi (Lao Tzu) was surnamed Li with a given name of Erh. Since the Tang emperors were also surnamed Li, in order to increase their own importance they said that they were descendants of Laozi (Lao Tzu). Because of this, the Tang emperors took the Daoist religion relatively seriously: emperor Xuanzong even wrote his own commentary on the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching).
After the Daoist religion was established, on the one hand, it struggled with Buddhism and, on the other, it absorbed Buddhist thought. But the Daoist religion also has its own definite characteristics. Many religions seek to understand or answer such questions as What happens to human beings after death? For example, Buddhists seek to answer the question: What can people do after death to keep from being reborn into this world? The Daoists, however, seek to answer this question: How can people keep from dying? The ideal in the Daoist religion is for people to `extend their lives and not die,' to `fly up in this very body'--that is, to become an immortal.
Regarding this question the Daoist religion has certain theories. Daoists claim that people have both a spirit or soul and a body, both of which are constructed from qi. The qi that makes up the spirit or soul is called soul-qi. The qi that makes up the body is called form-qi. Only when the soul-qi and the body-qi are joined together in a single person do we have life. People should seek two things--to live forever and to obtain good fortune. If you die, everything is finished, so in order to seek to extend life, first, you must get a body that does not decay so that the spirit or soul will have a place to abide. Then seek a method for the soul to stay with the body, otherwise you will be dead and not be able to achieve any kind of good fortune.
Because of this Daoists seek ways to keep body and soul together, and Daoism (Taoism) has various methods to accomplish this purpose. The most basic of these are of two sorts: the outer pill and the inner pill. The outer pill consists of using various minerals, especially mercury, in order to concoct a potion. It is hoped that by ingesting various potions one can keep one's body from decaying, and then the soul can continue forever in its midst. They claim that if you put a bronze mud on your feet and soak your feet in water for a very long time, you will not decay. If you can find the so-called golden pill, once you eat it your whole body will be able to live forever without decaying.
The inner pill is a series of practices that cause the qi within the human body to circulate through certain channels. This is called "working on your qi' and is the same kind of thing that is known these days as qigong. If the qi continually circulates in the human body, the whole body will be suffused with the light of an extremely fine qi. The body itself will become as light as qi and the person will be able to ascend to heaven, which is called "to fly up in this very body."
When Daoism (Taoism) became a religion it had to have its own deities to venerate. At first the deity most venerated was the mythologized Laozi (Lao Tzu), called `Laojun' or 'Taishang Laojun.' Afterwards, under the influence of Buddhism, very many other deities were added. Originally Buddhism had only Shakyamuni as the Buddha, but afterwards they said that before Shakyamuni there had been seven other Buddhas. Towards the end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties a Daoist priest named Tao Hongjing wrote a book called Zhenling Weiye Tu in which he divided Daoist deities into seven levels. The highest level contained three deities. In the center was one called Yuanshi Tiandao. On his left was Gaoshang Daojun and on his right was Yuanhuang Daojun. Laozi (Lao Tzu), or Taishang Laojun, was placed below on the fourth level. Today in Daoist temples the formal hall is called the Hall of the Three Pure Ones, and most sects worship these three deities. However, not all Daoist sects are alike. Some still claim Taishang Laojun as the highest deity, saying that he existed before Heaven and Earth were dreaded and that in different times he has different causes. Originally he was Pan'gu Xiansheng. Heaven and Earth were separated by him, and he has various spiritual powers.
The Daoist religion has one female deity of particular power who is named Xiwang Mu (Queen Mother of the West). Xiwang Mu existed as a deity before the founding of the Daoist religion. In the Shanhaijing (from the fourth to the second century B.C.) Xiwang Mu is not yet a female deity, but either of undifferentiated sex or male. Only after the Mutianzi Zhuan does Xiwang Mu become a female deity. This book recounts the story of the Zhou King Mu (of about 1000 B.C.) who went to the Kunlun Mountains to seek Xiwang Mu. In the earliest Daoist scriptures, however, where it is said there that the character `Mu' indicates the proof of the longevity of the deity Xiwang Mu is merely a deity of long life. Thus `Mu' here does not necessarily mean a female deity. Only in the Jin and Northern and Southern Dynasties, when the Daoist religion set up Dongwang Gong as a counterpart to Xiwang Mu, did Xi-Wang Mu emerge as an important female deity.
The Daoist religion took the human body and its cultivation very seriously, as in such matters as exilers, the inner and outer pill, and qigong. Because of this it has had a great influence on ancient medicine, pharmacology, chemistry and the nourishment of the human body. Many great Daoist leaders such as Ge Hong, Tao Hongjing and Sun Simiao were important scientists of Old China. Because of this, people today who research the history and development of Chinese science and technology cannot but study the history of the Daoist religion. The English historian of science, Joseph Needham, in his Science and Civilization in China, has relied extensively on the writings of the Daoist religion.
Daoists have written many works. The earliest collection of Daoist works, called the Zhengtong Daozang, has five thousand volumes. It was compiled in 1445 in the tenth year of the Zhengtong Emperor of the Ming. Later, in the Wanli period, a supplement appeared. These are important resources for the study of the history of Chinese religion.
In China today Daoism (Taoism) is one of the important religions. About three thousand people who have formally become Daoist priests, and several important Daoist temples have been restored. In Beijing there is a Daoist temple, called the Temple of the White Clouds (Baiyun Guan), which was established in the Yuan dynasty (the thirteenth century) and belongs to the Guanzhen sect of Daoism (Taoism). Its Hall of the Three Pure Ones is very fine; it also has two areas for the display of historical objects of the Daoist religion. In Chengdu, Sichuan there is the Green Goat palace and in Wuahn the Temple of Eternal Spring, both of which have been very well restored and belong to the Guanzhen Daoist sect. In Xian a Daoist temple called Louguan Tai belongs to the Northern sect of Daoism (Taoism). It was first built in the Northern Zhou dynasty (fifth century A.D.), but what exists now was rebuilt in the Ming (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries). It is said that in the Louguan Tai, Laozi (Lao Tzu), before he left for the West, dictated the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) to the gatekeeper, named Yixi.
Longhu Mountain in Jiangxi is the birthplace of the Zhengyi sect of Daoism (Taoism). Maoshan in Jiangsu is the birthplace of Tao Hongjing's Maoshan sect. Hangzhou has a Daoist temple in Geling where, it is said, Ge Hong refined the pill. At each of these Daoist temples are Daoist priests, young and old, male and female. At Beijing's Temple of the White Clouds a school of Daoist religion teaches priests how to read Daoist scriptures. Beijing also has a Daoist Association, a national organization publishing the Journal of the Chinese Daoist Association. At Sichuan University the Institute for the Study of Religion is dedicated solely to the Daoist religion and is editing a Daoist dictionary. Beijing University has established an Institute for the Study of the History of the Daoist Religion, where I teach. The Institute for the Study of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing is doing a synopsis of the five thousand volumes of the Daoist canon. Two national conferences have been devoted to the study of the Daoist religion, one at Beijing University. Thus the study of Daoist currently is developing very quickly.