by August Christopher
The Taoist secret of longevity
is to follow the nature of things, a sensitivity and skillobtained
by minute concentration on the Tao running through natural objects
of all kinds. This knowledge and skill cannot be handed down but
is that all the men of old took with them when they died (Chuang
Tzu)Through extolling the initiative comprehension and skillful
handling of matter, the Taoist did make progress over the ages (for
example, in alchemy) can be seen.
Taoism, along with Confucianism,
is one of the two major indigenous philosophical traditions that
have shaped Chinese life for more than 2,000 years.
In the broadest sense, a Taoist attitude towards life can be seen
in the acceptance, yielding, joyful and compromising side of the
Chinese character, an attitude that off sets and complements the
moral and duty-conscious, austere and purposeful character of philosophy.
The essential Quest of Taoism is
how to gain, preserve, and increase the vital force through a realization
of harmony. On the basis of the Asian concept of a concentric, well-ordered,
and single universe. Confucianism built its' wisdom of the order
and functioning of human society in accordance with the Whole; and
Taoism expressed the individual's as well as the group 5 need of
harmony with the perceptible and the imperceptible Great Order (Tao)
in all variations of magic, religion, and mysticism. To live in
harmony with the universal mechanism without intervention (wu-wei)
anywhere is to preserve one's energy.
This preoccupation with the vital
force is one reason for that lack of speculative thought distinctive
of Taoism. Taoist mystics are poets, priests are technicians of
the Esoteric's, and thinkers are specialists in alchemy, ritual,
There are no theologians in the
Western sense and few philosophers in the Buddhist sense. This accounts
for the Taoist non-argumentaive & competing with Confucians
and Buddhists in debate. This also accounts for the fact that among
the highly developed religions, Taoism is the one with the least
rationalization, in which the communication of man with the sacred
appears in its most immediate and unreflective form.
Yin and Yang are often referred
to as two "breaths" (ch'i) Ch'i means air, breath, or
vapor -originally the vapor arising from cooking cereals. It has
also come to mean a cosmic energy. The Primordial Breath is a name
of the chaos (state of Unity) in which the original life-force is
not yet diversified into the phases that the concepts Yin and Yang
Every man has a portion of this
primordial life-force allotted him at birth, and his task is not
to dissipate it through the activity of his senses but to strengthen,
control, and increase it in order to live out his full span of life.
You can heal the sickness in your body by the power of your own
mind. Energize your body by sweeping it from ,top to toe with positive
And when your mind is weak, transform it by the action of your In
Human being is unity-in-trinity,
he is a Unity of Body, Mind and Spirit.
You are a spirit dwelling in a body. You are eternal and will never
die. The spirit is the real you, Tao's 'breath" becomes the
'breath' of life' for man, by which we can infer that man is really
a spirit dwelling in a body. You can also infer that the spirit
of man is in unity with Tao. Man's spirit is connected to the body
by a 'silver cords and when this "cord' is severed, physical
death occurs. The spirit gives life to the body.
Thus, you can overcome the fear
of death by living in the spirit and remembering your unity with
Tao By the action of the spirit, you can renew your mind, heal your
body of sickness, and transform your life. Do this through spiritual
disciplines, Recite daily: I am spirit, I am spirit dwelling in
a body. I am eternal. I am peace.
You are what you think, because the mind controls your body and
Tao is the natural heritage of man, but, in the majority of cases,
that heritance has been set aside by other interests. This quest
of Tao may, and must, be undertaken, if men are to regain that tranquillity,
that complete contentment, which can never be acquired by the worldly-minded.
The steps in the process are similar to those which are the common
places of mystics generally.
The first stage is purgation. As Lao Tzu says, "Only one who
is eternally free from earthly passions can apprehend the spiritual
essence of Tao.
Chuang-tzu says of the sages, or perfect men, "They wear the
forms of men, but are without human passions." The process
is a long and painful one, and Lieh-tzu Ilicius) is represented
as telling an ambitious disciple of his own experiences as a novice,
when for the space of three years his Master did not design to bestow
a glance on him, and nine years passed before he attained that inner
unity which was his aim. "I have not yet succeeded in cleansing
my heart of impurities and discarding wisdom," is the confession
of a professed teacher, who failed to achieve such harmony with
Tao as would have enabled him to overcome the opposition of material
The second stage is illumination, when virtue requires no longer
a conscious effort, but becomes an unconscious habit. Lao Tzu constantly
deprecated the interested 'virtue' of his own times, when the would-be
'virtuous' were characterized by acute self-consciousness and were
actuated by mercenary motives.
Many instances are given of the third stage. when an inner unity
is attained, notably by Lieh Tzu (3rd century B-C) e.g., that of
Shang Ch'iu K'ai, who thus explained his extraordinary independence
of natural laws; "My mind was simply One, and material objects
thus offered no resistance. That is all"; and Tzu Hsia, who
said: "The man who have harmony with Tao enters into close
unison with eternal objects, and none of them has the power to harm
or hinder him."
This is the goal of Taoist ambition, viz. to attain to such an unconscious
harmony with nature as to become the unresisting vehicle of Tao,
and partake of its properties which render the Taoist immune from
the limitations which are imposed upon the uninitiated by the laws
of matter, space, and time. This third stage included also that
independence of external aids which is expressed by Lao Tzu in the
words, "without going out of doors, one may know the whole
In the broadest sense, a Taoist attitude toward life can be seen
in the accepting and yielding, the joyful and carefree sides of
the Chinese character, and attitude that offsets and complements
the moral and duty-conscious, austere and purposeful character ascribed
Taoism is also characterized by
a positive, active attitude toward the esoteric and the metaphysical
(theories on the nature of reality) whereas the agnostic, pragmatic
Confucian tradition considers these issues of only marginal importance
although the reality of such issues is, by most Confucians, not
More strictly defined, Taoism includes:
the ideas and attitudes peculiar to Lao Tzu (or Tao Te Ching; "Classic
of the Way of Power), the Chuang Tzu, the Lieh Tzu, and related
writings; the Taoist religion, which is concerned with the ritual
worship of the Tao; and those who identify themselves as Taoists.
Taoist thought permeates Chinese culture, including many aspects
not usually considered Taoist. In Chinese religion, the Taoist tradition
- often serving as a link between the Confucian tradition and folk
tradition - has generally been more popular and spontaneous than
the official (Confucian) state cult and less diffuse and shapeless
than folk religion.
Taoist philosophy has found the
way into all Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. Various religious practices
reminiscent of Taoism in such areas of Chinese cultural influence
indicated early contacts with Chinese travelers and immigrants that
have yet to be elucidated.
There is also a tendency among
scholars today to draw a less rigid line between what is called
Taoist and what is called Confucian. The two traditions share many
of the same ideas about man, society, the ruler, Heaven, and the
universe ideas that were not created by either school but that stem
from a tradition prior to either Confucius or Lao Tzu.
Viewed from this common tradition,
orthodox Confucianism limited its field of interest to the creation
of a moral and political system that fashioned society and the Chinese
empire; whereas Taoism, inside the same world view, represented
more personal and metaphysical preoccupation's.
The aged Taoist sage became a saint
because he had been able to cultivate himself throughout a long
existence; his longevity in itself was the proof of his saintliness
and union with the Tao. Eternally he had a healthy, flourishing
appearance and inside he contained an ever-flowing source of energy
that manifested itself in radiance and in a powerful, beneficial
influence on his surroundings, which is the charismatic efficacy
(Te) of the Tao.
The mystic insight of Chuang Tzu
made him scorn those who strove for longevity and immortality through
physiological practices. Nevertheless, physical immortality was
a Taoist goal probably long before and alongside the unfolding of
Taoist mysticism. The adept of immortality had a choice among many
methods that were all intended to restore the pure energies possessed
at birth by the infant whose perfect vital force Lao Tzu admire.
Through these methods, the adept
became an immortal (hsien) who lived 1,000 years in this world if
he so chose and, once satiated with life, "ascended to heaven
in broad daylight." This was the final apotheosis of the Taoist
who had transformed his body into pure Yang energy Taoists prefer
to convey their ecstatic insights in images and parables.
The Tao is low and receiving as
a valley, soft and life-giving as water, and it is the "mysterious
female," the source of all life, the Mother of the Ten Thousand
Beings. Man should become weak and yielding as water that overcomes
the hard and the strong and always takes the low ground; he should
develop his male and female sides but "prefer femininity."
"feed on the mother," and find within himself the well
that never runs dry.
Tao is also the axis, the ridgepole,
the pivot, and the empty center of the hub. The sage is the "useless
tree" or the huge gourd too large to be fashioned into implements.
A frequent metaphor for the working of the Tao is the incommunicable
ability to be skillful at a craft. The skilled artisan does not
ponder on his action, but, in union with the Tao of his subject,
he does his work reflexively and without conscious intent.
Much ancient Chinese mythology
has been preserved by the Taoists, who drew on R to illustrate their
views. A 'chaos' (hun-tun) myth is recorded as a metaphor for the
undifferentiated primal unity, the mythical emperors (.Huang Ti
and others) are extolled for wise Taoist rule or blamed for introducing
Dreams of mythical paradises and journeys on clouds and flying dragons
are metaphors for the wanderings of the soul, the attainment of
the Tao, and the identity of dream and reality.
Taoists have transformed and adapted
some ancient myths to their beliefs. Thus, the Queen Mother of the
West (Hsi Wang Mu), who was a mountain spirit, pestilence goddess,
and tigress, became a high deity - the Fairy Queen of all immortals
Long life and the vital force were common concerns of all Taoist
traditions andinseparable from saintliness. The original still of
the infant or even the embryonicstate in which the vital force is
still perfectly concentrated and undiminished was the ideal of the
mystics, who sought it in trance, as well as developed countless
formulas and practices to restore the infant's complete Yang energy
to the physical body.
This effort, however, made them shift away from the classical ideal
of adaptation to the course of nature and attempt a reversal of
the natural flow toward death. Thus, the ideal of Yin and Yang as
complementary, which implied the alienation of life and death, changed
into a desire for the victory of life-giving Yang over Yin.
For the ancient Chinese in general, spirit and matter formed a continuum
of more or less rarefied or crude vital energies, deriving from
Heaven and Earth. Man was believed to be composed of several kinds
of vital energies, to which the Western dichotomy of spiritual and
material is not particularly relevant. The techniques of longevity
were intended to prevent this scattering of these energies, which
would result in death. They also sought to refine the coarse, perishable
energies and transform the heavy mortal body into a light immortal
The Chinese ideogram for "immortal" (hsien) depicts a
man and a mountain, suggesting a hermit; the older form of hsien,
however, shows a man dancing around, flapping his sleeves like wings.
To become immortal is to be "transformed Into a feathered being."
Image comes from the mythology of eastern Chinese tribes who claimed
bird ancestors, worshipped bird deities, and held religious rites
with bird dances performed on stilts. The affinity of the Taoist
immortals to birds (crane, phoenix, magpie, stork, or raven) is
a persistent theme in iconography and legend.
There are many categories of immortals. The highest are those who
"ascend to heaven in broad daylight."
There are also those who live in terrestrial paradises (on holy
mountains or islands) for centuries without growing old and later
appear disguised in this world to transmit their immortality formulas
and magical powers to worthy adepts. Lower immortals do not reach
paradise before dying and apparent death (shih chieh), leaving their
sandals or their canes in the coffins to take on the appearance
of their corpses.
The techniques of longevity, the detailed of which correspondence
between the human microcosm and the macrocosm are at the basis of
all techniques to "nourish the vital force" (yang-hsing).
The communication between the five inner organs (lungs corresponding
to metal, heart to fire, spleen to the earth, liver to wood, and
kidneys to water), all other body organs, and the outer world proceeds
through the orifices (nose for the lungs, ears for the heart, mouth
for the spleen, eyes for the liver, and the lower orifices for the
kidneys). All these orifices are passageways for entry and exit
of vital forces and have to be closely guarded. Because the orifices
are sense organs and desires result in loss of vital force, the
senses have to be carefully kept in balance lest disease be caused
through over indulgence in any one of the corresponding desires.
All dietary regimens are intended to nourish the respective organs
in right proportions with foods and medicinal herbs containing the
energy (ch’i) corresponding in quality to their respective
elements. A preliminary step in diet in complete abstinence from
all cereals in order to starve and kill the "three worms",
or the "three corpses," which are malefecent demons inside
the body that work to hasten its decomposition.
In order to make all energies in the body reach their proper place
and to maintain a continuous circulatory process, the adept practices
"gymnastics" and "Body building" called "to
conduct (the breath) and to stretch" (or to attract it to its
proper place, Tao Yin).
Chuang Tzu stated that ordinary people breathe through the throat
but the saint breathes through the whole body, starting from the
heels. The Taoist breathes not only atmospheric air but solar, lunar,
and the directions, guiding the green emanation of the east to the
liver, the red emanation of the south to the heart, and so on.
Others inhale the emanations of dawn in spring, of noon in summer,
of dusk in autumn, and so on. Others warn against the practice of
this discipline in the latter part of the day, because the universe
exhales dead air from noon to midnight.
Another method taught how to "feed on air" by retaining
breath and conducting it throughout the body. One who could hold
this breath for the time of 1,000 respiration's would become immortal.
This inner breath was viewed as man's share of the primordial life
breath contained In the lower of the three "cinnabar (mercuric
sulfide fields" of the body centers located in the head, chest,
and abdomen). This life breath is conducted, in a closed circuit
like that of the embryo, through the body and directed by means
of the "inner sight" (nei-kuan), an inward turned vision
of the eyes (considered a source of light). In case of sickness,
the inner breath is conducted to the diseased
organ and heals it.
The first sacred text of Taoism (3rd century AD), mentions the ability
of the interior vision to discern the gods residing in the five
organs. Books like the Classic of the Yellow Court owe their popularity
to the enumeration of thousands of gods in all parts of the body,
the same gods as those residing in the macrocosm.
Meditation establishes communication with these gods, either by
making the external gods descend and visit their organs in the body
and fortify it or by externalizing the inner gods disposing them
in a mandala (a symbol of the universe) around oneself The latter
practice is a preparation of religious ceremonies and recitation
of sacred texts.
The sexual techniques of the 'inner chamber' (fang chung) go back
Their aim was to secure vitality, longevity, and male progeny. Specifically
Taoist practices were the 'Way of the Yin" of the immortal
Yung-ch'eng, a technique -to make the semen return and repair the
brain" (huan ching pu nao). This technique consisted in the
prevention of ejaculation during the sexual act and was thought
to make the semen (ching, a potent mixture of all physical energies)
circulate - mixed with breath - through the body from the lower
to the upper 'cinnabar field", there to vitalize the brain.
Immortals are often depicted with a huge skull that is the storeroom
of their Yang energy. Another idea was to blend seminal essence
with breath in the "lower cinnabar field' and there to form
the "mysterious embryo" of the new real body.
For the 'repairing of the brain," the male adept also needed
to absorb as much a possible of female Yin essence (and vice versa).
It was therefore desirable to have intercourse with a succession
of partners. This led to the much' communal "union of breaths"
(ho ch'i), a highly ritualized ceremony that might have resembled
more a group ordeal than an orgy.)
The abstention from ejaculation exists equally in Tantric practices,
which were known to the Taoists since T'ng's times or earlier. As
in Tantrism, the sexual terminology refers also to mental operations
because only thought processes can make semen and breath circulate
and 'marry' to thus create the immortal man.
Chuang Tzu's descriptions of the indescribable Tao, as well as of
those who have attained union with the Tao, are invariably poetic.
The perfect man has identified his life rhythm so completely with
the rhythm of the forces of nature that he has become indistinguishable
from them and shares their immortality and infinity, which is above
the cycle of ordinary life and death. He is "pure spirit".
"He feels neither the heat of the brush lands afire nor the
cold of the waters in flood",
nothing can startle or frighten him.
Not that he is magically invulnerable (as the adepts of physical
immortality would have it), but he is "so cautious in shunning
and approaching, that nothing can do him injury."
"A man's life thus rides the clouds as his carriages and the
sun and moon as his steeds." The theme of the spiritual wandering
(vuan yu), which can be traced back to the shamanistic soul journey,
crops up wherever Chuang Tzu speaks of the perfect man.
Those who let themselves be borne away by the unadulterated energies
of Heaven and Earth and can harness the six composite energies to
roam through the limitless, whatever need they henceforth depend
on'. These wanderings are journey's within oneself; they are roaming
through the infinite in ecstasy.
Transcending the ordinary distinctions of things and one with the
Tao, "the Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit,
the Sage has no fame." He lives inconspicuously among men,
and whatever applies to the Tao applies to him.
Dietary and breathing techniques can prolong life so as to give
time for the preparation of the elixir of immortality, which was
composed of cinnabar (tan, for its red, or Yang, color and it transmutability)
and gold (chin, for its incorruptibility).
Alchemy evolved early in connection with metallurgy. The patron
of alchemy was the Yellow Emperor (Huang Ti), who ascended to Heaven
after the casting of a sacred metal crucible. This legend is alluded
to in the alchemical recommendations given by Li Shao Chun, a 2nd
century, BC alchemist, to the emperor Han Wu Ti, the earliest known
reference to alchemy in any literature of East or West.
Later, Taoist alchemists sought to produce liquid gold and pure
(nine times transmuted) cinnabar, or a combination of both in an
"elixir of immortality".
The practice of the techniques of immorality was restricted to the
affluent and educated few.
The pantheon, ritual, and moral codes, as well as the theocratic
organization of the early
Taoist temple bear much closer similarly to the Imperial and Confucian
ideologies than to Buddhism. Folk Taoism came to be deeply influenced
by the Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation and punishment in hells.
The legendary first celestial master, Chang Tao-Ling was a magician
and faith healer. His descendants evolved into a hierarchy of priests
who treated the sick by ritual and prayer, using charmed water and
talismans. Because disease was believed to be caused by sin, the
sick were sent to "pure (or calm) houses" in order to
repent and to recite to the Tao Te Ching. They also were supposed
to make amends by doing public works, such as road building.
The moral code was based on the Tao Te Ching, of which Thai Seong
Loh Khoon (that is, Lao Tzu defied) became the divine reveler. Moral
conduct was rewarded with health and long life; immorality caused
sickness, premature death, and according to later text; suffering
Taoism, distinguishes itself from Western mysticism by its conscious
techniques and to give access to mystical experience. These disciplines
of learning to "sit in forgetfulness" are akin to Plotinus
"concern to be deaf to the words of senses and to keep the
soul's faculty of apprehension one-pointed." Where the soul
is fully awake as regards Tao, but wholly asleep as regards things
of this world and in respect of himself'
In the way of the Celestial Masters, first developed in the mountains
of the province of Szechwan. There, a certain Cheng Tao-Ling, in
AD 142, is said to have received a revelation from Thai Seong Loh
Koon (Lord Lao the most High). The deified Lao Tzu bestowed on Chang
his "orthodox and sole doctrine of the authority of the covenant"
(Cheng Meng-WeiFa), meant as a definitive replacement lapsed into
demonism and degeneracy.
The Mao Shan revelations of the
most brilliant synthesis of the Way of the Celestial Masters with
the indigenous traditions were the principal beneficiaries of an
extensive new Taoist revelation. Furthermore, building upon the
way of the celestial Masters, the Mao Shan revelations envisaged
some reform of the practices of the parent sect. Its sexual rites
in particular were stigmatized as
inferior practices, more conducive to perdition than to salvation.
Other rituals of the Celestial Master were allowed to continue in
use among the Mao Shan adepts but were relegated to a subordinate
position. Thus, the movement did not reject but rather incorporated
and transcended the older tradition.
According to Chuang-Tzu there is
a very special class of spiritualized being. They share none of
the anxieties of ordinary folk and have the smooth, untroubled faces
of children. These "supreme man", or "perfect men",
are immune to the effects of the elements, untouched by heat and
They possess the power of flight and are described as mounting upward
with a fluttering (hsien) motion. Their effortless existence was
the ultimate in autonomy, the natural spontaneity that Chuang Tzu
ceaselessly applauds. These striking portraits may have been intended
to be allegorical, but whatever their original meaning, these immortals
(hsien), as they came to be called, were to become the center of
The pure literary descriptions
of their freedom, their breathtaking mobility, and their agelessness
were construed as practical objectives by later generations. By
a variety of practices, men attempted to attain these qualities
in their own persons, and in time Chuang Tzu's unfettered paragons
of liberty were to see themselves classified according to kind and
degree in a hierarchy of the heavenly hosts.
Ko Hung, the author of Pao-pu-tzu - "He Who Holds to Simplicity"
stressed that all known Immortals had themselves once been men and
so their state must be attainable by men today.
The essentials are a good teacher
and tireless perseverance. To mineral elixirs he accorded a place
above all other means of attaining everlasting life.
Long narratives containing descriptions of the stages and methods
by which they had achieved perfection through midnight interviews
with the visionary.
One of the most complex and interesting phenomena in Chinese religions
history is Lao Tzu's advancement from sage to God.
A scroll found in the walled up
deserted library at Tan-Luang, the Book of the Transformations of
Lao Tzu (Lao-Tzu Pien - Hua Ching) shows him in cosmic perspective,
omnipresent andomnipotent, the origin of all life. His human manifestations
are listed, followed by his successive role in legendary history,
as the sage was counselor of emperors.
Next, five of his more recent appearances
are mentioned, dated AD 132-155, and localized in West China, where
a temple is said to have dedicated to him in 185 AD. Then the God
speaks, to describe his own powers. He recommends to his votaries
the recitation of "My book in 5,000 words" (Tao Te Ching)
and enjoins a meditation on his own divine attributes as they appear
within the adept's body.
Finally, he calls upon the faithful to join him, now, when he is
about to strike at the tottering rule of the Han dynasty.