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Laozi and the Origins of Taoism

Taoism traces its origins to Laozi, whose name literally means "elder master." Early historical sources indicate that Laozi was a scholar in the royal archives in the sixth century B.C.; however, these sources are probably based on legends. It is possible that Laozi may not have existed as a historical figure. The philosophical text attributed to him, the Classic of the Way and Its Power, was compiled around the third century B.C., although some of its ideas may have been more than a century old by that time.

Later, in the second century A.D., Laozi was deified as the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power, one of the highest gods of the Taoist pantheon. He was seen as a direct embodiment of the Way itself. It is significant that religious Taoism has no supreme being; each god in the pantheon merely gives a face to the endlessly changing Way.

Heaven and Earth: Taoist Cosmology

Taoist cosmology was shaped by the way in which the Chinese traditionally understood the world. Taoists believe that when the world began, there was only the Tao, a featureless, empty void pregnant with the potential of all things. At this point, the Tao generated swirling patterns of cloudlike energy, called qi (pronounced "chee"). This energy eventually developed two complementary aspects: yin, which is dark, heavy, and feminine, and yang, which is light, airy, and masculine. Yin energy sank to form the earth, yang energy rose to form the heavens, and both energies harmonized to form human beings. Consequently, the human body holds within it the energies of both the earth and the heavens, making it a microcosm of the world. Both yin and yang split further into subdivisions known as the Five Phases, which can be understood through their associations with the elements, seasons, and directions:

greater yang: wood and spring (east)
lesser yang: fire and summer (south)
greater yin: metal and autumn (west)
lesser yin: water and winter (north)
the central phase: earth and the solstices

The central phase represents a balance of yin and yang.

The primary symbols of yin and yang in ancient China were the white tiger and green dragon, also symbols of autumn and spring, respectively. By the Song dynasty, the Taiji diagram, commonly known in the West as "the yin-yang symbol," came to represent yin and yang as well. This diagram illustrates the unity and interdependence of yin and yang within the Tao, with a yin dot in the yang side of the diagram and vice versa. It also represents the idea that yin energy begins to rise from its lowest level when yang is at its height. Likewise yang begins to rise when yin is at its height. This is most evident in the cyclical movements of the seasons: the first signs of spring begin to appear immediately after winter has peaked and begun to subside.

Sacred Mountains and Cults of the Immortals

The ancient Chinese believed that matter and energy (qi) were fundamentally the same. With their forms thrusting up toward the heavens, mountains were the most visible examples of energy converted into matter. As such they have always played an important role in the religious beliefs of the Chinese. Central to the worship of mountains was the belief that there were Five Sacred Peaks, in the north, south, east, west, and center of China, that were directly linked to the heavens. Because of their special energy, mountains were believed to nurture the magical herbs and fungi used in elixirs of immortality. They were also considered fitting places for meditation and spiritual retreat.

Mountains also served as the earthly homes of immortals and gods. One of the most famous early goddesses, the Queen Mother of the West, was believed to dwell on a sacred mountain called Kunlun to the far west of China. She was thought to have appeared to several emperors to teach them the arts of longevity and was worshiped by all levels of society as a divine matriarch. Other immortals were also associated with mountains. In fact, some of the most important Taoist temples devoted to these immortals were actually built on their sacred mountains. Worship of these immortals, including the Queen Mother of the West, continues in Chinese communities today.

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Arts of Necromancy, Astrology, and Medicine, etc.

Joss Sticks Time and Temple Fair

Lao Zi - the Founder of Taoism

Taoist Trinity -- Three Supreme Gods

Local Numen - Gnome

Master Embracing Simplicity

Meeting the Jade Emperor

Purity and Tranquility, Non-Interference

Qiu Chuji - A Noted Figure in the Taoist History

The Queen Mother of the West -- the Wife of the Jade Emperor

Revised Dao Zang in the Ming Dynasty

Daily Etiquettes

Scripture of the Yellow Court

The Rite of Taking Part in Taoism

Grand White -- the Legate of the Jade Emperor

The God that Catches Ghosts - Zhong Kui

The God Most Adored - the Jade Emperor

God of Literature -- Numen of Examinations

The Goddess in the South Area - Mazu

Ge Hong - An Early Distinguished Taoist and Scholar

The Gathering of Receiving Gods

Formation and Spread of Taoism in China

Emperor Zhenwu -- Avatar of People's Worship for Stars and Animals

The Eight Immortals

Dunhuang Taoist Canons


Classic of the Way and its Power

Classic of Great Peace

Canons Left Out of Dao Zang

Book of Secret Correspondence

Bird with Human Head -- the Ninth Maiden of the Dark Heavens

Jidu and Fuzhou

Muslim Neighborhood

Zhuang Zi - One of the Founders of Taoist Thought

Zhaijiao Keyi (III)

Zhaijiao Keyi (II)

Zhaijiao Keyi (I)

Wang Chongyang - the Founder of Quanzhen Sect

Supreme Venerable Sovereigns Book of Commandments for Chanting

Theories of Yellow Emperor and Laozi

Tao Scriptures That Are Often Chanted

An Overview of Taoist Sects

Taoist Music

Wudang Martial Arts

Taoist Canon

Taoist Architecture

Taoism and Social Ethics

Taoism and Medicine

Taoism and Folk Customs

Taoism and Astronomical Calendar

Supernatural Being

The Three Ways Unified and Normalized of the Book of Changes

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