Beginnings and History
The history of Daoism can befittingly be separated into four periods: Proto-Daoism, Classical Daoism, Modern Daoism and Contemporary Daoism. The first period, Proto-Daoism, spans the time from antiquity all the way to the 2nd century C.E. The intention behind this period being called "proto-Daoism" is that we have no information of any official Daoist religious organizations at this time. The classic works that were inscribed in the course of this period, the Daode jing and the Zhuangzi in particular, they were highly significant upon the flourishing of the classical Daoist tradition. Many textbooks on world religions still take this period as representing the essence of Daoism. This is simply an dull-witted and ambiguous interpretation of the m, entire history of Daoism. The second period, that of classical Daoist religion, starts in 142 C.E. when Zhang Daoling established the Way of the Celestial Masters, also known as the Way of Orthodox Unity, the first successful organized Daoist religious system. Daoist priests today claim to be ordained in a lineage that stretches back to this original founder. Two other important movements developed later during this period of classical Daoist religion: the Way of Highest Clarity (Shangqing Daoism) and the Way of Numinous Treasure (Lingbao Daoism). This period, between the 2nd and the 7th centuries can be called the classical period because scholars of Daoism look back to this time (known also as the medieval period of Chinese history) as the era in which many Daoist practices, texts and rituals initially took shape. Also during this period, Buddhism was brought to China by missionaries from India and Tibet. Buddhist ideas and practices were absorbed into Daoism (and vice-versa) but there were also periods of intense rivalry between Daoists and Buddhists. The classical period of Daoism ends with the Tang dynasty (618-906), one of the high-points of Chinese civilisation from the point of view of the development of art and culture. During the Tang dynasty Daoism became fully integrated with the imperial court system particularly under the reign of the Xuanzong Emperor (713-756). During this time Daoism functioned as the official religion of the imperial court and exerted complete supremacy over Buddhism. The period of modern Daoism begins with the Song Dynasty (960-1279), during which time the boundaries between elite Daoist religion, Buddhism, and local cults begin to be increasingly blurred. Based on the syncretism that began in this period, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate out Daoism as a religious category from the popular Chinese religious culture as it functions on the ground. In terms of elite Daoism, however, the most significant event was the founding of the Way of Complete Perfection (Quanzhen dao) by Wang Zhe (1113-1170). The Way of Complete Perfection is the major monastic form of Daoism that exists to this day alongside the more community-based priesthood of the celestial masters. The Way of Complete Perfection is devoted to the practice of internal alchemy, in which the energies of the body are refined through breathing and other forms of meditation into ever subtler forms, thus promoting longevity and even, in a few rare cases, the possibility of totally transcending the ordinary finitudes of human existence. The Way of Complete Perfection is also marked by its aim to "harmonise the three teachings" of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, and became highly influential under the Mongol Yuan dynasty after Wang Zhe's disciple Qiu Changchun (1148-1227) underook a three-year journey to the court of the Mongol warlord, Chinggis Khan. Despite the rhetoric of harmonization, further acrimonious debates with Buddhists developed at this time, and when the Daoists lost a series of these debates in1281 many Daoist texts were burned. Despite this setback, Daoism flourished during the subsequent Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and the year 1445 saw the...
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