Imparting Registers ( 授籙 Shoulu ) is an essential method used by Talismans and Registers sects to set up and expand their religious organizations. The so-called Register, or Daoist Register and Magic Register, is a script recording spiritual officials' and generals' names. We have briefly explained it when talking about Daoist Talismans. Imparting a Register to someone means to accept him as a disciple in one's sect; Receiving a Register means someone has been formally converted to Daoism. It is also a symbol of his position in that sect. When Imparting a Register, a talisman is also imparted, so the act is generally called Imparting Talismans and Registers.
Imparting Registers originated in the Mighty Commonwealth of the Orthodox Oneness sect. The later Talismans and Registers sects had their own imparting systems. The Mighty Commonwealth of the Orthodox Oneness sect was founded at the end of the Eastern Han and set many restrictions and commandments, which played an important role in helping folk Daoism develop into an organized religion. One of the sect's commandments was Imparting Registers. It is hard to know the details of Imparting Registers used by Zhang Daoling when he founded organized Daoism. In the Chapter on Petitioning to Officials of the Book of Magic Writs of the Orthodox Oneness ( 正一法文經官章品 Zhengyi Fawen Jing Guanzhang Pin ), " registered students" were mentioned several times, suggesting that a complete system for Imparting Registers existed at that time. Zhang Sheng, the fourth generation grandson of Zhang Daoling, was said to have moved to Mt. Longhu in Guixi of Jiangxi Province, and thus Mt. Longhu became the ancestral altar of the Orthodox Oneness Sect. Zhang Sheng continued the system of Imparting Registers there. It was said that he set the system of the Three Origin Festivals ( 三元日 Sanyuan Ri ). Many other Talismans and Registers sects formed at the same time or after Zhang Daoling founded the Celestial Masters Tradition. They learned the Dao from certain masters. The disciples would vow to their masters that their determination to learn the Dao would not change, and that they would not disobey their masters and seniors. This practice was suitable for single lineages, but not appropriate for consolidation and expansion of religious societies. Later Talismans and Registers sects witnessed the advantages of imparting registers in the sect of the Mighty Commonwealth of Orthodox Oneness. The Highest Clarity Sect and the Numinous Treasure Sect formed in the Southern and Northern dynasties began to use their own magic registers and adopted the method of Imparting Registers to recruit new members. In the Sui and Tang dynasties, various Talismans and Registers sects appeared. In order to differentiate themselves from Buddhism, they made register arrangements recognized by each sect. In the Tang Dynasty, the most basic register was that of the Orthodox Oneness Sect, and the highest was that of the Highest Clarity Sect. There were a total of one hundred and twenty steps, thus forming a strict system. New Talismans and Registers sects such as the Divine Heaven Sect, the Pristine Subtlety Sect and the Pure Brightness Sect appeared after the Song dynasty, which had different methods of imparting registers. Since the time of the Northern Wei there were emperors who believed in Daoism and received registers, and the Tang Dynasty led other periods in numbers of registered emperors. More high officials, noble lords and literati received registers, which helped Daoism to complete its system of Imparting Registers and raised Daoism's position in society.
There are many steps for registration in Talismans and Registers sects. Receiving a register is a certificate to enter Daoism. To receive a register is a sign of the promotion of one's position in Daoism. So Daoists need to receive registers several times. If they want to attain a high position in the entire Daoist community, they must receive registers recognized by all the sects.
From the Southern Song to the Yuan and early Ming, various Talismans and Registers sects joined the Orthodox Oneness Sect; Imparting Registers became the main method for Orthodox Daoism to pass on its traditions.
Since the Han and Song dynasties, there appeared many kinds of registers. The most influential were the those of Mt. Longhu (the ancestral altar of the Orthodox Oneness sect), Mt. Mao (the ancestral altar of the Highest Clarity sect) and Mt. Gezhao (the ancestral altar of the Numinous Treasure sect). They were called the Registers of the Three Mountains. At the end of the Southern Song and Yuan Dynasties, the imperial courts ordered the Perfect Man of Orthodox Oneness (who was conventionally called Celestial Master Zhang in Daoism and among the common people) to be in charge of the Registers of the Three Mountains, putting the various Talismans and Registers sects under the authority of Celestial Master Zhang. In the Ming Dynasty, many Talismans and Registers sects joined the Orthodox Oneness sect, which became the general name for all Talismans and Registers sects. The sect carried on the old methods of Imparting Registers, changing only some procedural arrangements. In modern times, Celestial Master Zhang on Mt. Longhu has claimed that the Orthodox Oneness sect has thirty-six kinds of registers and seventy-two types of talismans. Due to the disorder in society and to political revolutions, their registers and talismans are no longer complete.
Imparting a Register is a strict ritual. It has undergone some changes in development. Modern Register Imparting has been largely simplified.
Imparting a Register is a significant event both to the individual and to the sect. The Brief Rituals for the Cultivation of Perfection of the Orthodox Oneness ( 正一修真略儀 Zhengyi Xiuzhen Lueyi ) says: " Registers can keep an eye on one's temper, stop one's mistakes, cut off evil roots, and help to produce Daoist karma". " Separate from the profane to become sacred, stick to it from the very beginning to the end, receive a Register in the beginning and ascend to Perfection in the end". So receiving registers is a prerequisite to becoming Immortal; it implies holiness. So rituals for Imparting Registers are solemn, dignified and strict. The Rituals for Imparting Deliverance of the Orthodox Oneness ( 正一授度儀 Zhengyi Shoudu Yi ) in the Tang Dynasty are rich in content. As there were high officials and noble lords receiving registers, much attantion was paid to the design of altars, and offerings for immortals and masters were abundant. Major Register-Imparting rituals have many parts and need to be performed in several cycles, sometimes taking years to finish. In modern times, rituals for Imparting Registers have been difficult to conduct due to social and political turbulence. Even when the rituals are conducted, it is impossible to follow the tradition exactly.
Since the mid-twentieth century, political movements such as the Cultural Revolution have led to the near disappearance of Imparting Registers. When Daoist temples were re-established in the 1980s, Imparting Registers gradually resumed. First, Imparting Registers was conducted for Daoists abroad and from Taiwan at the Celestial Master's Residence at Mt. Longhu in Jiangxi. At the Lower Origin Festival ( 下元節 Xiayuan Jie ) in the Yihai Year (Dec.6, 1995), the Chinese Daoist Association formally conducted the first Imparting of Registers for mainland Daoists. This activity restored the traditional organization system, though it made some changes in its concrete practice. One change was that the duration of the ritual was shortened. It lasted three days while the old Imparting of Registers took at least seven days. The main programme was retained, though some performances were omitted. The whole ritual went through the following stages: Inform the Master; Worship the Stellar Sovereign; Transmit and Deliver; Offer Sacrifice; Submit Memorials; Send off the Holy. They also established the positions of Transmission Master, Supervising Master, and Recommending Master. They also established the Great Master for Protecting Registers, the Great Master for Protecting the Law ( 護法大師 Huda Dashi ), the Great Master for Protecting Scriptures, the Great Master for Protecting Commandments, the Great Master for Protecting the Altar, and the Great Master for protecting the Dao.
Now imparting registers has been normalized. Besides Mt. Longhu, other ancestral altars such as Mt. Mao are capable of imparting registers, too.