Religion is very different from philosophy, often it becomes quite opposite and yet it is carried on in its name and claims to be the original teaching. Sometimes this is caused by the inclusion of some alien elements, but in case of Taoism in China, from beginning to end it has been an indigenous faith. It took about 650 years from the time of Laotzu to its proclamation as a religion, to complete this transformation. The difference between Taoist philosophy and Taoist religion is so great that one can hardly find any connection; in fact, it is doubtful if there is any. All relations asserted by modern Taoists are uncertain and unreliable. The transformation, however, can be traced.
After the passing of the early Taoist teachers, its teachings were invaded and finally dominated by believers in the 'two forces' and the 'five elements' (male and female; earth, water, fire, air, ether) . From these two schools emerged. The first, the Ch’an Wei School, became mixed up with a Confucian school and gave birth to witchcraft. The second, the Shen Hsien School, was dominated by adepts in discerning the 'wind and water influence (fang-shih)' who practiced alchemy and the art of prolonging life. The first emperor of the Ch’in Dynasty fell a victim to these adepts and sent out emissaries to seek for this elixir of life. In the Western Han Dynasty the chief counsel of its founder, Chang Liang, was fond of this doctrine, and
the Emperor Wu-ti particularly favored it and made several unsuccessful attempts to find the philosopher's stone.
Under Emperor Kuang-wu of the Eastern Han Dynasty, in 34 A.D., Chang Tao-lin was born. It was by him that the Taoist religion was founded. He was a native of Chekiang Province although he spent most of his life in the Dragon-tiger mountain in Kang-si, where he lived and taught to an extremely old age; he spent a great deal of his time in meditation and lived to be 123 years of age.
A century elapsed. Then came the revolution of the Yellow Turbans who were followers of Chang Tao-lin and whose leader was a descendant of him. The revolution was soon suppressed but the religion continued and spread among the lower classes. Chang Tao-lin who had been called, "the Divine Teacher," was later honored by having this title (Tien-shih) made hereditary. This Taoist papacy still continues with its seat in the Dragon-tiger mountains. In the Western Chin Dynasty two independent adepts appeared (Ke-hung and Tao Hung-thing) who were famous for their wisdom and magical achievements. Later another Heavenly Teacher appeared during the Northern Wei Dynasty, in North China who was highly regarded by the Tartar Emperors. This man was K’ou Ch’ien-chieh of Chili, and through his influence Taoism became established for a time as a state religion. It was during this time (440 A.D.) that Buddhism was persecuted and Confucianism was neglected.
Since the founding of the T’ang Dynasty, owing to the fact that its founder claimed to be a descendant
of Laotzu, Taoist philosophy and the Taoist religion have been highly honored and promoted. The Old Master, Laotzu, was honored and his four great disciples; many Taoist priests were summoned to court and placed in high government positions. In the beginning of the Northern Sun Dynasty, Ch’ien T’uan and Ting Shao-wei, two great Taoist scholars, were honored by both Emperors T’ai Tzu and T’ai Tsung. Ch’ien T’uan's philosophy had a strong influence over Confucianism, and was directly the foundation of the so-called orthodox school of Taoism. Emperor Huei Tsung of the same Dynasty was a renowned patron of Taoism. He was often called the Taoist King. He regulated the Taoist priesthood into twenty-six ranks and two high priests were made ministers of state. He even went so far as to order all Buddhists to become Taoists. This was in 1119. It was during this revival of Taoism that meditation (ch’u zan ch’un) was revived. The first Mongol Emperor Kublai confirmed the Taoist papacy, and made Chang Tsung-yen, the thirty-sixth generation from Chang Tao-lin, a member of the hereditary nobility (1275) .
In the Ming Dynasty a famous Taoist named Chang San-feng was summoned by the Emperor many times but never responded. Emperor Chia Ching in his long reign (1522-1566) devoted much attention to Taoist affairs and ordered Taoist sacrificial feasts throughout the Empire. Since the Ming Dynasty there has been a bureau in the central government to administer Taoist affairs, together with a similar Buddhist bureau. The Ch’ing Dynasty followed this system and made the heir of Chang Tao-lin, its honorary chief, an official of the fourth rank. The Chang
family have thus enjoyed hereditary rank second only to the family of Confucius.
In modern times there have been two great branches of Taoist teachings, the Cheng Yi and the Ch’uan Chen. The former is the orthodox sect and follows strictly Chang Tao-lin's religious practices. Each of the two branches is again divided into two schools. The two schools of the orthodox branch are called Fu-lu and K’e Chiao, and are both under the Papacy that had been founded in 1161 in the Ch’in Dynasty. The First Patriarch of the first orthodox school was Lu Tung-pin, a retired Chin-shih scholar of the T’ang Dynasty. They practice witchcraft and most acts of exorcism and necromancy are under this sect; they use cryptic monograms, charms, spells, amulets in their services, and produce various psychic phenomena. The ouija board was their invention and its name originated in Fukien. It is called Fu-chi in Mandarin. The second Orthodox school, the Ke Ch’iao, confine their attention to the study of forms and rites and the practice of medicine. They are also interested in Taoist literature and ceremonies which have been developed mainly after Buddhist patterns and their costumes and ceremonies are often decorative and graceful.
The first of the heterodox schools is called the Lien Yang, or Chen Yang, and is devoted to the practice of physical and mental hygiene. They believe in strengthening the body and mind as a means of prolonging life and developing the spirit. This is achieved by secret meditations and exchange of vibrations. The Fang Chung Shu method for developing inner character, and the science of 'sexual' transformations (a
secret and cryptic word for the positive and negative principles) are important elements of their practices. The second of the heterodox schools is called the Fu-shih and their interests are related to the science of medicine and alchemy. They think that the life elements of the human body can be supplied either by herbal nourishment or by mental and spiritual sublimations. They value lead and mercury as means for transmuting into gold and in making an elixir of immortality. Most of these schools have northern and southern divisions. In general the Northern are more materialistic, the Southern more idealistic and less formal. *
As stated above, the Taoist religion is an abuse of Taoist philosophy. We find nothing essentially in common between them and, in many respects, they are conflicting. This is especially so between Laotzu's teachings and the orthodox Papacy. The true nature of the Taoist religion is a combination of the ancient animism, spiritism, mythology, and the popular superstitions of the day. Its formulation was chiefly influenced by imperial encouragement of the adepts and the social adoption of Buddhism. From the ancient animism and Buddhism, Chang Tao-lin made up the Taoist religion just as Mohammed made up
[paragraph continues] Islam from early Judaism and Christianity. They both borrowed foreign faiths and conformed them to native ideas to suit their own purpose. Against Laotzu's atheistic tendency the Taoist religion created numerous divinities. Against his disapproval of names and forms, it manufactured voluminous scriptures, rituals and elaborate ceremonials. Against his belief in the simple quiet life it imitated the ranks and standards of nobles and officials. Misunderstanding and ignoring Laotzu's warning against greed and lust, many Taoist practices of alchemy and sexual 'gravitation' appeared disguised in secret teachings and cryptic terms. On the other hand, the Taoist religion borrowed from the Buddhists the conception of the 'three bodies' of Buddha, but interpreted it as meaning their ancient belief in the 'three purities':--Virility (Ching), Air (Ch’i), and Spirit (Shen). It enumerated the eight immortals and the twenty-eight star gods, and pictured the heavens and hells after the Buddhist tales, and they have adopted the Buddhist practice of saying masses for the dead.
Differing somewhat from the Buddhists many orthodox Taoist priests forsake their temples and brotherhoods to marry and live the ordinary life of the world. Taoists often use their surnames and wear long hair. There are none or very few Taoist nuns. During the change of Dynasties, particularly between the Ming and Ch’ing, many officials, soldiers and scholars refused to submit to Manchu customs and became Taoists, because they were the only ones who were allowed to keep old Chinese ways and wear long hair. Strangely enough, during the recent revolution,
the Taoists were the last to lay aside their queues.
The influence of the Taoist religion in China is neither as strong as the influence of Buddhism or, the Taoist philosophy, but all the popular superstitions, practices and resort to geomantic magic, including spiritism and shamanism, can be regarded as Taoist in some form. The many revolutions of the Ch’ing Dynasty, besides the T’ai P’ing Christian and Mohammedan, were all connected more or less closely with the Taoist sects. Taoism has never created any great literature or art, as Buddhism and Confucianism has; it has never been the religion of the intellectual classes and has always been looked down upon by the literati.
137:* Besides these strictly Taoist sects, there are minor sects that are often more Buddhistic than Taoist, that practice meditation and are more spiritual and sincere. Most of these derive from Yuen Dynasty Ch’u-San-chen. Among these is the Eternal Life Sect that originated at the close of the Ming Dynasty in Chekiang Province under the leadership of Chan-sung-tao (Wang Chansung) as their first patriarch. This is an eclectic sect recognizing Buddha, Laotzu, and Confucius, as of equal merit. They are generally found in mountain temples living as small communistic Brotherhoods with their lay members living in the surrounding villages. They practice meditation and are very industrious, celibate, earnest and friendly.
As a religion Taoism passed over into Japan and became mixed up with Japanese history and legends to make up Japanese Shin-tao-ism, which, as it is involved with the cult of Emperor worship, is almost a state religion. In Korea it was the source of the T’ien Tao religion which has exercised a strong influence over political and social life. In the present Republic of China, Confucianism has been made a kind of state religion, but the rising of different sects integrating the 'three religions', such as the Tao Yuan, T’ung Shan She, and others, and a renaissance of a more spiritual Buddhism among the laity, is an indication of the undercurrent power of the old Tao conception.