dao optimism

Chinese characters for optimism

scroll showing religious figure

Clearing blue sky,
A promise in bare branches.
In winter, there are sunny days,
In adulthood, childhood can return.

In winter, all things appear dead or dormant. The rain and snow seem incessant, the nights long. Then one day, the sky clears to a brilliant blue. The air warms. A mist rises from the earth and the perfume of water, clay, and moss drifts through the air. Gardeners are seen preparing new stock, though they are only bare branches and a grey root ball. The people are optimistic: They know that there will be an end to the cold.

In adulthood, we often see responsibilities as something dreadful. Why should we dig the ground when the weather is disagreeable? We see activities only as obligations, and we strain against our fate. But there is a joy to working in harmony with the proper time. When we do things at just the right occasion and those efforts bear fruit later, the gratification is tremendous.

There was an old man who began an orchard upon his retirement. Everyone laughed at him. Why plant trees? They told him that he would never live to see a mature crop. Undaunted, he planted anyway, and he has seen them blossom and has eaten their fruit. We all need that type of optimism. That is the innocence and hope of childhood.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

Chinese characters for "Celestial Worthy of Numinous [spiritual, holy, mysterious] treasure"
closer view of face
Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure (detail)
Early Qing dynasty, 17th/18th century
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk 160 x 80 cm
White Cloud Monastery2
(Baiyun Guan), Beijing cat. no. 66

Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure
This and the following painting, the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power, were originally part of a triptych depicting the Three Purities, the highest gods of Taoism. Such a triptych1 would have been made to serve as the central object of worship in the most revered place in a Taoist temple.

This painting shows the second of the Three Purities3, the Celestial Worthy of Numinous4 Treasure. His name comes from the scriptures written in response to the growing influence of Buddhism in the early fifth century. These writings eventually formed the basis for the second section of the Taoist Canon, which is dedicated to the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure. Like the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning, he is considered a source of Taoist knowledge and scripture. He is often described as the attendant of the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning, who gives him the task of revealing the scriptures to lesser gods and humans. As such, he is the principal disseminator of Taoist teachings. He is depicted here sitting on a throne in his celestial realm and holding his identifying attribute, a scepter in the shape of a mushroom - called a ruyi. The hierarchic scale5 of his two attendants emphasizes the superiority of this lofty god.


the symbol of yin and yang, in modern art form

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


1 triptych a work of art composed of three panels or parts, usually a center section and one wing on each side. The three sections often share one common subject or theme.

2 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.

3 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.

4 numinous having spiritual, mysterious, or holy qualities

5 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.

Here are some reminders of what we have already studied:

ORDINATION SCROLL OF EMPRESS ZHANGTAOIST RITUAL SWORDincense Burner with Li TieguaiCelestial worthy of the primordal beginning

click on each to revisit that day's meditation and lesson!

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