Crimson light through pine shadows,
Setting sun settling in the ocean.
Night follows the setting sun,
Day follows the fleeing moon.
All too often, we tend to think of absorption as a static thing: Water is absorbed into a sponge, and there it stays. But true absorption is a total involvement in the evolution of life without hesitation or contradiction. In nature there is no alienation. Everything belongs.
Only human beings hold ourselves aloof from this process. We have our civilization, our personal plans, our own petty emotions. We divorce ourselves from process, even as we yearn for love, companionship, understanding, and communion. We constantly defeat ourselves by questioning, asserting ourselves at the wrong times, or letting hatred and pride cloud our perceptions. Our alienation is self-generated.
In the meantime, all of nature continues its constant flow. We need to let ourselves go, enter freely into the process of nature, and become absorbed in it. If we integrate ourselves with that process, we will find success. Then the sequence of things will be as evident as the coming of the sun and the moon, and everything will be as it should be.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
Taoist Official of Water (detail)
Traditionally attributed to Wu Daozi (active 8th century)
Southern Song dynasty, first half of 12th century
Hanging scroll; ink, colors, and gold on silk
125.5 x 55.9 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
Special Chinese and Japanese Fund
cat. no. 71
Taoist Official of Water
This is the final painting of the Southern Song triptych depicting the Three Officials. (The first two are the Taoist Official of Heaven and Taoist Official of Earth.) In it, the Official of Water travels through the rough waves of a churning ocean. He rides on a dragon, a traditional symbol of rain, while two attendants ride on sea turtles. Because of their unusual longevity, these turtles represented long life and divinity. The Official of Water is further accompanied by several energetic figures, many of whom are wearing armor and carrying weapons. These details emphasize the god's role as a judge, surrounded by those who can enforce his will. In the bottom right of the painting, the roofs of submerged palace buildings can be seen. These may represent either the palace of the underwater Dragon King or the dwelling of the Official of Water himself. In the sky above the ocean is the Duke of Thunder, a winged, animal-headed god surrounded by a circle of giant drums, which his servants strike to create thunder.
The dark, wet ink used to paint the clouds around the Duke of Thunder, paired with the vigorous movement of the waves, suggest that the sky and ocean are about to burst into a violent storm. This concern for atmosphere is characteristic of the best Song-dynasty landscape painting.
TOMORROW WE BEGIN A NEW STUDY: THE TAOIST RENAISSANCE
R E V I E W3 Three Purities (Three Clarities) the highest deities in Taoism, they reside over the three greatest heavenly realms. Their names are the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning, the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure, and the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power.
T A O I S M A N D T H E A R T S O F C H I N A
THE TAOIST CHURCH
The Taoist Pantheon
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of deities in Taoism. The first formed spontaneously out of the primordial energies at the beginning of the world. These are the highest gods of Taoism who hold titles like "Celestial Worthy" or "Emperor." These gods hold court in celestial paradises and govern a complex hierarchy of lesser gods similar to the hierarchy of emperor and officials on earth. Many of the most fundamental gods of this category developed between the second and sixth centuries A.D. and were consolidated into a well-defined pantheon by the Tang dynasty. Among them are the Three Purities3 (including Laozi) and the Three Officials. As pure embodiments of the Way, these Taoist gods are abstract figures defined more by their rank than by their personal mythology. They do not accept sacrifices of food or alcohol and can only be contacted through official requests written by Taoist priests.
The second category of Taoist deities consists of human beings who—through learning, self-discipline, alchemy, or other means—have purified themselves of mortal imperfections and become gods, a transformation often described as "ascending to the heavens in broad daylight."
© many thanks to the Chicago Institute of Art
Three Officials a triad of Taoist deities in charge of heaven, earth, and the waters under the earth. The Three Officials record people's good and bad deeds and determine their life span and destiny.
Southern Song dynasty (1127—1279) the period within the Song dynasty during which invasions from the north and west forced the move to a southern capital, Hangzhou. Art during the Southern Song period is characterized by lyrical, intimate landscape painting and ceramic works noted for their quiet subtlety.
classic of the Way and Its Power (Daode jing) (also spelled Tao Te Ching) the earliest-known text of the Taoist tradition, which is said to have been authored by the legendary figure Laozi. The text is actually a compilation of various writings collected over the course of generations. It may have assumed its current form by the third or fourth century B.C. The Classic of the Way and Its Power includes poetic passages, sayings, fragments of political texts, and passages intended for recitation. It served as the foundation for both philosophical and religious Taoism.
White Cloud Monastery (Baiyun Guan) one of the most famous Taoist monasteries in China. The temple, located in Beijing, was
first built in the Tang dynasty and assumed its present name when it was rebuilt in 1394 during the Ming dynasty.
Zhang Daoling (also known as Celestial Master Zhang) Taoist leader, from the second century A.D., who converted the philosophical ideas of Taoism into a popular religion. He is said to have written approximately 24 works of Taoist scripture, cured the sick through incantation, and taught people to confess their wrong deeds. The image of Zhang Daoling riding a tiger became popular for expelling insects, curing diseases, and protecting the family from calamity.
Way of the Celestial Masters the first formal Taoist religious organization, founded in the late Han dynasty by Taoist master Zhang Daoling, who claimed to have received teachings from the deified Laozi. Members of the Celestial Masters sect addressed the spiritual needs of the community. Communal rites were performed regularly, especially during seasonal changes. The Celestial Masters sect was also responsible for absorption, which required the recording of misdeeds on a paper addressed to one of the Three Officials (heaven, earth, or water). The movement remains active in China to this day.
numinous having spiritual, mysterious, or holy qualities
hierarchic scale an artist's method of indicating the importance of individuals through relative size, regardless of actual dimensions. Persons of lesser importance are thus depicted smaller in size in relation to their superiors.
Complete Realization sect a Taoist monastic order founded in northern China around 1160. The sect combines the teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. The goal of the sect's followers was to attain immortality by perfectly realizing the Tao in themselves. Both male and female members of this sect practiced a strict monastic lifestyle. It survives today as one of the two major sects of Taoism, and its headquarters is the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing.
religious Taoism a term used to define Taoism as an organized, institutionalized religion as opposed to the original philosophical tradition. Religious Taoism developed between the second and fifth centuries A.D. and built on the earlier philosophical foundations. Unlike philosophical Taoism, religious Taoism incorporated new ritual practices and religious institutions, established a priesthood, defined the Taoist Canon, and created a pantheon of deities.
Taoist Canon the collected scriptures of Taoism, systematically catalogued by imperial decree for the first time in the fifth century A.D. The present Taoist Canon dates to the 15th century.
Copyright © 2000, The Art Institute of Chicago.
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