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Daoist Philosophy

The Three Teachings

During the Five Dynasties (907-960 CE) and Song periods (960-1279 CE) Confucianism enjoyed a resurgence and Daoists found their place by teaching that principal thinkers of their tradition were Confucian scholars as well.  Most notable among these was Lu Dongbin, a Daoist immortal that many believed was originally a Confucian teacher. 

Daoism became a complete philosophy of life, reaching into religion, social action, and individual health and physical well being.  A huge network of Daoist temples known by the name Dongyue Miao (also called tianqing guan) was created through the empire, with a miao in virtually every town of any size.  The Daoist masters who served these temples were appointed as government officials.  They also gave medical, moral, and philosophical advice, and led religious rituals, dedicated especially to the Lord of the Sacred Mountain of the East named Taishan.  Daoist masters had wide authority.  All this was obvious in the temple iconography.  Taishan was represented as the emperor, the City God (cheng huang) was a high official, and the Earth God was portrayed as a prosperous peasant.  Daoism of this period integrated the Three Teachings (sanjiao) of China: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.  This process of synthesis continued throughout the Song and into the period of the Ming Dynasty. 

Such a wide dispersal of Daoist thought and practice, taken together with its interest in merging Confucianism and Buddhism, eventually created a fragmented ideology.   Into this confusion came Wang Zhe (1113-1170 CE), the founder of Quanzhen (Total Truth) Daoism.  It was Wang's goal to bring the three teachings into a single great synthesis.  For the first time, Daoist teachers adopted monastic forms of life, created monasteries, and organized themselves in ways they saw in Buddhism.  This version of Daoist thought interpreted the classical texts of the DDJ and the Zhuangzi to call for a rejection of the body and material world.  The Quanzhen order became powerful as the main partner of the Mongols (Yuan dynasty), who gave their patronage to its expansion.  Frequently the Mongol emperors favored the Celestial Masters and their leader at Dragon and Tiger mountain in an effort to undermine the power of the Quanzhen leaders.  For example, the Zhengyi (Celestial Master) master of Beijing in the 1220s was Zhang Liusun.  Under patronage he was allowed to build a Dongyue Miao in the city in 1223 and make it the unofficial town hall of the capital.  But by the time of Khubilai Khan (r. 1260-1294) the Buddhists were used against all Daoists.  The Khan ordered all Daoist books except the DDJ to be destroyed in 1281, and he closed the Quanzhen monastery in the city known as Baiyun Guan (White Cloud Monastery). 

When the Ming (1368-1644) dynasty emerged, the Mongols were expulsed, and Chinese rule was restored.  The emperors sponsored the creation of the first complete Daoist Canon (Daozang), which was edited between 1408 and 1445.  This was an eclectic collection, including many Buddhist and Confucian related texts.  Daoist influence reached its zenith.

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