Notes on Taoism

© Copyright 1991/2006 by Timothy Conway

Our knowledge of the ancient Chinese spirituality known as Taoism begins with two texts, the Lao-tzu or Tao Te Ching (“Book of the Tao/Way and Its Power”; Pinyin transliteration renders this Dao De Jing) and the Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi) both named after famous sages.

Considerable excerpts from both works can be read here (click on link).

The former work, the Tao Te Ching, is said to have been authored by Lao-tzu (“Old Master”) in the 6th century BCE, but some of its political vocabulary dates just after sage Mencius, d.289 BCE. A few scholars feel the Tao Te Ching to be the work of several writers, but scholars Izutsu, Karlgren, Ellen Chen, et al. argue it was a single sage who wrote the majority of its 81 short chapters. Half the text consists in rhyming lines likely of an earlier date. Chuang-tzu, historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien, and other writers of old all quote from the Lao-tzu/Tao Te Ching and regard Lao-tzu/Lao-tan as a wise elder who taught sage Confucius (551-479) the humble way of true spirituality. As for Chuang-tzu, he is surely an historical figure (c369-286), and the first 7 of the 33 books of the Chuang-tzu are from his own pen.

These two works, the Tao Te Ching and Chuang-tzu, comprise the most ancient strata of Taoism known to us. They exalt the mystery, simplicity and vast intelligence of the primal, humble Tao, and emphasize that we must empty out, die to self/personal “face,” and thereby humbly return to the “chaos”-like (hun-tun) Tao-Source in full consciousness, thereafter letting spontaneous, non-striving action (wu-wei) flow from the Tao.

Two other important early Taoist works are the Huai-nan-tzu, the record of talks of eight great Taoist adepts at the court of Prince Liu An, composed approximately 150 years after the Chuang-tzu, and the Wen-tzu, composed circa 100 BCE after Taoism went underground with the ascendancy of a rigid Confucian ideology. The Lieh-tzu, 3rd-4th century CE, with some earlier material, is a far less profound Taoist work, a collection of folk tales with a philosophy alternating between mere fatalism and hedonism (the Yang-chu chapter).

These five Taoist texts comprise the “contemplative,” “mystical,” “philosophical” Taoism, or Tao-chia, which appeals to individuals with highly refined, intuitive natures who don’t find complete fulfillment in the Confucian ideal of righteousness and a controlled family and social order. Tao-chia inspired a Neo-Taoism (hsüan-hsüeh) metaphysical movement of the Wei-Chin dynasties (220-420 CE), led by Wang Pi (d.249), Ho Yen (d.249) and Kuo-Hsiang (d.312) against a Confucianism at that point grown excessively scholastic.

Meanwhile, more popular, organized forms of “religious Taoism” or Tao-chiao were emerging in the late Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) and subsequent Wei-Chin era, based on the Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, et al., but more strongly patterned after the activity of the court magicians (fang-shih), involving shamanic, yogic, spiritualist and magic practices. (Henri Maspero and Izutsu think some of these practices pre-dated Chuang-tzu and Lao-tzu in the southern Ch’u state.) The earliest and most prominent of these religious Taoist schools were the theocratic, liturgical, magical Meng-wei Heavenly Master Taoism (also known as Wu-tou-mi “Five Pecks of Rice” Taoism), founded in the mid-2nd century CE by the long-lived Chang Tao-ling and his son and grandson, later headquartered on Lung-hu Shan/Mountain in Kiangsi province; T’ai-p’ing Supreme Peace Taoism, founded by Chang Chüeh in 2nd century, based on repentance of sins, healing ceremonies and the book on commanding spirits miraculously gotten by the semi-legendary Yò Chi; the equally popular Ling-pao Magic Jewel Taoism (4th/5th century CE, liturgical, influenced by Buddhism, emphasizes fasting and reliance on celestial deities), founded by Ko-hsòan, Hsu Ling-ch’i, et al; and Shang-ch’ing Highest Purity Taoism (elite, monastic, meditative, and mystical, based especially on Chuang-tzu and the Yellow Court Canon), founded in 370 CE by Yang Hsi and the two Hsu’s, father and son, atop Mao Shan (near Nanjing).

Through the Sui-Tang dynastic era (581-905), when Taoism flourished under state patronage, other religious Taoist schools emerged, focusing on repentance, healing, invoking of spirits, use of talismans, magical formulae, etc. From 907-1368 religious Taoism assimilated the rise of a Buddhist-influenced, ascetic, contemplative Ch’ing-wei tao Tantric “Thunder Magic” sect from Hua Shan and Lungmen Shan in west China, a martial Pei-chi tao or Pole Star Taoism from Wu-tang Shan in Hupei province, and a sorcery-oriented Taoism of central and south China, Shen-hsiao Taoism, founded by Lin Ling-su c1116. All these religious Taoist schools more-or-less combined in the early 1200s to comprise a common Taoist legacy, Cheng-i (Zhengyi) Way of Right Unity Taoism, headed by priests (usually married) who practice healing via the invoking of spirits (shen), releasing of ghosts/demons (kuei) (an often quite draining work said to decrease the overall lifespan of the priest), recitation of magical formulae, utilization of talismans (fu-lu), sacred water (fu-shui), sacred dance (yü-yen), ascetic practices and sublimation of energies.

Cheng-i (Zhengyi) religious Taoism is the most visible, colorful brand of Taoism in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and areas of China today, featuring the Black Head Taoist priests and the more heterodox Red Head priests, the former performing Chiao "cosmic renewal" rituals for living and deceased souls, while the latter do the Chiao ritual only for the living. As explained by Michael Saso, there are three main forms of Chiao ritual, lasting 3 or 5 days, each involving spirit-contact, blessing and healing of humans, and, for the Black Head priests, releasing of souls from hell. (Note: the priests, who often perform a kind of shamanic function in “traveling to the Prior Heavens” during meditation, are to be distinguished from the tang-ki mediums who are possessed by spirits.) There are nine grades of religious Taoist attainment (the 1st is highest); with grade 6 comes the ability to summon spirits for the Chiao rite of cosmic renewal. The power of ordaining priests and discerning the spir-its is given to the Celestial Master (t’ien-shih) of Lung-hu Shan mountain, a successor of Chang Tao-ling. The 63rd Celestial Master, General Yang-sen, was evicted from Lung-hu Shan in 1931 by the communists and came to Taiwan in the 1950s; he died in 1977 at age 98. A distant relative is the 64th Celestial Master.

Next to Cheng-i Taoism, the most important school of Taoism is the Ch’üan-chen (Quanzheng) sect, or Complete Reality school, which integrated Ch’an Buddhist and neo-Confucian elements with religious Taoism and adopted the simplicity, naturalness and non-obsessiveness of the early contemplative Taoism, and their brand of “returning to the Source” and meditating on the open, creative emptiness of the Tao. This Complete Reality school looks to the legendary Chung-li Ch’üan and his disciple Ancestor Lü Yen (9th-10th century) as its founders. Ch’üan-chen Complete Reality Taoism split into a Southern “dual cultivation” school, founded by Lü’s disciple Chang Po-tuan (983-1082) (this school finally became extinct), and a Northern “Pure Serenity” school, founded by Wang Che/Wang Ch’un-yang (1113-71) and his 7 adepts (in-cluding renowned female adept, Sun Pu Erh). This Northern Ch’üan-chen Taoism, headquartered at Pai-yün Kuan (“Monastery of the White Clouds,” built in 739 CE) in Beijing, is still being practiced in many parts of China today, from the cities to the mountains, and is becoming well-known in the West through the translations of many works by Thomas Cleary. (See also Bill Porter/Red Pine’s book on Taoist hermits.)

Japanese and Communist Chinese forces destroyed much of Taoism in China in the 1930s and 1940s, but it survived and flourished in Taiwan and, to some extent, in Hong Kong. After the heavily oppressive Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Taoism (and other faiths) have resurged in mainland China. A recent report tells of 1,700 active Taoist temples-monasteries in China, with 26,000 priestly/monastic initiates, a third of them women. Important Taoist practice areas and/or pilgrimage spots in China are Tai Shan (south of Jinan in Shandong province), Hua Shan (in Shangxi east of Xi’an), Mao Shan (near Nanjing), and the aformentioned Lung-hu Shan (in Kiangsi), Pai-yün Kuan monastery in Beijing, and Wu-tang Shan (in W. Hupei, near Shensi border). A number of old masters still teach in these places and in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea.

Ch’i-kung (Pinyin: qigong) energy practices based on Taoist and quasi-Taoist disciplines became widely, wildly popular in China and elsewhere in the 1980s, practiced by some 100 million Chinese, with many charismatic leaders; the Chinese Communist Party began to suppress it in the 1990s, heavily so from 1999 on.

Ni Hua Ching, Yan Xin, Mantak Chia, Dr. Baolin Wu, Moy Lin-shin, Hou Shu-Ying, Da Liu, and Fu Yüan Ni are some of the Taoist and/or ch’i-kung adepts living in America whose teachings on meditative and yogic Taoism are easily available, and gaining many students.

The Taoist scriptural canon is the huge Tao-tsang, comprising c200,000 pages divided into three major sections (tung), seven subsections in all, of more than 1,600 books. They address many topics, not just spirituality, including botany, astronomy, etc. Most of these works use arcane, multi-level symbolic language and alchemical terms. Many of the works were purportedly revealed by the deities (shen) to humans, in other words, they were channeled works. The Tao-tsang began to be compiled in the 8th century and a definitive version was printed in the early 12th century.

Taoist practitioners of all schools engage in purifying and strengthening the “Three Ones” (san-i), the three aspects of primordial Life-Force: spirit (shen), breath-energy (ch’i), and sexual essence (ching). This is achieved via a host of techniques: 1) meditation practices like “sitting-forgetting” (tso-wang, discussed by Chuang-tzu and Lao-tzu, et al), “emptying” (as discussed by Lao Tzu and outlined in the Yellow Court Canon scripture of Mao-shan, attributed to Wei Po-yang and inspired by lady Taoist Wei Hua-ts’un), the Zen-like Ch’üan-chen meditation of “returning to the Source” and “mind abiding nowhere,” and the many visualization exercises of religious Taoism; 2) internal alchemy (nei-tan) through orbital breathing (t’ai hsi) and other breathing practices (fu-ch’i, hsing-ch’i, and lien-ch’i), and various physical and energy-body exercises such as tao-yin, hsi-sui-ching, i-chin-ching, pa-tuan-chin, t’ai-chi ch’üan, hsing-i-chüan, kung-fu, and ch’i-kung; and 3) the “bedroom art” sexual energy practices (fang-chung shu) wherein male and female “join and exchange energies”; but these sexual practices are actually heterodox for the celibate monastics of the Ch’üan-chen, Shang-ch’ing and Three Mountain Alliance schools of Taoism who evolve to grades higher than grade six. Monks/nuns strengthen and purify ching entirely on an inner level, without actual sexual intercourse. These monastics and many other Taoists also practice vegetarianism as a way of purifying and strengthening the three life forces.

The goal for all true Taoists is ming, Illumination or Enlightenment, or wu-wei chih-Tao, “the non-striving Way of Transcendence,” and a life of healing and blessing sentient beings with the power (te) of Tao.

Yu Tao Ho-i—“Let us join as one with the Tao.”

BASIC TERMS: (utilizing the old Wade-Giles system of transliteration, which has been used by so many scholarly books over the last 100 years; the Pinyin system is currently in use)

Tao (Pinyin: dao): the primordial, fundamental Way or Principle, the Dark Mysterious Source (hsüan-ming or fu), the Great Beginning (t’ai-ch’u), original Non-Being (wu), from which emanates the One, or Being (yu), the Two (the yang and yin polarities of Heaven-and-Earth, t’ien-ti), the Three, and thence the “ten thousand things” (wan-wu), or play of phenomena. The Tao is not only an ultimate metaphysical Ground (or Groundless Ground) which is dark (chan) and empty (hsü or ch’ung), but also the Tao is, in Its Self-manifesting aspect, also personalized as mu (Mother), tsao wu che (Creator), t’ai-i (Supreme One), or t’ien ti (Heavenly Emperor).

t’ien tao: the great Way of Heaven, the absolute standpoint of Reality itself, a viewpoint transcending all relativistic viewpoints; the natural activity of this ultimate principle.

shêng-jên (Lao-tzu’s term), chên-jên, chih-jên, shên-jên, ta-jên (Chuang-tzu’s terms): the sacred man, true man, ultimate man, divine man of the Tao, who has died to self and “face” and returned to abide as the Source; functioning out of sacred chaos (hun-tun), in the manner of a holy fool (yü-jên) flourishing in “sacred stupidity” (), aimless wandering (fu yu) and “demented drifting” (ch’ang k’uang), all his/her actions flow spontaneously as “non-action” or “non-striving” (wu-wei), infused with a natural, not contrived, jên-i, benevolence and righteousness. The sage is a shih-fu, enlightened teacher, for those individuals whom he/she encounters.

tso-wang: “sitting-forgetting,” or “sitting in oblivion,” Chuang-tzu’s term for the most refined kind of Taoist meditation, characterized by objectless attention or pure awareness and inner/outer stillness (the opposite of this is tso chih, “sitting galloping,” the restless mind, also known as ch’êng hsin, “fixed mind,” or what Lao-tzu calls ch’ang hsin, constant [rigid] mind”).

wu-wei: “non-doing,” meaning spontaneous, desireless, flowing action unburdened by the sense of “doership” or deliberate effort or confused hesitancy, but which flows from the Tao’s “intelligent chaos” (hun-tun); closely related is tzu-jan, “action spontaneously happening of itself,” governed/inspired by Tao. Lao-tzu: “The sage does nothing, yet nothing is left undone.”

hsin-chai: mental “fasting” or purification of egocentric thinking (Chuang-tzu); chai refers to bodily fasting regimens, often practiced in early and later Taoism.

wu hua: Chuang-tzu’s term for the “transmutation of things,” the “chaotification” leading one to intuitive realization of the Tao and the new way of life, a state of consciousness in which nothing any longer remains “itself” and anything can be anything else. This and similar terms suggesting chaos (hun-tun) as an ideal are contrasted with luan, the contrived social order and artificial way of being human, that is actually a profound kind of disorder.

fu/fan or ta kuei: Lao-tzu’s terms for the great Return to realization of the Source or Tao; one hears the in-junction to make the fu ch’i ch’u/ken, “return to the beginning/root,” to the Source.

ta chueh: the Great Awakening from the dream of life.

hsüan-t’ung: the enlightened state of being one with the Tao (Lao-tzu’s term).

pao-i: “embracing the One,” losing egocentricity and realizing identity with the Tao (Lao-tzu’s term).

ming: illumination/enlightenment; Chuang-tzu’s term for the profound enlightened intuition which obviates all relativistic judgments/distinctions such as life-death, me-you, this-that, right-wrong, pleasure-pain. Lao-tzu uses “ming” for the intuitive insight concerning one’s true nature as Tao.

t’ien ni (heavenly leveling), t’ien chên (heavenly equalization), man yen (no limits): Chuang-tzu’s terms for the state free of judgments, when one abides as enlightened and chaos-like totality.

tzu: the “Child,” the principle of softness, suppleness, and gentleness that Lao-tzu emphasizes as the way of sages. Mu is the “Mother,” the Tao/Source, known via the childlike attitude.

p’u: Lao-tzu’s “uncarved block,” designating the childlike innocence and natural simplicity of one who has returned to the Source and acts according to wu-wei.

wu-yu and wu-chih: “no being” and “no knowledge,” egolessness and freedom from intellectualism.

t’ai-i/t’ai-chi: in philosophical Taoism, the Supreme One, Ultimate Reality; it would be personalized into the highest Taoist deity. (Shou-i, “preserving the One,” is the brand of meditation which visualizes t’ai-i as a deity of light whose luminosity should be “gathered and collected,” especially in the antechamber of the heart).

ch’ang/wu suo hua: the changeless, eternal Real/Absolute (the Tao), subsuming all changing forms.

hsü: voidness/the Void, the creative “emptiness” of Tao, which is without form (pu-hsing).

ling fu: the secret part of the heart which is the center of spiritual activity.

hun: higher soul, involving mental and spiritual functions; p’o: lower soul, involving bodily functions (when hun and p’o separate, death occurs).

te: the Tao’s power to animate and exalt a creature in the true way; a person’s virtue or blessing force.

t’ien li: the natural course of things determined by Heaven/the Tao; related to pu te i, “that which cannot be evaded,” that which is determined by the Divine as fate.

wan: the “play” or creative activity of the Tao.

pen-wu: Neo-Taoist Wang Pi’s term for the original non-being/pure being, ultimate reality, which is the original substance, or pen-t’i, the one underlying principle uniting all phenomena.

wu-hsin: “no mind,” the idea in Wang Pi and another neo-Taoist, Kuo Hsiang, that the sage has “no deliberate mind of his own.”

yang-yin: the two basic principles governing the dynamics of the phenomenal universe, yang denoting the bright, active, initiating, fiery, male aspect, and yin denoting the dark, passive, receptive, watery, female aspect; the ideal is to have these operating in balance.

wu-hsing: the five elements or energies which govern the dynamics of “matter,” symbolized as water, fire, wood, metal and earth, especially crucial to Chinese yoga and medicine.

tan-t’ien: the elixir-fields or “furnaces” of energy in the body; there are three of these: 1) the top tan-t’ien at the “third eye” in the head; 2) the middle tan-t’ien near the heart, and 3) the bottom tan-t’ien in the region below the navel; a Taoist meditates on these to increase and purify the life-force energy (ch’i) in these areas.

san-i: “the three ones,” the three deities, ruled over by t’ai-i, who guard the 3 tan-t’ien against ghosts and evil forces. San-i also refers to the three principles of spirit (shen), life force (ch’i) and sexual essence (ching) energies, the three basic energies involved in a Taoist’s spiritual practice.

ch’i/yüan ch’i (Pinyin: qi): the subtle life-force energy, the all-pervasive, formless, proto-material that also flows through the 12 primary meridians in humans; it is increased in the human system via proper breathing, eating, visualization, and sublimation of sexual essence. Ch’i connects one to Tao.

ch’i-hai: the “ocean of breath,” a point 2-3 fingers’ width below the navel where the ch’i is stored; also called the Yellow Court (huang-t’ing), this energy site is meditated upon during many breathing exercises as a way of returning awareness to the primordial condition.

ch’i kung (qigong): mastery of ch’i; a set of external, moving (tung-kung) and internal, passive (ching-kung) exercises to increase, harness, and distribute the ch’i energy.

nei-ch’i: the “inner breath” of subtle energy stored in the body, distinct from wai-ch’i, the outer breath of inhaling air; a person’s nei-ch’i corresponds to the universal, primordial “breath” or subtle energy (yüan-ch’i); a Taoist adept conserves and increases this inner-breath subtle energy through sublimating thoughts/desires, saliva and sexual essence.

tum-mo: the ascending, voluntary “governor” current of subtle-energy rising from the perineum up through the coccyx and on up through the backbone to the crown and thence descends along the forehead and nose, ending in the gums; it connects 31 psychic centers and governs all yang channels.

jen-mo: the descending, involuntary “conception” subtle-energy current that begins below the eyes and moves down through the upper lip, throat, chest, pit of the stomach, navel, belly and down to the perineum; it connects 27 psychic centers and controls all yin channels. The tum-mo and jen-mo are utilized in the important “microcosmic orbit” (hsiao chou t’ien) energy-breathing technique of Taoist yoga.

nei-kuan/nei-shih: “inner viewing” of the original Self or Tao; on the phenomenal level, visualization of interior of body, energy flows, and deities (shen) residing in different body regions.

ts’un-ssu: a religious Taoist meditation upon a certain object, be it the “Three Jewels” (san-pao) of Tao, the Tao-tsang canon, and Lao-chün/Lao-tzu (patterned after the Buddhist triple-refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha); ts’un-ssu also can be ts’un-shen, visualization of deities (shen) inhabiting the body’s regions.

nei-tan: inner alchemy, the esoteric yogic Taoist practice (especially widespread in the Ch’üan-chen school) of developing an immortal soul (the deathless “sacred embryo,” ch’ih-tzu or sheng-t’ai) from the three life-preserving energies: ching (sexual essence), ch’i (vital life force) and shen (spirit). This is achieved by sublimation of thoughts and various forms of special breathing and meditation; one purifies the sexual essence, transforming it into ch’i, then purifies and transforms ch’i into shen and then purifies shen and returns to nothingness (lien-shen-fu-hü), integrating self with cosmos and with Tao. Nei-tan is contrasted with wai-tan, outer alchemy, which works with chemical substances, primarily gold and cinnabar (red mercury ore), to create the elixir of immortality (ch’ang-sheng pu-ssu).

t’ai-hsi: “embryonic breathing,” a Taoist longevity meditation practice, involving holding the breath (pi-ch’i) and then allowing it to circulate (hsing-ch’i), thereby creating an immortal body nourished by the subtle breath (shen-t’ai); at the death of the adept, this immortal body separates from the corpse and the practitioner becomes an immortal (hsien).

t’u-ku na-hsin: breathing exercise of “disposing the old [breath] and acquiring the new,” a complete exhalation, followed by the fullest possible inhalation. On the exhalation, various sounds are made to tone different internal organs (the sound “ch’i” strengthens the lungs; “ho,” the heart; “hsü,” liver; “hu,” pancreas; “ch’ui,” kidneys; “hsi,” stomach and alimentary).

fu-ch’i: allowing the breath to circulate in the five internal organs (wu-tsang: lungs, heart, pancreas, liver, kidneys) and thence to the extremities and orifices.

hsing-ch’i: “allowing the breath to circulate” slowly through body via the energy channels, utilizing visualization and kinesthetic-sensing techniques.

lien-ch’i: “melting the breath,” a more advanced practice, in which breath is held and its power is allowed to flow unimpeded throughout the body; when one can no longer hold the breath, it is released; this is done ten or more times; practiced at intervals of 5-10 days.

tao-yin: “stretching and contracting [of the body]”; a Taoist practice of guiding the breath through certain bodily movements. Pa-tuan-chin, the “8 Brocades,” is another one of these.

t’ai-chi ch’üan (taijiquan), hsing-i-ch’üan (xingyiquan), pa kua chang (baguazhang), hsi-sui-ching, i-chin-ching, kung-fu: Taoist-influenced martial arts; the first 3 are rather more “inward.”

fang-chung-shu: “bedroom arts” of Taoist sexual techniques wherein a man and woman “join energies” (ho-ch’i) and, by exchanging yin and yang force, increase and harmonize their life-force; the male refrains from ejaculation, and ch’i energy is sublimated to regenerate visceral organs and brain. Collective sexual orgies, as well as private practice of the bedroom arts, have gone on since the Han Dynasty, practiced by the Taoist schools Way of Supreme Peace and Five-Pecks-of-Rice Taoism, continuing until the Sung dynasty. The highest form of this practice involves huan-ching, returning the sexual essence to intermingle with breath and body and with the brain (pu-nao). Note that huan-ching pu-nao can be practiced by solitary celibates; when the genital organs are aroused simply through healthy circulation and an energized bodymind, any sexual energy can be transmuted into ch’i, thence into shen, and energy raised from the lower tan-t’ien to the higher ones. Actual physical intercourse between male and female partners is eschewed by the monastic forms of Taoism, such as Ch’üan-chen Taoism, and the higher grades of Cheng-i Taoism.

yang-hsing: “nourishing the life principle,” collective term for all the immortality practices, mental and physical, of religious Taoism, including meditation, visualization of deities, breathing exercises, calisthenics, martial arts, and outer/inner sexual-energy practices.

wu-shih ch’i-hou: the “5 periods and 7 time-spans,” the various stages and phases of the meditative path, ac-cording to one Taoist schema. The 5 wu-shih: 1) mind is restless, rarely still; 2) mind is less restless; 3) mental calm and movement are in rough balance; 4) mind is calm most of time; 5) mind is capable of abiding in pure stillness. The 7 ch’i-hou: 1) subsiding of passions, worry and sorrow; 2) outer appearance of adept becomes like a child, body supple and mind at peace; supernatural powers attained; 3) adept reaches level of an immortal (hsien); 4) body-purification, perfection of energy (ch’i), and adept becomes a “true man” (chen-jên); 6) purification of mind, harmony with all forms; adept becomes perfected human being; 7) the adept transcends all rites, rules and ego-motivated action, and attains highest spiritual realization, perfect freedom.

lu: the spirit registers, the lists of names and attributes of deities invoked by the Taoist priest; fu-lu: magical talismans, in the form of strips of paper, metal or bamboo, inscribed with lines of characters which protect the wearer against illness due to demons; employed by priests (tao-shih) and celestial masters (t’ien-shih) of religious Taoism, especially in the Cheng-i sect.

tao-shih: the scholarly, priestly, leaders of religious Taoist congregations, who supervise all the rituals and ceremonies; in the Cheng-i tradition, they are usually married, living in a town or village near a monastery (kuan); in the Ch’üan-chen tradition, they are celibate and usually live in the monastery. The tao-shih are ruled by a shaman-like celestial master (t’ien-shih).

hsien: an “Immortal,” a highly adept Taoist; the best-known are the pa-hsien (“Eight Immortals”); they are said to live mainly on three islands, Fang-chung, P’eng-lai, and Ying-chou; a number of immortals are also said to dwell in the western paradise in the K’un-lun Mountains, presided over by Hsi Wang-mu, the Royal Mother of the West.

fei-sheng: ascending to Heaven in broad daylight, an ability of the highest adepts; often one ascends on a dragon (lung) or a crane (ho), both symbols of immortality.

t’ien: “Heaven”; one religious Taoist conception of Heaven is patterned after the Buddhist notion, involving 36 heavens on 6 levels—the levels of desire, celestial forms, formlessness, heaven of the gods, the heavens of the 3 pure ones (san-ch’ing) inhabited by the celestial venerables (t’ien-tsun); and, finally, the ta-luo-t’ien, the mysterious, inscrutable, Source-like Heaven of the Great Web, presided over by Tai-i, Supreme One.

san-ch’ing: the three deities (t’ien-tsun) and their heavens, ruled, respectively, by Yüan-shih t’ien-tsun, the Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning; Ling-pao t’ien-tsun, the Heavenly Venerable of the Magic Jewel; and Tao-te-t’ien-tsun, the Heavenly Venerable of the Tao, otherwise known as Lao-tzu; sometimes the Jade Emperor, Yü-huang, is venerated as a fourth t’ien-tsun. These beings are akin to Buddhist bodhisattvas, who help all beings attain enlightenment.

san-kuan: the “three rulers”—T’ien-kuan (Ruler of Heaven, bestows good luck), Ti-kuan (Ruler of Earth, forgives sins), and Shui-kuan (Ruler of Water, helps one overcome obstacles); veneration of these three goes back to early religious Taoism.

san-hsing: the “three stars,” or gods of good fortune, popular in Chinese folk art; they are historical personalities who, having passed into the light, have been deified. They include Fu-hsing, Lü-hsing, and Shou-hsing/Shou-lao (the last is the popular god of long life). Other important personages in Chinese folk religion are Ts’ai-shen, god of prosperity; Tsao-chün, “Lord of the Hearth,” the Taoist fire and kitchen deity who is protector of the family; Wen-ch’ang, god of literature, especially helpful to people taking exams; the men-shen, “gods of the doorway,” the guardians of the gate of domestic and public buildings; the t’u-ti deities who protect each temple, public building, street and area of a city, who in turn are overseen by the ch’eng-huang, city gods.

kuei: the dead; a ghost, spirit or demon, helped by paper money offerings and ceremonial sacrifices.


Huang-ti, the Yellow Emperor of ancient mythical times, said to have reigned for a full century in the middle of the 27th century BCE. He is venerated as one of the two founders of religious Taoism (along with Lao-tzu), and credited with creating important elements of human culture such as the calendar, musical scales, and classic theories of medicine. He supposedly wrote about various meditation, breathing, calisthenic and sexual exercises of his day to bring unification of body, mind and spirit and thereby increased longevity. He attained transcendent immortality and serves as prototype of those adepts who ascended to heaven; he is thus regarded as the First Ancestor of Taoism and the Chinese people.

Lao-tzu (Laozi), “Old Boy,” is the title, rather than the name, of a beloved old sage reputed to be founder of contemplative Taoism. His “biography” in Grand Historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s Historical Records (1st cent. BCE), a blend of facts with myth and legend, says he was from the K’u district of southern Ch’u state (today’s Lu I district in Honan province), and was an elder wise contemporary of the northerner K’ung-fu-tzu/Confucius (551-479). On at least one alleged visit between the two sages, Lao-tzu taught Confucius the latter the way of humility and simplicity, the way of dropping pride, desires, overbearing manner and ambition to reform the world. Lao-tzu, says Ssu-ma Ch’ien, served as curator of the dynastic archives at the court of the king of Chou, which would have given him access to all the best works of that and prior eras, but in his old age he left his post in sadness over the silliness and pettiness of the Chou officials to wander off on a buf-falo as a mystic-hermit into the K’un-lun mountains of the West, abode of Goddess Hsi-wang Mu. But not before transmitting his teachings to a border guard, Yin Hsi, at the Jade Gate at Han Ku Pass. These teachings, in over 5000 characters in 81 short chapters, became the classic little contemplative Taoist work, Tao Tê Ching, which emphasizes the mystery and magnificence of the Tao, naturalness, simplicity, humility and “non-action” (wu-wei). Such a sage likely actually lived and flourished around the 6th century BCE. Ssu-ma says Lao-tzu’s personal name was Li Erh; by the 2nd century BCE he was already being deified under the name Lao-chün, “Master Lao” and linked with Huang-ti as divine founder of Chinese culture. Through the centuries he was said to have not only become identified with the Tao Itself, but also to have become a free immortal who could descend to confer sacred texts and talismans upon ripe Taoist adepts whenever needed.

Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi) (369-286 BCE), an historical individual, was apparently born in Meng, a district north of Shang-ch’iu (Shang Hill) city, in the east of what is today Honan Province. He likely wrote the first seven books of the work that carries his name (the Chuang-tzu). He was a married teacher who emphasized “sitting-forgetting” (tso-wang) meditation, humility, and spiritual liberation via return to the mysterious source, the Tao. His work utilizes great humor and also droll critique of less enlightened views. He and Lao-tzu are considered the founders of philosophical Taoism (Tao-chia), and Taoists of the later “religious” schools (Tao-chiao) also look to these two sages as having laid the foundation for their work. Ssu-ma Chi’en’s Historical Records state: “There was nothing he had not studied, but he was firmly rooted in the sayings of the Old Master…. The aged scholars of the time were unable to ward off his [intellectual] attacks. His words were as expansive as the sea, unrestrained, phrased to suit himself. Hence no one … was able to make a tool of him.”

Lieh-tzu (350-250 BCE), like so many of the ancient Chinese teachers, is better seen as purported author of a composite book rather than as a person of identifiable history. Chuang-tzu hails him as a Taoist philosopher and adept, and he may have actually been a contemporary of Chuang-tzu. Lieh-tzu is said to have authored the work named after him, though most of this has been lost, and the present motley work is one that did likely not appear until the Wei and Chin dynasties (220-420 CE), composed by later authors who denied the reality of free will, preached a kind of laissez-faire philosophy far less profound than the Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu or Huai-nan Tzu, and utilized ideas from ancient folk tales and myths. Much of this Lieh-tzu is found in earlier sources.

Liu An / Huai-nan-tzu (d. 122 BCE), was a prince with thousands of scholars under his patronage, and the most prominent Taoist philosopher between ancient contemplative Taoism and the religious Taoism of the 2nd-4th centuries CE. He is the editor or writer of a lengthy, multi-faceted work that bears his name, said to be based on the teachings of 8 great Taoist adepts at his court; he kept alive the ideas of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu and other ancient philosophers. “His originality is negligible,” writes Wing-tsit Chan, “but he maintained Taoism at a time when Confucianism had just assumed the dominant and exclusive role in government as well as in the realm of thought…. He kept the fire of Taoism burning and helped to make possible the emer-gence of Neo-Taoism.” He plotted a rebellion against the corrupt regime of his time, failed, and committed suicide to save face for his family.

Yü Chi (2nd century CE), also known as Kan Chi, was the semi-legendary, saintly visionary of northeast China. He was often visited by spirits who revealed a book, the T’ai-p’ing Ch’ing-ling Shu, The Great Peace Book of Pure Commands, entailing a method for commanding spirits to bring blessings and cure illness. Yü Chi may thus be seen as one of the founders of religious Taoism (Tao-chiao).

Chang Tao-ling (34-156 CE), also known as Chang Ling, founded Wu-Tou-Mi-Tao, “Five Pecks of Rice” Taoism, which gets its name from the fact that his fee as a healer was five pecks of rice. Working in Szechwan Province, he used magical formulae, talismans (fu-lu) and sacred water (fu-shui) to cleanse sins, drive out demons, and effect his cures, all of which brought him many followers. He is retrospectively considered the first Celestial Master (t’ien shih), a title first used for his grandson, Chang Lu, who, along with his mother, an important court-priestess of the Wei dynasty, expanded his grandfather’s movement throughout China. All the Celestial Masters of this school, which would later incorporate other streams and come to be known as Cheng-i (Meng-wei) Taoism, are blood descendents from Chang Tao-ling.

Chang Chüeh (d. 184 CE), founded T’ai-P’ing Tao, Way of Supreme Peace Taoism; influenced by Yü Chi’s book. He became a preacher of peaceful egalitarianism and was renowned as a healer, allegedly having several hundred thousand followers. He held large public services for repentance (chai) so as to effect healings. Chang Chüeh and his brothers were murdered during the Yellow Turban rebellion that he led.

Chang Hsiu (d. 190 CE) was general of the Han Dynasty and founder of another early religious Taoist movement, involving the view that illnesses were a consequence of evil deeds, requiring healing ceremonies during which time sacrifices were made to the “Three Rulers” (Heaven, Earth, Water).

Huang-lao-chên was the main god of the T’ai-p’ing tao school; he is ruler of the world and appears again and again in human form as Taoist masters, such as Lao-tzu.

Wei P’o-yang (2nd century CE) was the author of the oldest known alchemical work in the world, the Chou-i ts’an-t’ung-ch’i; it tells the way to produce the inner elixir of immortality.

Hsu Ling-ch’i established Ling-pao liturgical Taoism, which developed the great ceremonies of renewal (chiao) and burial, prominent today in the Cheng-i tradition of religious Taoism.

Hua T’o was a renowned Taoist physician of the 2nd/3rd century CE, who helped develop the tao-yin exercises and wu-ch’in-hsi (“5 Animals”) set of ch’i-kung practices to stimulate ch’i.

Wei Hua-ts’un (251-334) was the semi-legendary female libationer regarded as the spiritual founder of the prestigious, influential, meditation- and monastic-oriented Shang-ch’ing Taoist movement at Mao-shan as a result of her postmortem appearances and guidance to its male founders Yang-hsi, Hsu-hui, and his brother Hsu-mi. It is said that she had been educated in the classics and Taoist texts, and enjoyed visitations from many of the immortals, who revealed to her the basic scriptures of the Shang-ch’ing tradition.

Ko Hung (284-364) was a physician and author of the Pao-p’u-tzu, a compendium of Taoist inner alchemical methods for achieving immortality; he advocated veneration of T’ai-i.

Wang-pi (226-249), Ho Yen (d. 249) and Kuo Hsiang (d. 312), are three outstanding sages of so-called “neo-Taoism” (hsüan-hsüeh). Wang-pi clarified and elaborated upon Lao-tzu in his important commentary on the Lao-tzu / Tao Te Ching—not only the earliest and most famous commentary on this ancient text, it gives us a reliable first “critical edition” of the Tao Te Ching, no doubt the best of several versions available to Wang Pi (this edition is equal in quality/reliability to the Ma Wang Tui versions A and B of the Tao Te Ching unearthed in 1974, dating to 206 BCE, now our oldest complete copies of the text). Kuo Hsiang wrote an important commentary on the Chuang-tzu. These Neo-Taoists tended to replace the idea of Tao, which they interpreted as non-being, with that of Heaven (t’ien), which, for Wang-pi and Ho Yen, unifies all forms into one identity. (Kuo Hsiang celebrates the multiplicity of Nature over any unicity.) Freedom from likes and dislikes, as in Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, is crucial in the thought of all three of these sages.

Sun Ssu Mo (581-682) was an eminent Taoist physician; in his Ch’ien-chin Fang he extensively catalogued diseases and cures, and wrote about massage and acupressure, breathing methods, calisthenics, sexual techniques, food and herbs, and cultivation of the spirit.

Lü Yen (Lü Tung-pin or Lü Tzu) lived late in the T’ang dynasty (618-905 CE) and was the disciple of the legendary adept Chung-li Ch’üan. Ancestor Lü, who is one of the most popular of the “8 Immortals,” is considered a founder of the Ch’üan-chen tao school of Complete Reality Taoism, which integrated contemplative Taoism, the most refined aspects of religious Taoism, as well as Zen and Confucianism.

Chang Po-tuan (983-1082) was a disciple of Lü’s disciple Liu Ts’ao, and founded the Southern “dual cultivation” sect of Ch’üan-chen tao, Complete Reality Taoism.

Wang Che/Wang Chung-yuan (1113-1171) supposedly was taught by Ancestor Lü and Chung-li Ch’üan themselves; he founded the “pure serenity” Northern sect of Complete Reality Taoism, which emphasizes meditation, purity and spiritual liberation. He had seven enlightened adepts, including Ma Tan Yang and his wife Sun Pu Erh Niang, the latter a great poetess; both received a title from the emperor attesting to their spiritual achievements; Sun Pu Erh is regarded as one of the Immortals. Another eminent female adept-disciple of Wang Che was Chou Hsüan-ching, whose son also became an adept.

Liu Te-jen (12th century) established the Teaching of the True Great Tao school of religious Taoism in 1142 (defunct after the 13th century), based on Tao-te ching, wu-wei, contentment, altruism; this school eschewed all magical and physical longevity practices.

Chang San-feng, a legendary figure, supposedly hailed from Wu-tang Shan monastery in the 14th century, and was believed to be a master of all the arts and arcana of Taoism. He is the alleged founder of the t’ai-chi-ch’üan / taijiquan martial art exercise. Though scholars are fairly sure he never even existed, a huge amount of writing is attributed to him, blending Southern and Northern Ch’üan-chen tao and older magical Taoist religious practices. On his legend, see Anna Seidel’s A Taoist Immortal of the Ming Dynasty: Chang San-feng in Self and Society in Ming Thought, Columbia Univ. Press, 1970.

Liu I-ming (c.1737-1826), after being cured of a grave illness by a Taoist adept, left home at age 19, studied under at least two great teachers, and, at age 60, began to write many brilliant commentaries on Taoist classics, as well as many essays, songs and poems of his own, revealing the “secret” natural, simple way of inner alchemy according to a very pure form of teaching as given in the Northern sect of Complete Reality Taoism.

Li Ch’ing Yuen (18th to early 20th centuries) was renowned as a 250 year old Taoist adept and Celestial Master of the Cheng-i school, profiled by 63rd Celestial Master General Yang Sen (1879-1977). Master Li was evidently married 14 times, one of the “proofs” of his mastery of various Taoist arts. His age is controversial, not accepted by official agencies.

Ch’en Chieh-san (d. 1901) was the foremost Cheng-i Taoist priest in Taiwan’s public forum; he trained his daughter, Ch’en A-kuei, as an orthodox Blackhead Taoist priest, considering her to be more spiritually evolved than his son; she, in turn, helped train her son, Chuang-ch’en Teng-yun (1911-76), who was the leading Cheng-i Taoist master of northern Taiwan (his life and teachings were profiled by Michael Saso).

Loy Ching-Yuen (1873-1960s), a Taoist healer and martial art master from Shanghai who later lived in Hong Kong and the USA. A few books of his teachings have been compiled by disciples.

La Pa (contemporary) is one of the main leaders of the Taoist monastery at Wu-tang Shan (in western Hupei province near Shensi border), a scenic site spared by the Red Guard and visited by 1,000 pilgrims daily. La Pa oversees the training of 100 monks and nuns there; they live a celibate, vegetarian, contemplative life according to Ch’uan-chen monastic rules. La Pa is thus a bonafide Taoist of the authentic monastic tradition.

Ni, Hua-ching, born (c1915?) in the same town as famous taijiquan teacher Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-Ching), studied Daoist internal cultivation and k'ung-fu from a young age with his saintly father, Yo San Ni (c1877-1967), a Taoist adept and well-known doctor of Chinese medicine whose treatments were sought by many patients for their efficacy; he also set up a school for general studies and various Taoist arts that flourished until the Communists shut it down in 1966 when Mao commenced the Cultural Revolution. Yo San was put him on trial that same year. For some decades he had also seasonally gone on teaching tours to various centers and monasteries. Yo San had had the opportunity in his early youth after his father, a doctor, died treating people in a smallpox epidemic, to travel with a tailor to many temples and monasteries, and then later as a soldier was stationed in the mountains, where he met many masters in the ancient lines of mountain Taoism, mostly of the Ch’üan-chen Taoist tradition. Ni Hua Ching, a headstrong youth more interested in military solutions to China’s problems, was shifted out of the public school into his father’s school when young and then eventually was given permission to travel around and study with different teachers. He knew famous Taoist t’ai-chi-ch’üan / taijiquan martial artist Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936) and studied taijiquan with Cheng-Fu’s older brother, Yang Shao-Hou (1862-1928), and with Chang Ching-Ling, a senior student of both Cheng-Fu and his father Yang Chien-Hou (1842-1917). Ni Hua Ching left mainland China in 1949 before the Communist takeover, on his father’s advice. As lifelong friends with Zheng Manqing, when the latter established his school in northern Taiwan, Ni Hua Ching established his Chinese medical practice in the south. Altogether, Ni spent some 27 years teaching Chinese medicine and Taoist arts in Asia. Zheng established a taijiquan school in New York in the 1970s; Ni, who settled in the U.S. in 1976, established his Union of Tao and Man center in Los Angeles and in 1989 his Yo San Univer-sity of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ni lived what he preached, a simple, yogic lifestyle, and wrote over 50 books in Chinese and 18 in English. He practiced Chinese medicine and taught Taoist philosophy well into his 80s. His sons Maoshing (a respected doctor of Chinese medicine and acupuncture) and Daoshing, born in Taiwan, carry on his work.

Yang Zhenduo, Shi Ming, Fong Zhi Qiang, Fu Zhong Wen, Ma Yu Liang, Wang Xi Kuei, He Yen Lu are some of China’s other most accomplished taijiquan masters; Da Lui (1904- ) was primarily responsible for introducing t’ai chi/taiji to the U.S. in the 1950s; president of the T’ai Chi Ch’üan Society of N.Y., he wrote many books on Taoism. Other prominent Chinese taijiquan masters in the U.S. include Abraham Liu (Los Angeles), Fu, Shu Yun (1919- ) and husband Meng Chao-Hsun (1919- ; New Jersey), Jou, Tsung Hwa (N.J.), Benjamin Peng Jeng Lo, Yu, Cheng-Hsiang (1929- ; N.Y.), Liang Shouyu (Vancouver), Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming (Boston), and Huang, Wei-Lun (Miami).

Master Huang Xingxian (1910-92) of Fujian Province from the age of 14 trained in Baihe (White Crane), Lohan (18 Buddha boxing) and Nei Gung (Taoist Internal Alchemy), under the well known Fujian White Crane Master Xie Zhongxian (1852-1930) and later under Master Pan Chun-nien who also educated Huang in Chinese Medicine and the Literary Classics. Later Huang opened a school in Shanghai where he trained together with his friends Chung Yu-jen (in Taiji), Chiang Hai-ching (in Xingyi) and Yang Chih-ching (in Bagua). He also studied Taiji with Wan Lai-sheng (China Martial Arts Champion 1938). In 1947, having moved to Taiwan, he began Taiji with Zheng Manqing, direct disciple of Yang Cheng-fu. Quickly Huang entered the inner-school and in later years came to be regarded as Zheng’s most accomplished disciple. From 1958 onward Huang lived and taught in Singapore and Malaysia until his death in 1992, establishing 40 schools and teaching 10,000 people throughout Southeast Asia.

Wang Hsiang-chi (1886-1963) developed the martial art of i-ch’üan, Mind-Boxing, a formless standing meditation, an even more purified form than the hsing-i-wu-hsing-ch’üan (xingyi wu xing quan) 5 Element Body-Mind Boxing which he learned from famous boxer Kuo Yun-shen.

Jiang Weiqiao (1873-1958), born in Changzhou (Jiangsu province), in 1914 authored a famous book Yin-shizi Jingzuofa (“Yinshizi’s method of quiet sitting”), thus becoming one of the first experts to introduce ch’i-kung/qigong exercises to the wider public beyond the more limited circles of Taoist/Buddhist energy practices. He had cured himself of serious pulmonary TB with his own self-taught techniques at age 28, before going on to study in Japan (as did many Chinese intellectuals of that era), where he learned Tien-t’ai Buddhist energy practices, which greatly influenced his methods that he taught the public. Through the 1950s, before his death at age 85, Jiang continued to popularly promote chi’-kung/qigong for health maintenance and disease prevention. He supervised the qigong clinic in Shanghai, gave many public lectures about qigong, and contributed several important publications related to qigong practice.

Liu Guizhen (1920-1983) is said to have been the first to popularize the term ch’i-kung/qigong (“work on ch’i/qi”) in the 1950s in his popular book on the subject. (The term was first used in the 3rd century by Xu Xun, a Taoist transcendent.) Hailing from Hebei province, he worked as a Communist activist during the civil war but had to return home due to severe health problems in 1948. There, he began to learn Neiyang Gong (“Inner-Nourishing Qigong”) from his uncle, the fifth successor of this style of qigong. Neiyang Gong was created some 300 years ago and was only taught orally to a single successor of each generation. After practicing Neiyang Gong for 100 days, Liu Guizhen returned to work with full health. Since 1949—the year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Liu Guizhen began teaching Neiyang Gong in state-owned clinics to patients with chronic illnesses, with such excellent results that in 1954 he established the first qigong clinic in Tangshan city. In 1956, the clinic was enlarged and moved to the city of Beidaihe, where it became the center of qigong treatment in China. Liu Guizhen in 1957 published two books related to neiyang gong and qigong. His significance is not only in introducing neiyang gong to the public but also in reexamining popular qigong methods and applying them for purposes of respectable medical treatment. The Cultural Revolution stopped his work in 1964; he was allowed to teach and practice again only in 1980 after a long period of political abuse. Unfortunately, he died in 1983, preventing him from significantly continuing his illustrious career in qigong education and treatment. It is surely due to Liu Guizhen and Jian Weiqiao’s pioneering efforts that Qigong became a major trend of practice and belief in China in the 1980s, with approximately 200 million practitioners, and countless popular qigong organizations and courses, and hundreds of teachers and publications on the subject.

Ma Litang (1903-89), of the Beijing region, was one of China’s foremost ch’i-kung/qigong masters, teaching the Liuzijue, or Six Healing Sounds form of qigong, as well as many other Taoist practices; he was nationally famous as a martial artist (dubbed “Iron Leg” for his powerful kick) as well as a traditional Chinese medicine doctor who effected many cures via ch’i-kung, making him strongly sought out by government leaders, et al. He is succeeded by his daughter, Ma Xuzhou, an internationally renowned Chinese doctor and medical qigong master who specializes in acclaimed treatment of eye diseases.

Yan Xin (1950- ), born in a small village in Sichuan province, was trained from age 4 by a series of some 30 masters. He served as a physician for several years at Chongqing Research Institute of Traditional Chinese medicine where he became known as the “angel doctor” for his highly successful cures. During the massive breakout of “Qigong fever,” he came to great prominence in 1986, despite his youthful age, as China’s most famous qigong master, hugely popular for his abilities to heal, see through walls, and project qi/ch’i over great distances, all of which were scientifically verified at Beijing’s prestigious Qinghua University that year, but later questioned, perhaps for political (masquerading as scientific) reasons. Yan Xin is said to have harbored political ambitions, and, feeling pressure from the government, he fled China in 1990. He has since toured the U.S. as a kind of “emperor-in-exile.” His teachings are deeply spiritual, and not as “loony” or “new age” as many of the popular qigong celebrities. Dozens of books and videos are available on his talks. His International Yan Xin Qigong Association (IYXQA) has chapters in over 100 countries.

Zhang Hongbao (1954-2006), an intensely controversial figure, was born in Harbin and studied law in the USA before going on to become a high-level academic and government consultant. He then became hugely famous and wealthy as a qigong master in Beijing. He was accused by the Communist government of being a criminal serial rapist (tarring political dissidents with the brush of sexual crimes is common, according to Chinese publisher Richard Long of Dacankao News Service), yet ZHB (as he is known) was virtually worshipped by his disciples, many of whom in the 1990s followed him in refuge to a stronghold near Qingcheng Shan, central Sichuan, where he was linked with the Yi Guan Dao secret society. He had founded in 1988 a style or school of qigong known as Zhong Gong (“China Health Care and Wisdom Enhancement Practice”), which by the latter-1990s claimed to have 38 million followers. Zhang’s lucrative business empire, dismantled in the latter 1990s by the government, was centered on the Tianhua/Kylin Group, composed of some 60 companies, and based in Tianjin; the group reportedly employed 120,000 workers, mostly in qigong-related education, publication and health-product ventures. ZHB himself wrote many large tomes on qigong and its various applications, including medical. After several attempts on his life by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), ZHB tired to gain asylum when he came to the U.S. territory of Guam in 2000, but was arrested for lack of proper paperwork. The Chinese embassy wanted to extradict him to China, where it was almost certain he would be executed for his dissidency. (A diplomatically sticky issue: Granting him asylum would amount to the USA telling China that it doesn’t believe China’s criminal charges against him, thus reinforcing China’s perception that Washington acts as an agent for domestic groups that Beijing believes are intent on eroding the power of the Communist Party.) ZHB would be released by the Bush administration in 2001 and allowed to settle in California. Meanwhile, the CCP raised numerous lawsuits against him, only to eventually drop them. Moreover, lawsuits began to be brought against ZHB by Chinese dissidents who feared he was using his considerable wealth and influence to take over the pro-democracy movement abroad. The re-sultant pro- and con- divide among dissidents over ZHB split the Chinese democracy movement in the West. Nonviolent groups like the China Support Network eschewed his recommendation of violent regime-change. From 2003-5 he had to deal with criminal charges in the USA that he had beaten his Chinese housekeeper, a charge to which he pleaded no contest. He was thrice elected president of a Chinese government-in-exile by one dissident group (among several); the aim was to install him as president of China after the hoped-for fall of the Communist Party. But all to no avail. Zhang Hongbao died at age 52 in a car accident (a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer truck) in Arizona on July 31, 2006, while scouting locations for a meditation center. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that in a 2005 article, ZHB, who might indeed have once been privy to insider knowledge, warned that China’s Communist govt had developed a post-nuclear super-weapon which it had already deployed to create several recent large-scale earthquakes (including the one responsible for the terrible Asian Tsunami), and, with an outer-space power-outage microwave technology, had created massive blackouts in the USA and Europe as test-cases for probably something far more longlasting and destructive in the future. The ravings of a madman? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Li Hongzhi is the controversial founder of the huge Taoist-Buddhist-New-Age hybrid qigong cult of Falun Dafa or Falun Gong (“Law of the Falun/Wheel Breathing Exercise”). Its adherents, who at its peak in China numbered from 2 to 60 million, depending on either the government or the movement’s figures (60 million would make 4 million more than the Communist Party membership), are involved in developing xin-xing, “heart/mind nature,” giving up bad habits, and cultivating zhen, shan and ren, truthfulness (return to True Self), benevolence/compassion, and forbearance/tolerance/endurance. Unlike Zhang Hongbao’s Zhong Gong, Li Hongzhi and Falun Dafa apparently harbor no political aspirations. Yet Falun Dafa has been especially targeted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government for persecution and suppression after a silent Falun Dafa rally (protesting its banned status as a cult) outside the Beijing government compound on April 25, 1999 attracted such a large overnight crowd without warning—some 10,000 faithful—that President Jiang Zemin and the CCP feared a significant political force had arisen to challenge their hegemony. Stunned by the protest, Jiang was terrified by the fact that Falun Dafa’s list of members included many retired CCP elders and military officials. The 1999-2000 crackdown was the most intense since the massacre following the Tianamen Square student uprising of 1989. According to Pureinsight, a Falun Dafa website, Li Hongzhi introduced Falun Dafa on May 13, 1992 at the fifth Middle school in Changchun City, China. From 1992 to 1994, he travelled across China, giving more than 54 lecture series and teaching the five basic Falun Gong qigong exercises, including gentle movement and meditation, to large halls and then stadiums full of students. Since then Li’s followers spread the practice widely through China and around the globe. Li began giving lectures outside of China, and left China altogether in 1995, eventually settling in the New York area in 1997. He continues to lecture at Falun Gong conferences for mostly ethnic Chinese., the Falun Gong official website, states: “Li was born into an ordinary intellectual’s family in the city of Gongzhuling, Jilin Province, China, on May 13 (the eighth day of the fourth month by China lunar calendar), in 1951.” This date is celebrated as the Buddha’s birthday. Most Falun Gong members see Li as a Buddha, the highest Buddha of all time. The CCP claims that Li was born on July 7, 1952 and that he “changed his date of birth to make it coincide with the birthday of Sakyamuni.” The official biography by his followers states that at the age of four Li began studying under his first master, Dharma Master Quan Jue, “the 10th heir to the Great Dharma/Law of the Buddha School.” After eight years, this Master let Li be guided by a new master. “Over a period of about a dozen of years, he received instructions successively from more than 20 masters from both the Buddha School and the Tao School.” Li supposedly attained several supernormal abilities including levitation, teleportation, invisibility, and telepathy, and an understanding of “the truth of the universe and the origin, development, and future of humanity.” According to an August 1999 article published in the Beijing Review (a state-controlled Chinese journal) between 1970-78 Li played trumpet with a song-and-dance troupe at a PLA farm and the Jilin Provincial Forest Armed Police Troop. In the following four years, this account says he was an attendant at a guest house of the Forest Armed Police Troop. Li was reportedly discharged from military service in 1982, and went to work in the security force of the Changchun Cereals and Oil Company. In 1992, he quit his job and began teaching Falun Gong to the general public. On July 29, 1999, after the onset of the massive persecution of Falun Gong, Chinese authorities issued a nationwide arrest warrant for Li Hongzhi, but Interpol has denied the request. By March 2000, some 45,000 Falun Dafa practioners had been arrested, some 10,000 sent to labor camps, many tortured, and some apparently killed. The vastly diminished movement has had to go underground in China (sustained by safe houses and secret Internet networking), even as it grows abroad. In interviews with the media, Li, who has authored some basic books on Falun Dafa, usually deflects attention from himself and emphasizes the understanding and practice of Dharma (a Buddhist term); he wants Falun Dafa to be spread freely and made available to all free of charge. Yet in conferences with his devoted followers, who view him as “the main Buddha,” he makes cryptic remarks about his Divinity. As early as 1996, Li was hinting that he wasn’t an ordinary human but rather a reincarnated Deity of many past lives. In more recent years he has announced to followers that he has saved humanity from destruction and that “without me, the cosmos would not exist.”

Zhang Xiangyu, a barely literate woman from remote Qinghai province, was hailed in the late 1980s as one of the “4 Great Masters” of qigong by her half-million followers. An apocalyptic visionary, she claimed to communicate with an alien being who promised he could cure all diseases through her. In 1990, she was taken into custody by the Beijing Communist Party government, which considered her a fraud (and no doubt a political threat, as well. Lin Lianting, a qigong master from Shandong province, was executed by the govt. in the early 1990s, likely for the same reason.) She was sentenced in 1993, and remained in jail until 1995. (Note: in the continuing crackdown by the CCP, qigong teacher Shen Chang, said to have as many as 5 million followers, was arrested on anti-cult charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2001 for tax evasion.)

Madam Guo Lin (1906-84) founded “Walking Qi Gong” in 1970; in 1949 she had a uterine cancerous tumor removed, but it reappeared in 1960 and spread to her bladder; doctors gave her only 6 months to live. She began practicing the qigong her grandfather taught her as a child, with no results, but with more research, including study of some ancient texts, and ardent daily practice, she created a modified form of qigong that cured her condition. From her experience she believed this qigong could help others in their fight against disease, so in 1970 she began giving lessons in her New Qigong Therapy, which combined movement and meditative (quiet) qigong. By 1977 her successful results led her to publicly announce that qigong could heal cancer; predictably, Guo Lin’s classes grew to 300-400 students daily. Eventually, in her traveling around China, she came to have thousands of students and many thousands of cancer patients.

Other qigong adepts/teachers: Zhang Baosheng was invited in 1982 to Beijing by the government and certain scientists to demonstrate his qigong abilities; he became famous as one of China’s “supermen” of the new human science of paranormal abilities based on qi energy. Fu Weizhong and Zhang Ruming are prominent qigong masters and teachers of Taoist philosophy living in Beijing, which is not only the nation’s capital but headquarters of the strongly urban-based qigong movement. Lin Ho-sheng is a qigong master of the Shanghai area, being intensively studied by specialists at the Shanghai Medical Research Hospital for his demonstrated ability to anaesthetize patients for major surgery through transmission of his qi to patients. Chen Linfeng (1962- ) learned qigong exercises at an early age from his father and a Buddhist monk; in 1976, with the demise of the Cultural Revolution, he began his public vocation as a faith healer, and has since founded a branch of qigong training which he calls Huiliangong (The Skill of Wisdom and the Lotus).

Kwan Saihung” is the name of a Taoist workshop teacher in the eastern USA said in a series of huge-selling books by Deng Ming-dao (all published by HarperSF, beginning with The Wandering Taoist in 1983) to have studied the way of Cheng-i Taoism and Ch’ing-wei Thunder Magic under the Grandmaster of Hua-shan. After “years of intensive training,” Saihung was “encouraged by his master” to travel through Hong Kong, Japan, Europe, and the U.S. It has been revealed that “Kwan Saihung” is a native New Yorker named Frank Kai; whether “Deng Ming-tao” is another pseudonym for Kai is not known. Scholars have determined that the books under Deng Ming-tao’s name are but historical novels lifting their material from other sources.

Hou Shu-Ying, born in the 1930s, learned qigong from a Buddhist monk in China from age 7; he has become a famous healer and teacher of qigong and was awarded the title of National Qigong coach in China. Since 1985 he has headed his Ch’i-Kung Health Center in Toronto, Canada, along with a Vancouver branch.

Mantak Chia (1944- ), founder of the Healing Tao Center in Huntington, NY (1979), and author of many books on Taoist healing and energy work, was born in Thailand, grew up in Hong Kong, where he trained under Master Lu in t’ai chi ch’üan, Yoga, and Aikido; after returning to Thailand he learned various Taoist esoteric practices from Cheng Sue Sue, a student of Yi-Eng, a refugee Taoist master from China; he learned Buddhist Palm and Kundalini Yoga from Master Meugi in Singapore; then learned the Taoist-Buddhist-Ch’an synthesis from Master Pan Yu of Hong Kong; he learned Shao-lin ch’i-kung exercises from Master Cheng Yao-lung; Mantak Chia was authorized to teach and heal by Master Yi-Eng, and with his wife, Maneewan (1944- ) leads workshops around the world, transmitting energy and clarifying esoteric practices.

Dr. Baolin Wu (1950- ) entered Pa-yün Kuan White Cloud Monastery in Beijing at age 4 and was cured of leukemia during his training with Master Du (who lived to be 116 years old, fancifully said to have physically disappeared at death in a puff of fragrant red smoke); Dr. Wu (who holds a medical degree in Western medicine) served as director of Ch’i Kung and Chinese Medicine at Takua Hospital in Koldore, Japan, and became Ch’i Kung Director at the International Academy of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Santa Monica; he emphasizes healing through energy-transfer and via the ch’i inherent in nature.

Dr. Stephen T. Chang is trained in Chinese and Western medicine, philosophy, theology and law; he established the Foundation of the Tao in the late 1970s, and wrote several books on various aspects of Taoism.

Sophia Delza, a student of Grandmaster Ma Yueh-Liang of Shanghai, expert exponent of the Wu Chien-Chuan system of taijiquan, now is a world-renowned teacher herself of this art and also Chinese dance at various organizations in New York, including the U.N.

Daniel Wang is a ch’i-kung, t’ai-chi, and kung-fu master with 30 years experience, former coach and team leader of the Beijing T’ai Chi team, teaching in Santa Monica, CA.

SUGGESTED READING (a select list of English language sources):

Andersen, Poul, The Method of Holding the Three Ones: A Taoist Manual of the Fourth Century A.D., London: Curzon, 1980 (a basic early text of the Mao-Shan Shang Ch’ing sect).

Blofeld, John, Taoism: The Road to Immortality, Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1978; Taoism: The Quest for Immortality, Shambhala, 1979 (by a Western scholar and practitioner who lived in China).

Boltz, Judith, A Survey of Taoist Literature, Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California, 1987 (fine analysis of sources).

Bokenkamp, Stephen, Early Daoist Scriptures, Univ. of Calif., 1997 (works of the 2nd to 6th century CE).

Chan, Wing-tsit, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1963 (excellent resource).

Chia, Mantak, Healing Energy through the Tao, Santa Fe, NM: Aurora, 1983; and many other works all published by his Healing Tao Center, POB 1194, Huntington, NY 11743 (Taoist Secrets of Love, Bone Marrow Nei Kung, etc.)

Ching-Yuen, Loy, The Book of the Heart: Embracing the Tao (T. Carolan & B. Chen, Tr.), Shambhala, 1990; The Supreme Way: Inner Teachings of the Southern Mountain Tao (T. Carolan & Du Liang, Tr.), Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1997 (by a Taoist teacher of healing and martial arts, from Shanghai).

Chuang-tzu—of various versions and analyses of sage Chuang-tzu, see Burton Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, NY: Columbia Univ., 1968, Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia U., 1996; A.C. Graham, Chuang-tzu: The Seven Inner Chapters & Other Writings from the Book Chuang-tzu, London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1981; Victor Mair (Ed.), Experimental Essays on Chuang-Tzu, Honolulu: U. of Hawaii, 1983; Mair, Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales & Parables of Chuang Tzu, U. of Hawaii, rev. ed., 1998; Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu, NY: New Directions, 1965; David Hinton, Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chap-ters, Counterpoint, 1997; Lin Yutang, Chuangtse: Mystic & Humorist, ; Clae Waltham (Ed.), Chuang Tzu: Genius of the Absurd, NY: Ace, 1971 (James Legge’s 1891 transl.); and two 19th-cent. works by Herbert Giles: Chuang Tzu, Mystic, Moralist & Social Reformer; Chuang Tzu, Taoist Philosopher & Chinese Mystic.

Chung-yüan, Chang, Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art & Poetry, NY: Julian Press, 1963; Tao: A New Way of Thinking, Harper & Row, 1975; and other works. Cleary, Thomas (Trans.), The Essential Tao, 1991 (Tao Te Ching & Chuang-tzu); Wen-Tzu: Understanding the Mysteries, 1991; Vitality, Energy, Spirit: A Taoist Sourcebook, 1991; Immortal Sisters: Secrets of Taoist Women, 1989; The Secret of the Golden Flower, 1991; Understanding Reality: A Taoist Alchemical Classic, 1987 and The Inner Teachings of Taoism, 1986 (both by 11th cent. adept Chang Po-tuan); Awakening to the Tao (by 18th cent. adept Liu I-ming), 1988; The Book of Balance and Harmony, 1989; Back to Beginnings: Reflections on the Tao, 1990 (by 16th cent. adept Huanchu Daoren); Practical Taoism, 1996; Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body, 2000; all published by Shambhala (available in book-sets).

Cooper, J.C., Yin and Yang: The Taoist Harmony of Opposites, 1981; Chinese Alchemy, 1984; U.K.

Dean, Kenneth, Taoist Ritual and Popular Cults of Southeast China, Princeton Univ. 1995.

Eskildsen, Stephen, The Teachings & Practices of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters, SUNY, 2006.

Girardot, N.J., Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Chaos (hun-tun), Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press paper ed., 1988 (rich scholarship on mystical process of Tao-chia).

Goullart, Peter, The Monastery of Jade Mountain, London: The Travel Book Club, 1961 (an exquisite portrait of life in various Taoist monasteries in the 1920s and 1930s before the Communist takeover).

Huai-Chin, Master Nan, Working Toward Enlightenment: The Cultivation of Practice, Samuel Weiser, 1994.

Izutsu, Toshihiko, Sufism and Taoism: A Study of Key Philosophical Concepts, Berkeley, CA: Univ. of Calif. Press ed., 1984. (Highly recommended work by an eminent scholar).

Kirkland, Russell, Taoism: The Enduring Tradition, London: Routledge, 2004 (very comprehensive).

Kohn, Livia (Ed.), Daoism Handbook (2 vols.), Leiden: Brill, 2001 (fine articles from 30 scholars); Kohn (Ed.), Daoist Identity: History, Lineage, & Ritual, U. of Hawaii, 2002; Kohn, The Taoist Experience: An Anthology, SUNY, 1993; Early Chinese Mysticism: Philosophy & Soteriology in the Taoist Tradition, Princeton, 1991; Taoist Meditation & Longevity Techniques, Center for Chinese Studies, 1989; Monastic Life in Medieval Daoism: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, U. of Hawaii, 2003; The Daoist Monastic Manual: A Translation of the Fengdao Kejie, Amer. Acad. of Religion, 2004; Daoist Body Cultivation: Traditional Models & Contemporary Practices, U. of Hawaii, 2006 (by a respected scholar).

Lieh-tzu—see translations by A.C. Graham, The Book of Lieh-tzu, Columbia Univ. Press, 1990/1960, and Lionel Giles, Taoist Teachings from the Book of Lieh Tzu, London: John Murray, 1912.

Loewe, Michael, Ways to Paradise: The Chinese Quest for Immortality, UK: Allen & Unwin, 1979.

Lu K’uan Yü (Charles Luk), Taoist Yoga: Alchemy & Immortality, Samuel Weiser, 1973.

Maspero, Henri, Taoism and Chinese Religion (F. Kierman, Trans.), Amherst: Univ. of Mass., 1981.

Ni, Hua Ching Master, 8,000 Years of Wisdom: Conversations with Taoist Master Ni, Hua Ching (2 vols.), 1983 (includes his translation of Tao Te Ching), Attaining Unlimited Life: Teachings of Chuang-tzu, Taoist Inner View of the Universe & the Immortal Real, Workbook for Spiritual Development of All People, Tao: The Subtle Universal Law, Mysticism: Empowering the Spirit Within, Eternal Light: Teachings of My Father, Grandmaster Ni Yo-San, and many others, published by The Union of Tao & Man, Santa Monica, CA.

Palmer, Martin, Travels through Sacred China: Guide to the Soul & Spiritual Heritage of China, Thorsons, 1996.

Porter, Bill (Red Pine), Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits, SF: Mercury House, 1993 (fascinating).

Robinet, Isabelle, Taoism: Growth of a Religion (Phyllis Brooks, Tr. from the original French 1992 ed.), Menlo Park, CA: Stanford U., 1997; Taoist Meditation: The Mao-shan Tradition of Great Purity, SUNY Press, 1993 (from the 1989 French ed.).

Roth, Harold (Tr. & Ed.), Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism, Columbia Univ., 2004 (valuable contribution clarifying early Taoist developments).

Saso, Michael, The Teachings of Taoist Master Chuang, New Haven, CT: Yale Univ., 1978; Taoism & the Rite of Cosmic Renewal, Pullman, WA: Wash. State Univ., 2nd ed., 1990; Blue Dragon White Tiger: Taoist Rites of Passage, U. of Hawaii, 1990; The Gold Pavilion: Taoist Ways to Peace, Healing, & Long Life, Boston: Tuttle, 1995; Saso & David Chappell (Eds.), Buddhist & Taoist Studies (2 vols.), U. of Hawaii, 1977, 1987 (by a fine Western scholar who is also an ordained Taoist priest).

Schipper, Kristofer, The Taoist Body, Univ. of California, 1994 (by another ordained Taoist priest).

Tao Te Ching—for recommended translations of this classic, see Ellen Chen (1989), Red Pine (Bill Porter) (1996), Wing-tsit Chan (1963), Gia-fu Feng (1972), Henry Wei (1982), Lin Yu-tang (1942), D.C. Lau (1963/1982), Arthur Waley (1943), John Wu (1961), Paul Lin (1977), Michael LaFargue (1992), S. Addiss & S. Lombardo (1993), Robert Henricks (1989/2000), Victor Mair (1990), Stephen Mitchell (1988), David Hin-ton (2000), Jonathan Star (2001), D. Hall & R. Ames (2003), Chad Hansen (2004), Stan Rosenthal, et al. (Over 100 English translations have been made since John Chalmers’ 1868 version.) See L. Kohn & M. LaFargue (Eds.), Lao-tzu & the Tao-Te-Ching, SUNY, 1998.

Towler, Solala, A Gathering of Cranes: Bringing the Tao to the West, Atrium, 1996 (interviews with nine Chinese Taoist adepts in the West) (Towler edits the non-scholarly but quite interesting periodical The Empty Vessel: A Journal of Contemporary Taoism).

Welch, Holmes, & Anna Seidel (Eds.), Facets of Taoism: Essays in Chinese Religion, Yale U. Press, 1979; Welch, The Parting of the Way: Lao Tzu & the Taoist Movement, Boston: Beacon rev. ed., 1971 (insightful).

Wong, Eva, The Shambhala Guide to Taoism, 1997; Cultivating Stillness: A Taoist Manual for Transforming Body & Mind, 1992; Nourishing the Essence of Life: The Outer, Inner & Secret Teachings of Taoism, 2004; Harmonizing Yin & Yang: A Manual of Taoist Yoga Internal, External, Sexual, 1997, publ. by Shambhala.

Yates, Robin, Five Lost Classics: Tao, Huang-lao, and Yin-yang in Han China, Ballantine, 1997.

--See Taoism Info Page at The Taoist Restoration Society,, supports Taoism in China and has interesting articles and interviews. See Ingrid Fisher-Schreiber, et al, The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy & Religion, Shambhala ed., 1989 (for her definitions of key Taoist terms). See academic articles on Taoism in J. of Chinese Philosophy, the Harvard J. of Asiatic Studies, Philosophy East & West, J. of the American Oriental Society, J. of Asian Studies, etc. For good analysis of schools and cults of Taoism, see “Taoism” section at website Overview of World Religions, St. Martin’s College (UK), Philosophy, Theology & Religion: See Internal Arts Magazine (1986- ; John Painter, Ed.), POB 1777, Arlington, TX 76004 (fine articles on qigong, taiji, scientific studies of qi and exposés of hoaxes).