Practitioners of the Shangqing tradition, which gained popularity in 4th-century China, strove to gain immortality through practicing meditation in a remote location. By visualizing the characteristics of various deities while reciting their esoteric names and attributes, the adept could simultaneously gain immortality and act as the mediator between heaven and earth. Shangqing visualization methods continue to play an important role in Daoist practice to this day.
It is unknown whether a historical Laozi ever existed. The name “Laozi” simply means “Old Master.” According to Daoist legend, in the 6th century BCE this mysterious sage authored the Daodejing, a text which assumed great importance in both philosophical and religious Taoist traditions.
Since the Song dynasty (960-1279), the Baxian, or “Eight Immortals” have been a frequent subject of Daoist-inspired legend and artwork. They may be depicted separately, or as a group. The eight include: Zhongli Quan, depicted as a fat man with a bare belly holding a fan with which he can revive the dead; Zhang Guo Lao, a recluse who had numerous powers, such as rendering himself invisible; Lü Dongbin, who traveled the world for several centuries, using his sword to slay dragons and other demons; Cao Guojiu, the patron saint of actors; Li Tieguai, represented as a beggar with an iron staff;... Read more about Eight Immortals
Taijiquan, literally “the fist of the great ultimate,” refers to a method of calisthenics with roots in ancient Daoist longevity techniques. By following a series of slow, graceful movements, the practitioner attempts to stimulate and harmonize the circulation of qi (vital energy).
Lu Tung-pin is one of the Baxian (Eight Immortals), who are frequently depicted in Daoist artwork. He is said to have been a reclusive scholar in 8th century China who attained immortality at the age of 50. In his right hand he holds a Daoist fly-brush and across his back is usually slung a sword. Before ascending to heaven, he traveled the world for some four centuries, slaying dragons and aiding those in need.
The Daodejing, literally “The Scripture of the Way and its Power,” has been influential in the philosophical and religious traditions of Daoism. It is traditionally dated to the 6th century BCE, although most scholars believe it was written several centuries later. The text is also known as the Laozi, after its purported author. The Daodejing has been rendered into English dozens of times, making it the most translated of any Chinese work.
According to modern Daoist practitioners, the goal of qigong is to enhance a person’s health by maintaining the proper balance of qi (vital energy) and enhancing its free circulation throughout the body. Techniques for accomplishing this include. meditation, taijiquan, massage, acupuncture, and eating a balanced diet.
There are two interrelated forms of Daoist meditation. In one, the practitioner visualizes the characteristics of various deities while reciting their esoteric names and attributes, thereby gaining immortality and acting as the mediator between heaven and earth. The other form is designed to maintain the body’s balanced circulation of qi (vital energy). The person does so by focusing his or her mental energy so that it directs the inner ch’i from one vital organ to another.
In early Chinese cosmology, Taiyi, the “Supreme One,” was the god of the center of the universe. Since the advent of the Shangqing Daoist tradition in the 4th century, Taiyi has come to especially represent the universe’s primordial unity.
The Lingbao Daoist tradition first arose in 4th century China to provide an indigenous alternative to Buddhism that was open to more general participation than was possible in the rigorous meditative tradition of Shangqing Daoism. To do so, Lingbao priests appropriated many of the scriptures and practices of the Shangqing tradition, but reinterpreted them so that they provided guidance not only for individual cultivation, but rather for universal salvation. Lingbao rituals continue to play an important role in Daoist practice to this day.
Ge Hong (c.283-363 CE) was a Daoist alchemist that took the stance that a perfect alignment with the Way results in a person’s attaining immortality. The most direct means to achieve this goal is to ingest potable gold and other elixirs. Since most people are unable to obtain the secret recipe or ingredients for such potions, however, Ge also recommended a wide range of techniques designed to lengthen the lifespan.
The term dao (or tao) literally the “path,” or “way,” has been employed in Chinese religious and philosophical traditions, including Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. In general usage, the Tao refers to the proper way to act so as to fulfill one’s true role in the world. In Daoism, dao points to the ineffable creative process which gives birth to heaven, earth, and the myriad creatures. The Dao is invisible, inaudible, and subtle, though it is not separate from the sights, sounds and objects of this world. It is that which leads from... Read more about Dao