Let us not follow vulgar leaders
Who exploit the fear of death,
and promise the bliss of salvation.
If we are truly happy,
They will have nothing to offer.
Some leaders use threats to win adherents. They invoke death to force good behavior and to herd people toward paradise.
Others woo with grand promises. If you have no satisfaction, they offer bliss. If you feel inadequate, they offer success. If you are lonely, they offer accpetance.
But if we do not fear death and are happy, what will such leaders have to offer? Spirituality is an organic part of daily life, not something dispensed by a professional. Ture spirituality is liberation, not just from the delusions of reality but fron the delusions of religion as well. If we attain freedom from the fear of death, a sound way of health, and a path of understanding through life, there is happiness and no need for false leaders.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
The Taoist Immortal L¸ Dongbin (detail)
Yuan dynasty, late 13th/early 14th century
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk 110.5 x 44.4 cm
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City;
purchase: Nelson Trust cat. no. 120
The Taoist Immortal L¸ Dongbin
L¸ Dongbin is traditionally believed to have lived in the Tang dynasty. While his historical existence is uncertain, early evidence suggests that his cult had already developed by the late 10th century. One of the most famous stories about L¸ Dongbin, "The Yellow Millet Dream," describes that L¸ traveled to Chang'an (Xi'an) in Shanxi province to pursue a political career and met a strange man in a tavern. The man began to prepare some millet (grain) as a meal for them, and L¸ fell asleep. Upon awakening, L¸ left the man and led a successful career, eventually rising to the rank of prime minister. However, he fell out of favor with the imperial court. After being accused of a serious crime, his possessions were confiscated, he lost his family, and was banished. He soon found himself on the brink of death, trapped in a snowstorm far from civilization . . .
And then L¸ woke up, only to find that his whole life had been nothing more than a dream. In fact, he was still in the tavern with the strange manóthe millet had not even finished cooking! L¸ then realized the fleeting nature of human existence and abandoned his political ambitions, choosing instead to pursue a more spiritual life by learning Inner Alchemy from the strange man.
In Taoism, L¸ is considered an important founder and leader of the Complete Realization sect, which became one of the most important movements in Taoism by the Yuan dynasty. He was considered a master of Inner Alchemy, and many teachings on this subject are attributed to him. However, his popularity extended to a much wider audience than priests and alchemists.
By the time this painting was made, L¸ was one of the best known of all Chinese magicians, and his stories were favored in drama and art. L¸ was also included in the Eight Immortals, increasing his popularity even further. He was the patron saint of merchants, pharmacists, ink-makers, and scholars; was famed for his skill in poetry and calligraphy; and is often depicted wearing a scholar's robes and cap, as in this painting. He was also known as a swordsman: the sword is part of his standard iconography. Here, only the tip of the sword extends below his robes. He was especially endeared to the Chinese because of his passion for wine, an endless source of charm and humor in the dramas devoted to him.
While the highest gods of Taoism appeared spontaneously from the energies underlying all matter, it was also possible for a human being to reach such a state of spiritual purity that he or she was given a place in the hierarchy of celestial beings. In fact, this was the ultimate goal of most Taoist spiritual practices. Humans who became immortal were thus not only gods to be worshiped but also models whose lives were emulated by Taoist practitioners who hoped to become gods themselves.
Such immortals have a long history in Chinese thought that predates the establishment of religious Taoism. They are described as "perfected beings" well before the Han dynasty. The possibilities suggested by their ultimate spiritual perfection laid the foundation for the rise of magicians and religious specialists in the Han dynasty. The system of thought and belief developed by these early figures would form one of the cornerstones of Taoism.
In later times, immortals became popular figures in drama, which was closely related to Taoist ritual and often drew on Taoist legends. The most famous were the Eight Immortals, a loosely connected group of alchemists and spiritual masters believed to be the patriarchs of the Complete Realization sect, one of the major sects from the Yuan dynasty onward. These and other immortals, some of whom predate the Han dynasty, continue to be worshiped today and remain popular subjects in the visual, performing, and literary arts.
Five Phases the relationship of nature's five elements (water, wood, fire, metal, and earth) to various natural cycles and phenomena. In Taoism, each of the five elements corresponds to a time of day, direction, and season. Movement from one phase to the next occurs in defined sequences. For instance, water (night, north, winter) eventually becomes wood (morning, east, spring). The Five Phase system also includes the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (for example, the rat and pig are water signs). The movements of the Five Phases are rooted in the cycles of yin and yang.
Queen Mother of the West the Taoist goddess who rules over the western paradise and is the head of a pantheon of goddesses and female immortals. In her garden, she grows the peaches of immortality.
Northern and Southern dynasties (386—589) long period of political disunity after the fall of the Han dynasty. During this time, China was divided into a number of smaller kingdoms. The period is also known as the Six Dynasties.
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.
Jade Emperor chief of the pantheon of popular gods incorporated into Taoism
Five Sacred Peaks five sacred mountains located along the five directions (north, south, east, west, and center) that occupy powerful places in Taoist geography. The sacred mountains are not actually single peaks; rather they are networks of peaks, cliffs, gorges, hills, ravines, etc. To communicate with the deities on these mountains, emperors ordered the construction of important Taoist temples on each peak. Taoists also believe that immortals inhabit the Five Sacred Peaks. On their slopes grow the magical mushrooms that bestow immortality.
yin and yang two opposing types of energy or contrasting forces. Yin is described as yielding, passive, negative, dark, and female. Yang is dynamic, assertive, positive, light, and male. The two energies are opposite and yet mutually dependent. Yin may become yang and vice versa, just as day becomes night, cold becomes hot, and the reverse. The behavior of yin and yang describes the structure of any event or thing. It may be said that their dynamic relationship describes the operation of the Tao in its cycles of creation, and that their alternating movement underlies the structure of everything in the universe. The concept of yin and yang is conveyed by the tiger and dragon and by the Taiji symbol.
THE TAOIST RENAISSANCE
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 RENAISSANCE
From its very beginnings, religious Taoism has made a special point to distinguish itself from popular religion, especially local cults that relied on blood sacrifice as the primary means of worship. At the same happiness, Taoism developed from popular religious beliefs and practices and has been influenced by different regional traditions throughout its history. Popular religion has been an important source of new gods, and the orthodox Taoist establishment has frequently turned to popular traditions to renew its own spiritual doctrines.
The relationship between Taoism and popular religion, in particular the incorporation of popular gods into the official Taoist pantheon, became increasingly subject to official rules and procedures in the Song dynasty. Absorption of a local deity into the official Taoist pantheon meant imperial recognition of the deity's followers, with the political security that this recognition entailed. Imperial recognition could also provide increased economic opportunity for cults that centered around merchants and guilds. After the Song dynasty, Taoism and popular traditions often maintained a mutually beneficial relationship. Taoism was able to increase its appeal and expand its pantheon by absorbing popular deities, while local cults were able to avoid persecution and reach a wider audience through the elevation of their gods to national status.
© 2000 AND many thanks to the Chicago Institute of Art
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