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2008-08-28 11:33
  Taoism is a religio-philosophical tradition that has, along with Confucianism, shaped Chinese life for more than 2,000 years. The Taoist heritage, with its emphasis on individual freedom and spontaneity, laissez-faire government and social primitivism, mystical experience, and techniques of self-transformation, represents in many ways the antithesis to Confucian concern with individual moral duties, community standards, and governmental responsibilities. [NextPage]

  Taoism encompasses both a Taoist philosophical tradition(Tao-chia)associated with the Tao-te Ching(Lao-tzu), Chuang-tzu, Lieh-tzu, and other texts, and a Taoist religious tradition(Tao-chiao)with organized doctrine, formalized cultic activity, and institutional leadership.

  These two forms of Taoist expression are clearly interrelated, though at many points in tension. Aspects of both philosophical and religious Taoism were appropriated in East Asian cultures influenced by China, especially Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

  Philosophical Taoism The text central to all expressions of the Taoist spirit is the Tao-te Ching ("Classic of the Way and Its Power"), previously known as Lao-tzu after the name of the mysterious master traditionally said to have been its author. The cardinal concept is that of the Tao, the ineffable, eternal, creative reality that is the source and end of all things.

  Tao is the Absolute, the "Uncarved Block" experienced only in mystical ecstasy.

  Te is the manifestation of the Tao within all things. Thus, to possess the fullness of te means to be in perfect harmony with one's original nature.According to Chuang-tzu(fl. 4th century BC, an individual in harmony with the Tao comprehends the course of Nature's constant change and fears not the rhythm of life and death.

  As is accomplished at death, so in life must the individual return to the original purity and simplicity of the Tao.

  In contrast to the Confucian program of social reform through moral principle, ritual, and government regulation, the true way of restoration for the Taoists consisted in the banishment of learned sageliness and the discarding of wisdom. "Manifest the simple," urged Lao-tzu, "embrace the primitive, reduce selfishness, have few desires."

  As the Tao operates impartially in the universe, so should mankind disavow assertive, purposive action. The Taoist life is not, however, a life of total inactivity. It is rather a life of nonpurposive action(wu-wei. Stated positively, it is a life expressing the essence of spontaneity(tzu-jan, "self-so").

  While the Chuang-tzu and Lieh-tzu are guides directing all persons in the realization of total freedom, the Tao-te Ching is addressed in particular to rulers. Great rulers, taught Lao-tzu, simply follow Nature and the people only know of their existence.

  Religious Taoism The themes and texts of philosophical Taoism became established during the Warring States period (481-221 BC). Religious or esoteric Taoism as a movement of organized religious communities developed only in the 2nd century AD, appropriating a variety of themes and spiritual techniques associated with the common objective of immortality.

  While in fundamental ways such a goal was incompatible with the aims of philosophical Taoism, there were hints in the texts of the philosophical tradition to the extension of life and the protection from harm possible for those in harmony with the Tao.

  The lives of such 'perfected ones', or 'hsien'(Immortals)as they came to be called, became the central paradigms of religious Taoism.

  Lao-tzu became deified as a revealer of sacred texts and a savior, and techniques of spiritual attainment became fully elaborated. [NextPage]

  Techniques for achieving immortality included dietary regimens, breath control and meditation, sexual disciplines, alchemy, the use of magical talismans, and the search for the fabled Isle of Bliss. Dietary concerns focused on necessary nourishment while abstaining from foods that benefited the "three worms" in the body (which caused disease, old age, and death.In meditation, the Taoist adept visualized the thousands of gods that inhabited the human body(microcosm) as they inhabited the universe(macrocosm).

  Through breath control and the movement of breath throughout the fields of the body, the individual both approached immortality in this life and achieved it finally through the nourishment within of a mysterious "embryonic body," which became the immortal self after death.

  By avoiding ejaculation during the sexual act, it was believed that semen could be mixed with breath to further nourish the embryonic body or be forced back through the spinal passage to repair the brain. In its search for an elixir of immortality, Taoist alchemy developed both chemical experimentation(wai-tan)and a theoretical internal alchemy(nei-tan).

  Nei-tan sought to invert the normal aging processes by an energizing marriage of the cosmic Yin and Yang forces within the body. Talismans(fu)were used for healing, protection from demons, and communication with Taoist immortals.

  Historical Development Of the two early organized Taoist communities, the religio-political movement known as the "Way of the Great Peace" was destroyed as a threat to the Han dynasty in AD 184. A more important and enduring tradition was that of the "Way of the Celestial Masters," founded by Chang Tao-ling in AD 142.

  Two late 4th-century movements were also very important:(1)the Shang-ch'ing(Supreme Purity)Mao Shan sect, and(2)the Ling Pao(Sacred Jewel)scriptural tradition. During the T'ang dynasty(618-907,Taoism received special favor at court and was characterized by doctrinal and liturgical syntheses. Despite attempts during the Ming dynasty(1368-1644)to curb a growing sectarianism, there remained in the late 20th century a polarization between classical orthodox tradition and heterodox traditions. On Taiwan, orders of the former tradition are referred to as "Blackheads" and those of the latter as "Redheads."

  While the future of Taoist practice on the mainland remains in question, there has been in recent decades some renewed interest in the religion on Taiwan. In addition, Western scholars have recently begun to investigate carefully the many contributions of Taoism to the development of Chinese culture.

  Hsein Hsien, in Chinese Taoism, is an immortal who has achieved divinity through devotion to Taoist practices and teachings. Early Taoist sages, including Chuang-tzu, referred perhaps allegorically to immortal beings with magical powers; some followers interpreted these references literally and devoted themselves to discovering the "drug of immortality" and prolonging their lives through breath control, yoga like exercises, and abstention from grains. Adepts in these practices, though appearing to die, were believed to achieve physical immortality and admission to heavenly realms inaccessible to the spirits of mere mortals. The pursuit of this state gave rise to a vast body of Taoist alchemical and other esoteric techniques and lore.

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