Let us not be confused
With kaleidoscopic reality.
Using wisdom and courage to act,
Let us not add to the confusion.
The world is a storm of myriad realities, yet we cannot allow ourselves to be swept into the vortex. To do so is to be lost and to lose the true center where all understanding will come. We must act, but in the right way.
Action must be guided by both intellect and experience. We learn from teachers, elders, and others. But we must also test what we learn in the world. It is not enough to simply meditate, and it is not enough just to have theoretical knowledge. We need both in order to be wise.
Only when wisdom, courage, timing, and perseverance are combined can one have a sound basis for initiative. The action must be complete. It must burn clean; it cannot leave any bad ramifications or lingering traces. An act that leaves destruction, resentment, or untidiness in its wake is a poor one. Then initiative is insufficient, and Tao has not been attained.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
Zhenwu, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven (detail)
Ink rubbing of a stele from the Six Harmonies Pagoda, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province
Ming dynasty, Wanli reign, dated 1586
Hanging scroll; ink on paper 148.6 x 67.6 cm
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City;
bequest of Laurence Sickman cat. no. 114
Zhenwu, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven
Like the small statue Zhenwu, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, this is an interesting example of a Taoist god depicted in a Buddhist context. This rubbing, taken from a stone stele (now destroyed) in a Buddhist temple, shows the god descending over swirling waves on a black cloud. His robes and banner, decorated with the stars of the Northern Dipper (Big Dipper), are whipped by the wind, symbolizing his stormlike spiritual power. A bolt of lightning charges his sword. He stands on the back of a tortoise entwined by a snake, symbol of the direction north in the Five Phase1 system. According to legend, when the Perfected Warrior battled the demon kings of the north, the kings caused yin and yang energy to appear as giant tortoises and snakes. Zhenwu then conquered these beasts by stepping on them. Early on, the symbol was used to represent him. Later Ming-dynasty images of Zhenwu often show these two animals at his feet.
The inscription on the right indicates that the stele from which this rubbing was taken was a restoration of an earlier stele that had been rubbed beyond recognition by 1586. This suggests that visitors to the temple had been making rubbings of the god's image for many years.
Zhenwu, the "Perfected Warrior," began as an entwined tortoise and snake, the animal symbol of the north in the Five Phase1 system. This emblem was called the "Dark Warrior" (xuanwu) until the 11th century, when the name was changed to "Perfected Warrior" (zhenwu). From this time onward, Zhenwu assumed human form and rapidly became one of the most important deities in the Taoist pantheon. This was in no small part due to both his identity as a warrior god and his association with the north, the direction from which China was constantly threatened by neighboring people from central Asia. As a result, the Perfected Warrior eventually became known as a protector of the state and imperial family. Sponsorship of Zhenwu by the emperor reached its peak during the Ming dynasty—especially during the reign of the third Ming emperor, who credited the god with helping him seize the throne. A temple to Zhenwu still stands in the northern quadrant of the Ming imperial palace, later used by the rulers of the Qing dynasty.
Due to the popularity of the Perfected Warrior, his worship spread beyond the confines of Taoism. He became an important member of the Buddhist pantheon as well. Zhenwu is still actively worshiped, and his central temple on Mount Wudang in Hubei province remains one of Taoism's most important sacred sites.
1 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 initiative, 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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