Daoism during the Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties (581-907)

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==Flourishing of Daoism and Development of Religious Teachings during the Sui and Tang Dynasties (AD 581-907)==

Integration of Daoism in the Sui and Tang Dynasties

The word "integration" may best describe Chinese civilization during the Sui and Tang dynasties. Daoism was also characterized by integration during that period. The integration of Northern and Southern Daoism furthered its development and prosperity, and led to increased support and devotion on behalf of the rulers. This led even more people to be converted to Daoism. More strikingly, Daoist doctrines and theories became so profound, penetrating, and brilliant that they left an indelible mark in the ideological history of China.

Daoism in the Sui Dynasty

From the perspective of the development of Daoism, we can see that Daoism during the Sui Dynasty was just at its turning point, and paved the way for the prosperity and great development of Daoist doctrines and theories in later periods. This great change was a consequence of the development of Daoism itself, as well as of the religious policy adopted by the rulers of the Sui Dynasty. The Wen Emperor of the Sui Dynasty adopted a policy of respecting both Buddhism and Daoism, and took advantage of Daoism to reach his political goals. In order to seize state power, he carried out propaganda by means of magic figures, incantations and auguries ( 符讖 Fuchen ), and tried to find theological arguments to justify his occupation of the supreme position. He supported the construction of Daoist temples as well as increasing the number of Daoist followers. In his old age, he developed himself into a devout believer in the Daoist philosophy of Immortality and longevity.


The Wen Emperor's son, the Yang Emperor, like his father, believed in Buddhism while supporting and taking advantage of Daoism. He assembled some scholars to write new Daoist books and compiled the contents of the Daoist classics. The Sui dynasty's balanced policy towards Buddhism and Daoism was not only very significant to the development of Daoism, but also had a far-reaching influence on the rulers of the Tang Dynasty.


Due to the unity of the Sui dynasty, the communication between the Daoism of the South and of the North became more convenient than ever. The arts and techniques practiced by the Highest Clarity sect of the South were transmitted to the North. The unique Daoist features of various sects from the South and the North began to mingle together. This integration is one of the characteristics of Sui dynasty Daoism, different from Daoism during the Southern and Northern Dynasties. During this period, the Maoshan sect ( 茅山宗 Maoshan Zong ) which had grown out of the Highest Clarity sect, not only consolidated its influence in the South, but also gradually expanded its influence to the North. This expansion was largely due to Wang Yuanzhi, the leader of the Maoshan sect. Wang went to the North from the South to deliver sermons, and accepted Pan Shizheng as his disciple during the Daye period (AD 605 - 618). Later, Pan became an important figure of the Maoshan sect who did missionary work in the North. Generally speaking, the unity of Daoism in the Sui Dynasty was centered round the Maoshan sect of the South, and laid a foundation for the prosperity of Daoism in the Tang Dynasty in which the Maoshan sect played the central role.


As for its geographical distribution, Daoism in the Sui Dynasty was not only very popular in the capital, but also scattered in such areas as Hanzhong, Ba-Shu, and the vast areas south of the Changjiang River. Most Daoist disciples in the Sui Dynasty were involved in political struggles between ruling factions, while Daoist activities among the ordinary people were gradually on the wane. According to the records in the History of the Sui Dynasty ( 《隋書》 Shuishu ), the major features of Daoism in the Sui Dynasty were as follows:

  1. Worship of the Primeval Lord of Heaven ( 元始天尊 Yuanshi Tianzun ) as the supreme god.
  2. Daoist masters had to practice Daoism for 49 years before they could preach to or teach their disciples.
  3. The key to teaching Daoist techniques was centered on benevolence and peace of mind, and pursuing everlasting life through a long period of gradual practice
  4. Daoist scriptures should be taught in the following order: the Five-Thousand Character Register ( 《五千文籙》 Wuqian Wenlu ), the Three Grottoes ( 《三洞》 Sandong ), the Register of Pervasive Mystery ( 《洞玄籙》 Dongxuan Lu ), and finally the Register of the Highest Clarity ( 《上清籙》 Shanqing Lu ).
  5. When preaching, teachers should interpret the Laozi first, and then they could explain the Zhuangzi, the Numinous Treasure ( 《靈寶》 Lingbao ), and the Ascension to Mystery ( 《升玄》 Shengxuan ).
  6. Talismans and Registers were viewed as the best form of practice, and the Talismans and Registers sect held a leading position.


In sum, Daoism in the Sui Dynasty was developing in the direction of catering to the taste of the upper classes, and at the same time it formed some unique features of its own. In addition, the Sui dynasty witnessed the convergence of Northern and Southern Daoism, with the Maoshan sect as the mainstream, preparing for the prosperity of Daoism in the Tang Dynasty. This special transition was very significant in the development of Daoism.

Daoism and the rulers of the early and mid Tang Dynasty

In the course of seizing political power, Li Yuan, the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, made use of Daoism for his own personal legitimation. After proclaiming himself emperor, he proclaimed that the founder of Daoism, the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun ), was his forefather. In order to offer sacrifices to Laozi, he had the Venerable Sovereign Temple ( 老君廟 Laojun Miao ) constructed on Mt. Yangjiao, and named it the Futang Temple ( 伏唐觀 Futang Guan ). Li Yuan tried his best to improve the position of Daoism in society by favouring it over Buddhism. He sent officials to offer an image of the Lord of Heaven ( 天尊 Tianzun ) to Korea, and sent Daoist priests there to teach the Book of Dao and its Virtue. As a result, Daoism was propagated abroad.


Li Yuan's son, the Taizong Emperor Li Shimin, like his father, had close relations with Daoist priests before he ascended the throne. After ascending the throne, the Taizong Emperor bestowed favours upon Daoist priest Wang Yuanzhi, because he had predicted that he would be 'The Emperor of Supreme Peace' ( 太平天子 Taiping Tiazi ). His esteem for Daoism was manifested in the following ways: in the early Zhenguan era, he governed his empire by means of the philosophy of Purity and Tranquility and Non-interference ( 清靜無為 Qingging Wuwei ). By worshipping Daoism, he continued to promote the position of Daoism and restrain Buddhism. In the 11th year of Zhenguan (637 A.D), he declared that Daoism was superior to Buddhism. For him, believing in Daoism was developing the tradition of worshiping one's ancestors'. In his old age he took elixirs and finally died of them while pursuing cscension to heaven as an Immortal'.


His successor Li Zhi, the Gaozong Emperor, retroactively conferred the title 'Supreme Emperor of the Mysterious Origin' ( 太上玄元皇帝 Taishang Xuanyuan Huangdi ) upon the Venerable Sovereign (Laozi), and the title 'Empress Dowager of Anterior Heaven' ( 先天太后 Xiantian Taihou ) upon the Sacred Mother (Laozi's mother). Li Zhi also required the princes, dukes, ministers, and officials to study Laozi. Candidates at the official examinations were to be tested of Laozi, and successful candidates in the imperial examinations at the provincial level were to be familiar with Laozi. The Empress Wu Zetian, in spite of the fact that she boasted that she was a gifted Buddha herself, made use of Daoist Magic Figures to justify her ascending the throne, and relied on Daoist priests to serve her political objectives. Although she believed in Buddhism, she pursued Daoist Immortality as well, especially in her old age. She ordered Daoist priests to conduct Ritual Offerings for her, offer dragons as pious deeds, and make elixirs for her. Her relationship to Daoism was rather complicated. In other words, she made use of the benefits of Daoism and played down its disadvantages, depending on different political situations.


The Xuanzong Emperor Li Longji was the strongest believer in Daoism among the emperors of the Tang Dynasty. Under his support, Daoism reached its summit. He took a series of measures in aid of Daoism, which had a far-reaching influence on the society, not only in his time but also at later times, especially during the Song Dynasty. Li's worship of Daoism can be seen in the following examples:

  1. The Xuanzong Emperor revered the Supreme Emperor of the Mysterious Origin, to such a degree that there was a surge of worship to him in China. Whenever he had the chance, he extolled the Supreme Emperor of the Mysterious Origin as his divine ancestor. He granted several new titles to Laozi. Moreover, he himself directed a mythological drama depicting the descent to earth of the Supreme Emperor of the Mysterious Origin.
  2. Daoist followers had backed up Li Longji in his ascent to the throne. Consequently he tried to improve the political and social status of Daoist priests, especially bestowing favor on those of the Maoshan Sect and of the Celestial Masters Tradition.
  3. He introduced Daoism into the imperial examinations of the educational system. As a result, many Daoist priests passed the examinations and were selected as officials.
  4. His belief in Daoism was also shown by his consumption of elixirs, and he often gave elixirs to his ministers or officials.


Neither the Gaozong Emperor nor the Xuanzong Emperor in the Tang Dynasty rejected Buddhism, in spite of the fact that they regarded Daoism as their principal belief. Only the Empress Wu Zetian believed in Buddhism more than Daoism.


Because the rulers actively disseminated Daoist philosophy and Daoist scriptures to the countries and regions around China, Daoism at that time became influential internationally. Daoism spread so widely in some neighbouring countries that the communications between the Tang Empire and these countries were often mediated by Daoism as a symbol of Chinese traditional culture. The prime of Daoism in the Tang Dynasty expressed the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty, which could be seen from the integration and flourishing of the Daoist sects and schools at the time.

Integration of Daoist sects from the early Tang to the prime of the Tang Dynasty

Daoist sects had experienced division and development from the Wei and Jin dynasties to the Northern and Southern dynasties (AD 220-581). In the Sui and Tang dynasties, however, there was a tendency for Daoist sects to be mingled together. Such a tendency began to emerge at the end of the Northern and Southern dynasties. The unification of the Empire in the Sui Dynasty ended the partition and separation of the different regions, creating conditions for the integration of Daoist sects. The Tang Dynasty further continued such integration, which brought about the prosperity of Daoism. Because of integration, the different Daoist sects with striking features of their own gradually permeated one another in doctrines and rituals, so much so that they were not easily distinguished. For instance, the Numinous Treasure sect, which had developed more rapidly than the Highest Clarity sect in the Northern and Southern dynasties, now seemed to disappear as the lines of transmission between masters and disciples became blurred.


The integration of Daoism was centered round the Maoshan sect. As everybody knows, the Maoshan sect was a major Daoist sect during the Tang Dynasty, always ready to adopt strong points from other sects. It absorbed some of the doctrines of the Twofold Mystery School ( 重玄學派 Chongxuan Xuepai ), the Fasting Skills of the Numinous Treasure sect ( 靈寶齋法 Lingbao Zhaifa ), and the Skills of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition ( 正一法 Zhengyi Fa ).


In the lifetime of Sima Chengzhen during the reign of the Xuanzong emperor, Mt. Song and the Mt. Wangwu in the north as well as Mt. Mao (Maoshan) and Mt. Tiantai in the south all became 'hot zones' where Maoshan priests delivered sermons on Daoist doctrines. The Maoshan sect also spread to the Shu region. It is certain that the prosperity of the Maoshan sect resulted from the great efforts of Sima Chengzhen. When we wonder why the sect became so prosperous and became the main force of Daoism, we may see that it was because it integrated the advantages of the three religions of China and integrated the practises of the Three Grotto scriptures into one system. Besides, there were many Daoist scholars and educated priests as well as a strict and independent teaching system to ensure the development of its organization. The Maoshan masters of different generations were also very capable of political activities. Owing to their efforts, the Maoshan sect was not harmed by political struggles, but rather was supported by the rulers for several generations. As a result, it enjoyed stable conditions for development, which was probably one of the most important reasons that it was so prosperous.

The development of Daoist doctrines from the beginning to the prime of the Tang Dynasty

The exchange and integration of different Daoist sects and schools of the North and the South in the Sui and Tang Dynasties provided suitable conditions for the development of Daoist doctrines. Since the debate between the three religions (Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism) that had started in the Northern and Southern Dynasties continued during the Sui and Tang Dynasties, Daoist disciples had to exercise their abilities of reflection and eloquence, and improve their philosophical thinking. And because the Tang rulers of the time attached importance to and advocated research on Daoist scriptures, the development of the Daoist theories reached a new phase and Daoist doctrine took some new forms. This not only paved the way for the further development of Daoist theories in the Song and Yuan dynasties (AD 960-1368), but also had a great effect on the Neo-Confucian philosophy of the Song and Ming dynasties. It can be said that Daoist philosophy took a very important position in the Chinese history of ideology and philosophy. During this phase, there emerged quite a large number of famous Daoist scholars such as Sun Simiao, Cheng Xuanying, Wang Xuanlan, Li Rong, Sima Chengzhen, Wu Jun, Li Quan, Zhang Wanfu, and so on. Each contributed to the development of Daoist theories in his own way, so that they became very influential figures in the history of Daoist ideology and its development.

Tortuous Development of Daoism from the An-Shi Rebellions to the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period

Daoism from the An-Shi Rebellions to the End of the Tang Dynasty

After the An-Shi (An Lushan and Shi Siming) Rebellions, Daoism began to decline from the summit of its development. Daoist classical books were burned in the war, and Daoist temples and auspicious realms were damaged. In spite of all this, the regular policy of the Tang rulers of worshiping Daoism and its ancestors was not changed yet. After the mid-Tang period, Daoism gradually revived and developed. At the time of Emperor Wuzong, there was another tide of developing Daoism. Emperor Wuzong continued the custom of worshiping Daoism that was handed down from Emperor Xuanzong. Wuzong's worship of Daoism had the following aspects:

  1. Worship of the Emperor of the Mysterious Origin( 玄元皇帝 Xuanyuan Huangdi ). Laozi's birthday was set as the Sage Visitation Festival ( 降聖日 Luosheng Ri ), as a day of rest throughout the country.
  2. Offering of sacrifices to the Honored Spirits of the Nine Palaces ( 九宮責神 Jiugong Guishen ) in rituals of the Great Shrine ( 大祠 Daci ), which restored the old system of Xuanzong's time. In Xuanzong's time, the Honored Spirits of the Nine Palaces were considered as the heavenly spirits controlling floods and droughts, and treated with high courtesy. In Wenzong's time, the sacrifice to it had been dropped to the level of Medium-sized Shrine ( 中祠 Zhongci ), and then revived to the Great Shrine again in Wuzong's time, as part of his worship of Daoism.
  3. Appointment of Zhao Guizhen, a Daoist, to an important position, acceptance of Daoist Skills and Registers, and respect to him as the emperor's spiritual master.
  1. Building of the Temple for Viewing Immortals ( 望仙觀 Wangxian Guan ) within the imperial court for the purpose of refining elixirs and pursuing the goal of becoming immortal by taking elixirs.


Because of his worship of Daoism and of the excessive expansion of Buddhist monasteries' economic power, Emperor Wuzong ordered the abrogation of Buddhism and the secularization of Buddhist monks and nuns. Wuzong's worship of Daoism offered Daoism a new opportunity to develop.

Daoism in the Ten Kingdoms and Five Dynasties period

At the end of the Tang dynasty, several small independent states came into existence by force of arms. Following the custom of worshiping Daoism that was handed down from the Tang dynasty, the rulers of these states participated very much in the worship of Daoism. The first emperor of ther Later Jin dynasty, Shi Jingtang, revered a Daoist as his spiritual master, consulted him about the way to govern a state, and asked the Daoist to teach him the Book of Dao and its Virtue ( 道徳經 Daode Jing ). The Zhuang emperor Li Cunxu of the Later Tang dynasty continued the state policy of worship of Daoism and ancestors, revering the Emperor of Mysterious Origin as the Sacred Patriarch ( 聖祖 Shengzu ). He claimed that the young twigs growing on withered branches at the Old Hall of the Sage Patriarch ( 聖祖舊殿 Shengzu Jiudian ) symbolized a resurgence of fortunes. Emperor Shizong of the Later Zhou dynasty consulted Chen Tuan, a Daoist on Mt. Hua, learning from him the skills of immortality and granting him the title ' Gentleman of White Clouds" ( 白雲先生 Baiyun Xiansheng ). The first emperor Wang Jian of the Later Shu Dynasty treated the Daoist Du Guangting very well, asked him to be the tutor of his son, and conferred on him the title 'Duke of the Kingdom of Cai" ( 蔡國公 Caiguo Gong ) and styled him ' Gentleman of Broad Accomplishments" ( 廣成先生 Guangcheng Xiansheng ). Wang Yan, the son of Wang Jian, and even revered Du Guangting as the 'Celestial Master Who Transmits Perfection" ( 傳真天師 Chunzhen Tianshi ) and as the 'Grand Scholar of the Temple for the Worship of Perfection ( 崇真館 Chongzhen Guan ). He had a statue of Wang Zijing cast, revered Wang as the Sage Patriarch and Higher Dao Emperor of the Jade Mansion ( 聖祖至道玉宸皇帝 Shengzu Zhi Yuchen Huangdi ), and followed the example of the Tang dynasty's worship of the Sage Patriarch Emperor of the Mysterious Origin ( 聖祖玄元皇帝 Shengzu Xuanyuan Huangdi ), in order to consolidate his kingdom. Emperor Meng Chang of the Later Shu dynasty, whose Daoist name was 'Master of Jade Heaven" ( 玉霄子 Yuxiaozi ), believed in the Arts of the Bedchamber ( 房中術 Fangzhongshu ). He prayed for happiness and averted misfortunes through Daoist rituals, and appreciated the Portrait of the True Form of the Eight Immortals ( 八仙真形圖 Baxian Zhenxing Tu ) painted by the Daoist Zhang Suqing. Yang Xingmi, the King of the Wu state, worshiped the Daoist Nie Shidao, asked him to pray for the happiness of the people, and granted him the title 'Gentleman Who Attends to Politics" ( 問政先生 Wenzheng Xiansheng ). In a word, from the An-Shi Rebellion to the Five Dynasties period, the rulers' policy of worshiping Daoism remained more or less unchanged, and the rulers all tried to take advantage of Daoism to consolidate their ruling position. Those emperors and influential officials who worshiped Daoism the most indulged in the Daoist belief in immortals and in the skills of alchemy.

The main sects of Daoism from the An-Shi rebellion to the Five Dynasties period

In this period, the Mt. Mao Sect still held the leading position in Daoism. Based on the Record of Mt. Mao ( 茅山志 Maoshan Zhi ), the transmission of the Maoshan Lineage ( 茅山宗 Maoshan Zong ) from the 14th to the 19th generation (altogether six generations) progressed rather slowly, because the masters of the Mt. Mao Sect were not very famous. The Tiantai Sect of the Southern Sacred Mountain Tradition ( 南嶽天台派 Nanyue Tiantai Pai ), derived from the Mt. Mao Sect, was named after the mountains the adepts lived in. The Highest Clarity Secret Skills of the Great Grotto ( 上清大洞秘法 Shangqing Dadong Mifa ) and the Scriptures and Registers of the Three Grottoes ( 三洞經籙 Sandong Jinglu ) were transmitted, and many Daoists were well known to the world. For example, Luqiu Fangyuan wrote thirty essays to elaborate the Book of Dao and its Virtue, and had more than 200 disciples. And Nie Shidao, with over 500 disciples, was quite influential, for he preached the doctrines by following the true custom of Daoism and transmitted the Highest Clarity Skills. Luqiu Fangyuan and Nie Shidao were the two most important teachers of the Tiantai Sect of the Southern Sacred Mountain Tradition.

The development of Daoist doctrines and rituals in this period

In this period, Daoist doctrines and rituals of fasts and offerings were still developing, and were summarized by Du Guangting in the Five Dynasties period. After he failed in the imperial examination at the provincial level, Du Guangting revered as his master Ying Yijie, a Daoist of the Tiantai Sect of the Southern Sacred Mountain Tradition, practicing the Highest Clarity Skills. In the first year of Zhonghe (881 AD), he came to the Shu state (in today's Sichuan province) with emperor Xizong of the Tang Dynasty, and then stayed in Chengdu. Later he served emperor Wang Jian of the Later Shu state, and was entitled 'Gentleman of Broad Accomplishments". Du cultivated Dao in reclusion on Mt. Qingcheng, and summarized the doctrines and rituals of Daoism through his large number of works. Since the emergence of Daoism, Laozi and the Book of Dao and its Virtue had been mystified. Laozi was even regarded as the Sage Patriarch by the rulers of the Tang Dynasty, and the Book of Dao and its Virtue revered as the 'Perfect Book" ( 真經 Zhenjing ). Based on all this, Du Guangting creatively systematized the various legends about the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun ), perfected Laozi as the embodiment of Dao and the myth that Laozi had created the world. We may say that it was Du Guangting who systematized and generalized the image of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign as the founder of Daoism. With the formation of Daoism in the Han Dynasty, the Book of Dao and its Virtue had become the fundamental basis of Daoist doctrines. Since then, the Daoists attached great importance to its interpretation, and thus formed the Daoist school of Laozi Learning28. The Broad and Sacred Teachings of the Perfect Book of Dao and its Virtue29, characteristic of the Twofold Mystery School30, was one of Du's masterpieces, which summarized Daoist Laozi Learning since the Han Dynasty and improved further the speculation of it. By doing so Du paved the way for the new school of Laozi Learning in the Song and Yuan dynasties. Du absorbed the advantages of the different sects of Daoism. He not only had a sense of participation in political affairs, but the demeanor of the 'Prime Minister in the Mountain"31. Moreover, he had the concepts of the speculative Twofold Mystery School, as well as the true transmission of the Skills and Registers of the Zhang Celestial Masters of Mt.Longhu. He summarized and completed the Daoist rituals of Fasts and Offerings32, and became an important figure in the history of Daoism.


Methods for Ingesting Original Vital Breath During the Sui and Tang Dynasties

During the Sui and Tang dynasties, Daoist concepts of Ingesting Vital Breath ( 服氣 Fuqi ) placed a strong emphasis on the Ingestion of Original Vital Breath ( 服元氣 Fu Yuanqi ), Internal Vital Breath ( 內氣 Neiqi ) and Internal Original Vital Breath ( 內元氣 Neiqi ). They stressed that, in order to live a long life, people should not dissipate their body's Original Vital Breath and should retain their Vital Essence. Original Vital Breath was considered to be the root of life; only by guarding this root carefully could Dao be attained. The method for preserving that root was Ingesting Original Vital Breath and Internal Vital Breath. According to Perfect Man Yin's Art of Ingesting Original Vital Breath ( 尹真人服元氣術 Yin Zhenren Fu Yuanqi Shu ), "the body's Original Vital Breath is released through the mouth and nose. If exhalation of Original Vital Breath is stopped, the Elixir Field ( 丹田 Dantian ) will be filled. If the Elixir Field is full, you will not feel hunger or thirst, and you will become a Divine Man ( 神人 Shenren ). This is why people begin their life as embryos, without eating, nor drinking, nor breathing, and have Original Vital Breath in abundance. To have an abundance of Original Vital Breath is the way of longevity". If, just like an embryo, you can prevent your Original Vital Breath from leaking outside the body, you have attained the means of attaining longevity. In short, the basic principle of Ingesting Original Vital Breath is to preserve one's Original Vital Breath and prevent its dissipation outside the body.


Concretely speaking, the methods for Ingesting Original Vital Breath are the following:


The first requirements for Ingesting Original Vital Breath are to purify one's heart, eliminate thoughts and action, and to remain in a state of simple tranquility

3Exhale naturally. After half the breath, gently continue exhaling with the nose closed. As Vital Breath rises upward, raise your head and swallow forcefully. Raise the head to the left and lower it to the right. Mentally direct the Vital Breath to the abdomen, until it flows into the Elixir Field, and then recommence the cycle by swallowing. The swallowed breath joins the Elixir Field, and from there penetrates the four limbs. This form of mental dirigation of Vital Breath is called "Dissemination of Vital Breath" ( 流布 Liubu ). Take caution not to allow the Vital Breath to leak out of the Obscure Orifice (perineum) ( 玄牝 Xuanpin ), but to make it circulate evenly through the body. You should not gasp or breathe irregularly. If the Vital Breath does not reach the Elixir Field, it is difficult to force it to do so, no matter how much you try. Thus it is difficult for beginners, and they must eat less and make a strenuous effort. With persistent effort, Vital Breath will circulate naturally and ability will accrue. This is called to drink from Spontaneity ( 自然 Ziran ) in order to resist this world, and to approach Divinity in order to enter subtlety. It begins as Three-Five ( 三五 Sanwu ) and ends as Seven-Nine ( 七九 Qijiu ). Lie down on your back, with your head on a low pillow. Contract both knees and shoulders, and stretch both arms. Lie down on your stomach, with a folded quilt under the chest, and stretch out the arms and legs. Inhale with the head raised, making the breath descend on the left, then inhale with the head lowered, making the breath descend on the right. When swallowing Vital Breath make a sound, but do not swallow saliva, and exhale. Beware of allowing wind to enter as you inhale breath. While swallowing Vital Breath, do not rest at will. Wait until the heart is completely tranquil before starting again. When beginning the exercise, you should have a clear mind, without any worries; this will allow the Vital Breath to circulate freely. If the heart is burdened with worry, Vital Breath will not flow. Beginners may feel fullness in their abdomen. If they eat less, they will feel Vital Breath flowing through their organs and into the Elixir Field, and then they will feel it flowing smoothly and freely throughout the body, leading to the spontaneous awakening of the spirit.


Ingesting Original Vital Breath into the Sea of Vital Breath ( 氣海 Qihai )

The Sea of Vital Breath forms when the spermatozoon and the ovum first combine. It lies three inches under the umbilicus. When the baby is born, only the umbilical cord is connected with the mother. Hollow as a pipe, it permits the flowing of the Vital Breath to form the embryo. He who wants longevity must cultivate this root; otherwise, pursuing outer cultivation, he can achieve nothing. The Sea of Vital Breath is connected with the kidneys and thus belongs to the water of Ren and Gui ( 壬癸水 Rengui Shui ). It is named "Sea" for water flows into the sea. Vital Breath has water, which is Yin, as its mother. Yin must combine with Yang for it can't exist alone. The Mind, belonging to the Fire of Bing and Ding ( 丙丁火 Bingding Huo ) in the South, is the lord of Yang. Concentrate the mind in the Sea of Vital Breath, and Yang will come down into Yin and Yin up into Yang. It evaporates into clouds which steam the bones and holes all over the body. He whose Vital Breath doesn't flow well will have diseases in his body. Those whose diseases are incurable by medicine must concentrate, without any other thoughts, on the Sea of Vital Breath. Put one hand under the umbilicus and wait for the Vital Breath. When the Vital Breath comes, it moves under the palm, giving a feeling of breathing, touching, aching, sounding, and pulling. One must wait quietly and concentrate on it with the eyes. Thus, Yang shines on Yin and yin rushes upward and transforms into a vital liquid. After a long time, the breath through the nostrils minimizes under the throat and one only feels one's breath moving in the Sea of Vital Breath. Every time one exercises Vital Breath, one must regulate it slowly to disperse it; otherwise it will become a tumor or a gall.

The Wise Man of Mt. Mao's formula for Ingesting Inner Vital Breath ( 服內氣 Fu Neiqi ).

Lie on your right side, draw both legs slightly, face the east with the head turned south, and hold both fists by the chin. Shut the breath in, swallow it seven times, and then exhale once. The sick first exhales once after inhaling one or two times, and then exhales once after inhaling seven times. Then regulate the breath evenly, inhale 40 times, and sit up to practice. Embrace both erect knees with both hands crossed, hold your breath and bloat your belly fourteen or twenty-one times, and puff when your breath is full. Regulate the breath to keep it from being coarse. Then hold your breath and bloat your belly again until the belly is regulated. When you sweat or feel hot, it means that your breath is full all over your body and all your joints have become comfortable. The old scriptures all prescribe visualization, which is too troublesome for the mind to practice. Ingesting Vital Breath originates from Embryonic Breathing and accords with the function of mysterious creation only if one doesn't have any other thoughts. The law goes as follows: treasure your Essence, hold your breath and swallow your vital water (saliva) : your Vital Breath will transform into blood, your blood into Essence, Eessence into liquid, and your liquid into bones. Practice it often without sluggishness, and you will become extremely vigorous.


Gentleman Huanzhen's formula for Ingesting Inner original Vital Breath ( 元氣 Yuanqi ).

The essence of ingesting Vital Breath lies in swallowing breath. Ordinary people swallow their Outer and Inner breath in confusion, while true practitioners distinguish them without fault. Man is born with Original Vital Breath forming his body, and his body with full Original Vital Breath is healthy. Every time one swallows and exhales breath, the Inner Breath corresponds with the Outer Breath. It naturally comes up from the Sea of Vital Breath to the throat. When one exhales completely at the throat, one immediately closes one's mouth and swallows down with a sound. The breath goes down, along the left for man and along the right for woman, just like water through the backbone's 24 joints. The Outer Breath and Inner Breath are thus differentiated clearly while closely related. Send it with the mind and massage it with the hand to make it quickly enter the Sea of Vital Breath.


As for Ingesting Breath and cultivating the body, one enters a quiet room in leisure and undresses, lies facing upward, and stretches one's arms with one's hands open, combs one's hair and spreads it on the bedsheet, and then regulates the breath and ingests it. After ingesting, hold the breath to full capacity and extinguish any thought. Let go of the breath and exhale when one stifles, and regulate it when one pants. Practice again when the breath is even and stop after ten times. A beginner's breath cannot pass through for some time; he can practice holding his breath gradually for one to ten seconds. When it is through, he can gradually add 20 to 50 seconds. Sweating all over is the effect. Pacify the mind and harmonize the Vital Breath, lie and don't rise in wind. This is a good way for the aged to prolong their lives.


The way to let go of Vital Breath ( 委氣 Weiqi ): pacify the body and the breath as well as the mind, then one can practice whenever one walks, stands, sits or lies. Leaning against the door, stretching on the bed, sitting alone, one just makes one's mind thoughtless, quiet and empty as the sky. Then hold and regulate the Vital Breath ( 調息 Tiaoxi ) ten to twenty times, letting go of the Vital Breath without any deliberate struggle with the breath. After a long while, breath will come out from the pores in one's body instead of one's mouth.


While emphasizing Ingesting Vital Breath, Sui and Tang Daoism stressed Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息 Taixi ), which is closely related to Ingesting Breath. Vol. 58 of the Seven Slips of a Cloudy Satchel ( 雲笈七籤 Yunji Qiqian ) contains the texts On the Essential Subtlety of Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息精微論 Taixi Jingwei Lun ), Essential Formulas for Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息根旨要訣 Taixi Genzhi Yaojue ), Sundry Formulas for Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息雜訣 Taixi Zajue ), and Oral Formulas for Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息口訣 Taixi Koujue ). Vol. 60 contains the Formulas for Embryonic Breathing by Ingesting Vital Breath ( 服氣胎息訣 Fuqi Taixi Jue ) and the Book of Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息經 Taixi Jing ), which are especially about Embryonic Breathing. In addition, the arts of Vital Breath scattered in many books contain skills of Embryonic Breathing. This is an important feature of Daoist Ingesting Vital Breath.


What is Embryonic Breathing? The Yanling Sovereign's General Treatise on Cultivation and Nourishment ( 延陵君修養大略 Yanling Jun Xiuyang Dalue ) says, " Guarding the One and holding fast to one's own Inner Vital Breath, just as an infant in the mother's embryo, is thus called Embryonic Breathing ". The Oral Formulas on Embryonic Breathing says, "After long practice, the breath, instead of flowing through the mouth and nostrils, flows through the umbilicus just as in an infant. So it is called Embryonic Breathing." Sundry Formulas on Embryonic Breathing says, "Not confusing the Inner Breath with the Outer Breath is called Embryonic Breathing." The Essential Formula on Embryonic Breathing points out, "The ancients' books about Embryonic Breathing seldom reach the Gate of Mystery. Their statements all contain some mistakes or shortcomings. Some say no breath is the embryo; others say holding one's breath is Inner Breath. All, clinging to a single way far from the ultimate truth, confuse later learners." "Embryonic Breathing is the Vital Breath formed when Yin and Yang of Heaven and Earth first combined. This Vital Breath concentrated into form. Then the light of this Essential Breath concentrated as two eyes, which are the essential breath of the father. As pure Yang breath, it is able to reflect all things. The Mysterious Female formed with the mother's Yin breath becoming the mouth and nostrils. Thus we can know that form is the basis for receiving Vital Breath and Vital Breath is the root of form, and two kinds of Vital Breath are the root of forms. Since there is the root of form, it can grow with the mother's breath into an embryo and body in ten months. Thus, practitioners imitate it. Recovering one's root is the essence of Embryonic Breathing." So, we know that Daoism has different explanations of Embryonic Breathing with the same metaphor of infant's breath in the embryo.


There are various concrete methods of Embryonic Breathing. On the Essential Subtlety of Embryonic Breathing says, "Embryonic Breathing and Ingesting Vital Breath should be conducted by swallowing seven times in the later half of the night. After each swallowing, regulate the breath seven times and swallow it again like water with a sound of "kan" indicating the flow of breath. Curdle the Vital Breath in the Sea of Vital Breath and make the belly full as a pregnant woman's. Achieve Embryonic Breathing through having an embryo (the Sea of Vital Breath is filled with breath and then it is the way of Embryonic Breathing). The Vital Breath completed, the pure breath condenses as an embryo and impure breath disperses out (through the limbs and hair). The embryo completed, all diseases are naturally cured and one can communicate with Immortals and spirits. Only when the joints are smooth and the sea of the stomach open, can one inhale the Original Vital Breath through Ingesting Breath. After Ingesting the Breath, one must close the joints and exhale slowly through the nostrils. Ingest this way, and the Inner Breath and Outer Breath will not be separate, and embryonic breath will not escape. Count silently from 10 to 100, 200 or 300. After this little achievement, one's senses will become very acute and all diseases will be cured. It is very unreasonable to learn Embryonic Breathing through restraining one's breath. Holding one's breath harms the organs. The secret of great effect and little effort in Ingesting Vital Breath lies only in pacifying the mind. With worries and thoughts extinguished, the Vital Breath channels become fluent, the joints open, and harmonious breath gathers inside all the day. After swallowing seven times at midnight, keep the Inner Breath from flowing out, inhale and exhale slowly through the nostrils, and do not confuse the Inner Breath with the Outer Breath. Ingest seven times at 4 o'clock and again in the early morning. Stop after ingesting 21 times in total. He who restrains from grains is not limited to this number. Swallow the Inner Vital Breath whenever the stomach is empty, and you will not feel hungry. He who finds it a little difficult at first will get used to it after long practice. The Inner Breath and the Outer Breath will not be confused and gradually the joints and pores will open. The Vital Breath comes and goes by itself, and one needn't exhale and inhale slowly through the nostrils. This is all the subtlety of Embryonic Breathing."


Sundry Formulas for Embryonic Breathing introduces two methods.

  1. Inhale and exhale slowly and the Original Vital Breath will not leak out. After closing the Inner Breath, exhale and inhale through the nostrils slightly. Make the Inner Breath return at the throat. The Inner Breath, after filling up, will rush upward. Let go of it slowly without any restraint. After the breath is regulated, close it again and breathe through the nostrils slowly, and keep it from the throat. After some great efforts, breathing will suddenly become easy and the body comfortable all over. Then even thousands of breaths will not make one tired. The essence of Embryonic Breathing is to extinguish thoughts. The mind is like ashes, the body like wood, one will conform to nature with all his Vital Breath channels and joints open. If worries and thoughts succeed themselves, one's efforts to pursue Dao will be in vain. Only those who renounce the world can conduct this subtle method; otherwise all efforts will be wasted.
  2. After inhaling fully, visualize flowing water with successive waves. The opening of joints and pores depends on this visualization. Inhale slightly through the nostrils and let the breath out through all the limbs, channels and pores. When the later breath comes, hold it from exhaling. Do this slowly; hold the breath from exhaling while keeping from swallowing it. It will disperse slightly and slowly, and the Inner Breath will not disperse.


The Oral Formulas of Embryonic Breathing says, "He who wants to learn Embryonic Breathing should first sit alone in a quiet room. Sit upright with the left foot crossing the right. Loosen your clothes and belt and then massage your limbs slowly. Hold your hands on your legs, then inhale and exhale three or five times to regulate the breath evenly. Clarify the mind leisurely and then swing the body slowly to spread the organs. Then, beat the Heavenly Drum ( 鳴天鼓 Mingtang ) 36 times and visualize the Bright Hall ( 明堂 Mingtang ) one inch deep between the two eyebrows, the Pervasive Chamber ( 洞房 Dongfang ) two inches deep, and the Upper Elixir Field ( 丹田 Dantian ) (also named the Mud Ball Palace ( 泥丸宮 Niwan Gong )) three inches deep. Then visualize in turn the Middle Elixir Field, the Lower Elixir Field, and the Five Organs starting with the heart. Visualize each of the Five organs giving out the Vital Breath of its direction to combine with the white Vital Breath of the three Elixir Fields into one breath. The unified breath comes out from the back of the head, shining with nine colored rays of about 10 meters' length. While visualizing the body in this Vital Breath, shut the mouth and nostrils and visualize Embryonic Breathing only in the umbilicus. Feeling out of breath, exhale slowly and slightly through the nostrils. When the breath recovers its evenness, visualize it as before. Sweating indicates one has finished and there is no limit to the times of practice. Feeling hot, visualize Vital Breath all over the body like steam in a rice pot. This is called Full Breath. Ingest again and visualize all the organs and bowels in the body. Practice slowly without hearing the sound of your breath. After 30 years' practice, one can breathe in the umbilicus and thus easily bear a rope tight around one's neck. Also, one can sit under water for 15 days.


The Book of Embryonic Breathing says, "The embryo forms through taming the breath; breath is tamed through forming the embryo. Vital Breath coming into the body is life; and the spirit's leaving the body is death. Grasping the spirit and Vital Breath, one can achieve longevity; holding to emptiness, one can nourish the spirit and Vital Breath. The Spirit moving, the Vital Breath moves; the Spirit staying still, the Vital Breath stays still. If one desires longevity, one must concentrate the Spirit and Vital Breath on each other. The mind not arousing any thought, it will stay naturally without coming or going. Practicing this diligently is the true way." This method is different from all those cited above in its emphasis on holding to emptiness and the non-moving of the mind. So, there are different ideas about Embryonic Breathing and consequently different methods of practice. Also, Embryonic Breathing is the same as Ingesting Original Vital Breath in its fundamental method, and so it was natural for Sui and Tang Daoism to stress Embryonic Breathing while emphasizing Ingesting Original Vital Breath.


The Daoist Art of Vital Breath is one of the finest flowers of Chinese Life-Nourishing culture. With a deposit of fine heritage from Chinese traditional culture and in spite of some unscientific contents, its main part may as well be the crystal of primeval life science. This great contribution of Daoism to Chinese ancient science still has great value to contemporary human life science and medicine. It deserves our deep study and development. Sui and Tang Daoism, emphasizing Ingesting Original Vital Breath and summarizing a system of methods, became an important period in the history of Daoist cultivating arts. Absorbing Daoist achievements in Breathing Arts of the Han, Wei and Northern and Southern Dynasties and developing to a higher stage, it prepared a basis for the rise of the Inner Alchemy of the end of the Tang, Five Dynasties and Song dynasties. This was an important transitional period in which External Alchemy became Inner Alchemy. Sui and Tang Daoist ways of Ingesting Original Vital Breath are an invaluable treasure in the treasury of the Chinese culture of Nourishing Life.