dao spectrum

Chinese characters for spectrum


golden statue of Chinese warriior, see description in full at bottom of page

Pure light is all colors.
Therefore, it has no hue.
Only when singleness is scattered
Does color appear.

When we see pure sunlight streaming down upon us, it is a pure radiance so bright that we can discern neither details nor hues from its source. But when light strikes the gossamer wings of a dragonfly, or when it shines through misty rain, or even when it shines on the surface of our skin, it is polarized into millions of tiny rainbows. The world explodes with color because all the myriad surfaces and textures fracture the light into innumerable, overlapping dimensions.

The same is true of Tao. In its pure state, it embodies everything. Thus, it shows nothing. Just as pure light has all colors yet shows no color, so too is all existence initially latent and without differentiation in Tao. Only when Tao enters our world does it explode into myriad things. We say that everything owes its existence to Tao. But really, these things are only refractions of the great Tao.

Colored light, when mixed together, becomes pure, bright light again. That is why those who follow Tao constantly speak of returning. They unify all areas of their lives and unify all distinctions into a whole. There cannot be diversity within unity. When our consciousness rejoins the true Tao, there is only brightness, and all color disappears.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9
close view
Chinese characters for &quotZhenwu, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven"

Zhenwu, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven (detail)
Chen Yanqing (active early 15th century)
Ming dynasty,
Zhengtong reign,
dated 1439
Gilt bronze h. 36.4 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago; gift of Robert Sonnenschein II cat. no. 103

360˚ view of Zhenwu
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Zhenwu, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven

Small statues like this one, made for personal worship, were common in the Ming dynasty, when veneration of Zhenwu was at its height. They were usually made from porcelain, although more costly materials like bronze and gold were also used. This bronze statue is rare because it bears an inscription on the interior containing not only the name of the patron, but also that of the artist. The inscription also indicates that the patron for whom the statue was made was a follower of Buddhism, suggesting the extent to which worship of the Perfected Warrior had spread by the early 15th century.

The Perfected Warrior is identified by his long, unbound hair and bare feet, as well as by the armor beneath his robes. The armor underscores his role as a martial god, while the long hair and bare feet refer to the legend that he made a long spiritual retreat on Mount Wudang in Hubei province to practice self-cultivation, during which time he was free from social norms. As Zhenwu became increasingly popular, other gods were depicted in a similar manner, however, the inscription clearly identifies this as a statue of Zhenwu. The statue has an imposing formality far beyond its small size, which is energized by the wind-blown edges of the god's robe where it opens to reveal his armor.

the lesson:

Chinese characters for "Divine Manie    "


Zhenwu, the "Perfected Warrior," began as an entwined tortoise and snake, the animal symbol of the north in the Five Phase 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 dynastyóespecially 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.


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


Taoism and Popular Religion


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 spectrum, 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 Mother

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