dao skills

skills Chinese characters for skills

round silk showing three women, special light about it

Zither, chess, book, painting, sword.
These symbolize classical skill.

There was once a wanderer who cared nothing for fame. although he had many chances for position, he continued to search for teachers who could help him master five things: zither, chess, book, painting, and sword.

The zither gave him music, which expressed the soul. Chess cultivated strategy and a response to the actions of another. Books gave him academic education. Painting was the exercise of beauty and sensitivity. Sword was a means for health and defense.

One day a little boy asked the wanderer what he would do if he lost his five things. At first the wanderer was frightened, but he soon realized that his zither could not play itself, the chess board was nothing without players, a book needed a reader, brush and ink could not move on their own accord, and a sword could not be unsheathed without a hand. He realized that his cultivation was not merely for the acquisition of skills. It was a path t the innermost part of his being.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9
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Sun Jue
Female Immortals (detail)
Ming dynasty, dated 1410 (?)
Fan painting; ink and colors on silk
25 x 23.3 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art;
purchased, museum funds cat. no. 127

The Taoist Immortal L¸ Dongbin
The Taoist Immortals

Chinese Characters for "female immortal many"

Female Immortals

Although Taoist immortals were commonly depicted as officials or scholars, they could also be shown as wild, even frightening, nature spirits who lived free of social norms. This is because Taoist practitioners often viewed social obligation as a hindrance to spiritual pursuits and were known to seek retreat in the mountains, far from civilization. These three female immortals walk on a remote mountain path. Barefoot, they are dressed in skirts made of leaves and jackets made of grass. One of them grasps a traveler's walking stick and two wear backpacks. The goddess on the right carries bananas, twigs, and cloth-wrapped bundles in her pack, while the one on the left carries a painted fan, a parasol with mushrooms, a double gourd, a skull, herbs, and tassels in her more elaborate pack. Many of these items have a symbolic significance. The medicinal mushrooms and herbs can be eaten for long life, and the double gourd, which represents the joining of yin and yang, is frequently carried by Taoist immortals.

These figures resemble early depictions of the female immortal Magu, magu "help lady" and may, in fact, represent her and two companions. Magu, whose name means "Hemp Lady," is usually shown with fingernails like talons, her identifying attribute. Her legend dates back to at least the fourth century A.D., and she is best known for her longevity. In later times, her image became popular on birthday presents for women.

This work includes an inscription that suggests it was painted by an artist named Sun Jue.

Chinese Characters for "female immortal many"


Chinese characters for "taoist immortals"



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.


immortals in Taoism, individuals who have achieved eternal life through perfect realization of the Tao. One may become immortal through meditation or Inner Visualization, physical training and breathing techniques, the ingestion of elixirs, or moral behavior. Taoists believe that immortals dwell in the heavens, in caverns, on mountains, and in other magical paradises.

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 symbol of yin and yang, in modern art form



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 skills, 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

Here are some reminders of what we have already studied in this section:

MARSHAL WENThe Star-Lords of Good Fortune, Emolument, and LongevitySAINTLY MOTHER OF THE DIVINE EASTERN PEAKSThe Dipper MotherZhenwu, the Perfected WarriorZhenwuL, Dongbin

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

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