Organizer and Chair: Thomas H. Peterson, Indiana University
At a time when some suggest that a formal Taoist religion did not materialize in China before the fourth century CE, this panel takes a broad historic view of perhaps the earliest organized Taoist movement, the Celestial Masters. The T'ai-p'ing ching, a text likely originating in the Han Dynasty, records healing rituals that were important to the movement, and so provides early evidence of the existence of Celestial Master concerns. The Celestial Master Hsiang-erh commentary to the Lao-tzu presents the Tao in anthropomorphized terms, and in so doing is able to forge a connection between the personal intimacy of spiritual revelation, and the social practices associated with ritual and moral precepts. This text draws closer what we often see as the disparate fields of philosophical and religious Taoism, suggesting a strong early role for the Celestial Masters in asserting a coherent Taoist world view.
The texts of Celestial Master Taoism's apparent successor, the Upper Clarity Taoists of the Chin period, point to a continued Celestial Master presence, one substantial enough to elicit a competitive reaction from the Upper Clarity movement. The Celestial Master Taoist Tu family may have maintained a continuity of religious tradition down through the Five-Dynasties period. Such influence appears again in the Ming, as Celestial Master Taoism took on talismanic and salvation practices, representing a move towards popularization. The Celestial Master movement has gone through many changes, but nonetheless represents a remarkable continuity of tradition over the course of Chinese history.
A Study of the Religious Ritual of Repentance (Shou-kuo) in the Way of
Celestial Masters and its Relationship to the T'ai-p'ing Ching
Chi-tim Lai, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The objective of this presentation is to explore in a wider historical context the religious meaning of the "repentance of sin," shou-kuo, which was one of the essential methods of healing the sick practiced by the Celestial Master Taoists.
Generally speaking. it is known that shou-kuo was believed by the Taoist sect to be an important healing method, since sickness was seen as caused by spirits and demons on the basis of one's failings. Despite such general understanding, the study of the complexity of the religious practice and the meaning of shou-kuo, (as well as its significance for Chinese religions), is not yet sufficient. The author believes that shou-kuo can be further explained through revisiting chapters 110, 111 and 114 of the T'ai-p'ing ching (Scripture of Great Peace). These three chapters in particular record some very important information on how, which and why individuals felt eager and emotionally driven to express the repentance of their sins before the Celestial Master gods.
Therefore, as a special religious genre yet to receive adequate attention in the study of the Taoist world view, an in-depth analysis of shou-kuo in these three chapters of the T'ai-p'ing ching should widen our understanding of the uniqueness of Celestial Master religious practice.
Metaphysics and Practice in the Xiang er Commentary to the Lao zi
Allen Singleton, University of Chicago
One of the most striking aspects of the Xiang er commentary to the Lao zi is the understanding of the Dao that it articulates. In this early Celestial Master commentary, the Dao is understood in broadly anthropomorphic terms. It is understood to have emotions, desires, to act in human-like ways, and to have a body. This personalized, embodied understanding of the Dao is one of the features of the commentary that creates an intimate connection between metaphysics and practice. On the level of moral practice it helps to provide a strong link between the character of the Dao and specific moral precepts and admonitions. On the level of physiological and religious practices it creates an ontological link between the Dao and practitioners of Celestial Master Daoism that provides a justification for these forms of practice.
Understanding the Xiang er conception of the Dao and the broader relationship between abstract metaphysical principles and concrete religious practices offers a valuable means of understanding both this commentary and some of the distinctive features of early Celestial Master Daoism. In addition, this type of approach may offer a means of rethinking the relationship between pre-Han, or philosophical, Daoism and later religious Daoism.
Questing for the Dao: A Comparison of Three Forms of Late Han Daoist Mediation
Thomas Michael, University of Chicago
In this presentation, I will look at three different forms which Daoist meditational practices took in the period of the late Han dynasty. These three forms are represented in the separate traditions known as the southern shamanistic tradition, the Tianshi or Celestial Master tradition, and the Laojun tradition. I will have each of these traditions speak for themselves through a presentation of three representative texts which are fundamental to each of their respective traditions, namely the Yuanyou (Distant Roaming) poem from the Chuci (Songs of the South) for the shamanistic tradition, the Xianger commentary to the Daodejing for the Tianshi tradition, and the Laojun Zhongjing (The Central Scripture of Lord Lao) for the Laojun tradition.
In order to speak of these texts, I will first of all present what I find to be the unifying thread by which these three traditions can be called Daoist, a three-part ritual structure that begins with an intercourse with the deities, moves to a fusion of the deities, and culminates in an identification with the Dao. I will show how these three traditions progress through this ritual structure in three significantly different fashions, the shamanistic tradition through a meditational practice of roaming through the cosmos, the Tianshi tradition through a meditational practice seeking moral identification with the world, and the Laojun tradition through a cosmicification of the body. In establishing this, I will attempt to indicate a phenomenology of early Daoist meditational traditions, and to locate a few significant consequences that these forms were to have on the history of Daoist religion.
Celestial Master Incursions in the South: The Case of the Du Family
Thomas Peterson, Indiana University
Scholars such as Michael Strickmann have suggested that southern-based Upper Clarity Taoism's Declaration of the Perfected favors southerners in its depiction of the afterlife over recently transplanted northerners. In challenging this notion, the present study focuses on a passage from the Declaration, concerning the Wu Dynasty figure Du Xue. The Du family from the Chang'an region had moved south early enough to be considered southern by the time of the Declaration's writing. Why then is Du Xue accorded the lowly position of "underground attendant" in his post-life existence?
Study of other figures mentioned in the same passage suggests that Taoist patronage did not necessarily secure comfortable position in the Upper Clarity afterlife any more than did southern status. In the case of the ruling Sun family of the Wu Dynasty, a simple correlation between high political status in this life and in the afterlife appears to be at work.
Taoistic affiliation in the Du family lineage is traced from Zhou legends down to the Six-Dynasties period in question. A connection is so made between Du Xue and one Du Jiong, a flamboyant Celestial Master priest living at the time and in the region of Upper Clarity Taoism's founding. It is suggested that competition for the sympathy of the religious community is the main reason that the Declaration casts an ancestor of Du Jiong in a bad light.
This study finally suggests a connection between these Dus and the Five-Dynasties Period Taoist author Du Guangting.
The Taoist Rituals Reflected in the Chin P'ing Mei
Richard G. Wang, University of Chicago
In the Ming, the Cheng-i (Right Unity) or Celestial Master sect of Taoism represented a syncretism of the talismanic sects and the sects of law and ordinance, which refer to ritual. The Cheng-i Taoism pays particular attention to benefiting the age and procuring salvation for the living, that is, its sociality. The Taoism of the Ming was characterized by further secularization and popularization, with the result that the talismanic and ritual Taoism came to permeate folk society more than ever. The novel Chin P'ing Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) as a mirror describes the town life of the late Ming, including the lively Taoist rituals and activities. The Taoist activities reflected in the novel are almost without exception associated with the ritual or talismanic magic of the Cheng-i Taoism. These rituals are characterized by complete performance of the liturgy. I would like in this paper to analyze the Taoist refining-translation ceremony for the salvation of Li P'ing-erh's soul in Chapter 66, that is, the Great Purgation of the Yellow Register. In this display of the Taoist ritual, however, the novel demonstrates how Hsi-men Ch'ing abuses the real purport of Taoism and how he violates the boundary of social hierarchy. This is probably the real problem of the Taoist activities in folk society at that time.