Daoism during the Song and Yuan Dynasties

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The Revival of Daoism in the Northern Song Dynasty and Appearance of New Religious Teachings

Worship of Daoism by the Rulers of the Northern Song Dynasty

The emperors Zhenzong and Huizong represented the rulers who worshiped Daoism in the Northern Song Dynasty. By imitating Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty who worshiped the Sage Patriarch ( 聖祖 Shenzu ) Laozi, Emperor Zhenzong revered the Heavenly Lord Zhao Xuanlang as his forefather. He conducted a drama in which the Heavenly Lord ( 天尊 Tianzun ) descended down to the earth, entitled Zhao the "Great Emperor and Heavenly Lord, Controller of Destinies and Protector of Life of the Sage Patriarch's Highest Numinosity and of the Great Dao's Nine Heavens" ( 聖祖上靈高道九天司命保生天尊大帝 Shenzu Shangling Gaodao Jiutian Siming Baosheng Tianzun ). In Zhenzong's time there occeured the so-called "descent of the heavenly book". It was said that a Divine Man told the emperor that three heavenly passages of the Auspicious Talismans of the Great Mean ( 大中祥符 Dazhong Xianfu ) were descending. So he changed the title of his reign to "Auspicious Talismans of the Great Mean" to correspond to the care and protection of the highest heaven.


Emperor Huizong worshiped Daoism even more fervently. He claimed that the Heavenly Spirits had descended and rejuvenated Daoism. To cater to his idea, the Daoist Lin Lingsu the claimed that emperor Huizong was the Great Imperial Sovereign of Longevity ( 長生大帝君 Changsheng Dadijun ) who had descended to the world as the founder of Daoism. Under his instruction, the Daoist Registration Administration ( 道錄院 Daoluyuan ) officially entitled Emperor Huizong as the "Emperor, Patriarch and Sovereign of Dao" ( 教主道君皇帝 Jiaozhu Daojun Huangdi ). The emperor appointed the Daoist Liu Hunkang of Mt. Mao to an important position, and granted him the title 'Gentleman Who Nurtures Perfection and Contemplates Sublimity" ( 葆真觀妙先生 Baozhen Guangmiao Xiansheng ). He frequently called Zhang Jixian, the Celestial Master of the 30th generation, to the capital and granted him the title "Gentleman of Emptiness and Tranquility" ( 虛靖先生 Xujing Xiansheng ). In particular, the Daoist Lin Lingsu was treated favorably and received the title "Gentleman Who Has Attained Perfection and Numinosity" ( 通真達靈先生 Tongzhen Daling Xiansheng ). Besides, he was ordered to prune Daoist history and scriptures and registers, and respected as a spiritual master. Due to this, Daoism became high-tone. Emperor Huizong had Daoist temples constructed on a large scale and had the Nine Cauldrons ( 九鼎 Jiuding ) cast. He also set up a system of Daoist Learning, personally explained the Book of Dao and its Virtue ( 道德經 Daode Jing ) by himself, and increased the number of Daoists. As a result Daoism developed greatly and enjoyed a very high social position. The reigns of the emperors Zhenzong and Huizong marked two high tides for Daoism, in which the rulers of the Northern Song Dynasty worshiped Daoism in order to consolidate their own ruling positions.

The Daoist sects of the Northern Song dynasty

The Maoshan Lineage ( 茅山宗 Miaoshan Zong ) was the most prosperous of the Daoist sects of the Northern Song dynasty, and it had a clear pedigree of transmission with eight patriarchs altogether. Daoist skills of Talismans and Registers ( 符籙 Fulu ) were greatly developed at the time, especially the Five Thunder Skills ( 五雷法 Wuleifa ) for summoning wind and rain, which got the favor of the rulers. The Zhang Celestial Masters Tradition ( 張天師道 Zhang Tianshi Dao ) began to gradually revive as well. With the support of the rulers of the middle and late Tang dynasty, the Zhang Celestial Masters Tradition began to revive, and gradually formed the Celestial Masters Tradition of Mt. Longhu in Jiangxi province in the late Tang dynasty, and framed its pedigree of transmission. The rulers of the Southern Tang Dynasty had the Temple of Celestial Master Zhang built on Mt. Longhu, and praised it so much that it became more and more influential in society. With the powerful support of the rulers of the Song Dynasty, the Celestial Masters Tradition of Mt. Longhu got prosperous step by step. In Emperor Zhenzong's time, Zhang Zhengsui, the Celestial Master of the 24th generation, was called in and granted the title "Gentleman of Perfection and Tranquility" ( 真靜先生 Zhengjing Xiansheng ). Wang Qingruo, the Minister of Civil Personnel, presented a memorial to the throne for Zhang to institute the Academy for Conferring Registers ( 授籙院 Shoulu Yuan ). Zhang was offered money to expand the Temple of the Highest Clarity ( 上清宮 Shangqing Gong ), free from rent for land use, and received permission for his son to inherit it. Since then, the successors of the Celestial Masters were all conferred the hereditary title "Gentleman" ( 先生 Xiansheng ), the highest title for Daoists at the time.

Development of Daoist doctrines

Due to the efforts of famous Daoist scholars such as Chen Tuan, Zhang Borui, Zhang Wumeng, and Chen Yuan, some new features emerged in Daoist doctrines. Chen Tuan elaborated the Book of Changes ( 易經 Yijing ) with images and numbers in his Dragon Chart of The Book of Changes ( 易龍圖 Yilongtu ). He initiated the School of the Yellow River Chart and of the Luo River Writ ( 圖書學派 Tushu Xuepai ) of the Science of Changes ( 易學 Yixue ). These scholars tried to demonstrate the generation and formation of the world with images and numbers. The categories they used such as the absolute principle ( 道 Dao ) and the phenomena ( 氣 Qing ), and of the thing-in-itself ( 體 Ti ) and its functioning ( 用 Yong ) deeply influenced the Neo-Confucian school of philosophy of the Song Dynasty. After Du Guangting summarized the development of Daoist Laozi Learning since the Han Dynasty, the Daoist scholars of the Northern Song Dynasty who commented the Book of Dao and its Virtue were quite influential, with some new characteristics, even if they were few in number. Zhang Wumeng elaborated the pivot of Daoist Cultivation and Refinement ( 修煉 Xiulian ) and Nourishing Life ( 養生 Yangsheng ) by combining Laozi's thought with that of the Book of Changes, and by adopting the functioning of Inner Alchemy ( 內丹 Neidan ). Chen Jingyuan, the disciple of Zhang Wumeng, wrote two volumes to comment the Book of Dao and its Virtue, one passage of which, the Sublime Meaning of the Original of the Perfect Book of Dao and its Virtue ( 道德真經藏室纂微篇 Daode Zhengjing Cangshi Zhuanwei Bian ), is now preserved in the Daoist Canon. In Chen's writings he illustrated that the key point of Laozi Learning ( 老學 Laoxue ) was the combination of the refinement of Bodily Life and governing the country. Regarding the Book of Dao and its Virtue, Chen considered the Twofold Mystery ( 重玄 Chongxuan ) as its essence, Spontaneity as its truth, and Virtue as its functioning. He followed the philosophical viewpoints of the Twofold Mystery school of the Tang dynasty, and elaborated them in terms of political theory. His thought influenced the people of the Song Dynasty. The combination of the Book of Changes and of the Book of Dao and its Virtue and the systematization of the theories of Inner Alchemy were characteristic of the Daoist doctrines of the Song Dynasty. Su Yuanlang of the Sui Dynasty wrote On the Essential Meaning of Dao ( 旨道篇 Zhidao Pian ) for his disciples and guided the refinement of inner alchemy with the Three Ways Unified and Normalized ( 周易參同契 Zhouyi Cantongqi ). In the Tang Dynasty, Liu Zhigu, the magistrate of Changming County of Mianzhou, wrote On the Mysterious Pivot of the Sun and Moon ( 日月玄樞論 Riyue Xuanshu Lun ) to illustrate his ideas on the refinement of Inner Alchemy. Also in the Tang Dynasty, some books on Inner Alchemy appeared one after another. For example, Zhang Guo's The Sublime Book of the Mind's Correspondence with the Nine Supreme Essentials ( 太上九要心印妙經 Taishang Jiuyao Xinyin Miaojing ) and the Sublime Chart of Correspondence of the Great Reversion Elixir ( 大還丹契妙圖 Dahuandan Qimiaotu ), and Huan Yangzi's On the Golden Tiger and White Dragon of the Great Reversion Elixir ( 大還丹金白龍論 Dahuandan Jinhu Bailong Lun ). Between the end of the Tang dynasty and the Five Dynasties period, the arts of Inner Alchemy were even more developed. From the period of the Five Dynasties to the Northern Song Dynasty, it was the turning point for the replacement of Outer Alchemy ( 外丹 Waidan ) by Inner Alchemy. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, Cui Xifan, the "Perfect Man of Attainment to Oneness" ( 至一真人 Zhiyi Zhenren ), wrote the Elixir Mirror ( 入藥鏡 Ruyaojing ) to illustrate the theory and methods of Inner Alchemy. Peng Xiao, a Daoist of the Five Dynasties period, carefully studied the Three Ways Unified and Normalized carefully, and wrote the Perfect Explanations to Each Chapter of the Three Ways Unified and Normalized of the Book of Changes ( 周易參同契分章通真義 Zhouyi Cantongqi Fenzhang Tongzhen Yi ) to explain his ideas on Inner Alchemy. In addition, the Golden Elixir Tradition ( 金丹道 Jindan Dao ) of Zhong and Lu sprang up between the end of the Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties period. There were many legendary stories about Zhong and Lu. After Zhong Liquan and Lu Dongbing became two of the Eight Immortals ( 八仙 Baxian ), Zhong and Lu's stories of the transmission of Dao became household words. In the Northern Song Dynasty, Chen Tuan illustrated his ideas on Inner Alchemy in the Diagram of the Infinite ( 無極圖 Wujitu ). According to his conception of Inner Alchemy, one should begin with the apertures with the Infinite ( 無極 Wuji ) as the starting point. Through refining Essential Matter ( 精 Jing ), one could transform it into Vital Breath ( 氣 Qi ). By refining Vital Breath, one could transform it into Spirit ( 神 Shen ). By refining the Spirit, one could return to Emptiness ( 虛 Xu ) and finally revert to the Infinite. His book was an important generalization of the Daoist theory of inner alchemy. At the time of Emperor Shenzong of the Northern Song Dynasty, Zhang Boduan wrote On Realizing Perfection ( 悟真篇 Wuzhen Pian ) with all the effort of his life. Zhang accepted the ideas of Zhong and Lu's Golden Elixir about the Integrated Cultivation of Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life ( 性命雙修 Xingming Shuangxiu ), and advocated that one should cultivate his Bodily Life ( 命 Ming ) first before he cultivated his Spiritual Nature ( 性 Xing ). Besides, he formed his own ideas of Inner Alchemy, with the elaboration of the theory of Inner Alchemy expressed in Chen Tuan's Diagram of the Infinite. His On Realizing Perfection was an important work in the history of Inner Alchemy. Both his book and the Three Ways Unified and Normalized of Wei Boyang were considered the orthodox school of Inner Alchemy. His work not only greatly influenced the development of Daoist Inner Alchemy, but also became the origin of the Southern Lineage of the Golden Elixir Sect ( 金丹派南宗 Jinda Pai Nanzong ). The prosperity and systematization of Inner Alchemy was a turning point in the ideological history of Daoism, for after the Northern Song Dynasty, Daoist doctrines were embodied in Inner Alchemy to a great extent.

Daoism during the Southern Song, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties (AD 1127 - 1368)

uring this period, the Southern Song regime controlled only the southern part of China, confronting the Jin and Yuan, dynasties established by minority nationalities in northern China. As a result, China was once again divided between North and South. This situation led to the segmentation of Daoist sects. In the southern part of China, the Talismans ( 符 Fu ) and Registers ( 籙 Lu ) and Three Mountains sects became the mainstream, in addition to such sects as the Divine Heaven sect ( 神霄派 Shenxiao Pai ), the Pristine Subtlety sect ( 清微派 Qingwei Pai ), the Pure Brightness sect ( 淨明派 Jingming Pai ), and the Southern Lineage of the Golden Elixir ( 金丹派南宗 Jindan Painan Zong ). In the North, many sects appeared during this period, such as the Supreme Oneness sect ( 太一教 Taiyi Jiao ), the Great Dao Doctrine ( 大道教 Dadao Jiao ) and the Complete Perfection sect ( 全真道 Quanzhen Dao ).


This was a turning point in Daoist history: the Inner Alchemy Tradition became so popular that many Daoist sects emerged from its practise. The Talismans and Registers sect was transformed by the absorption of Inner Alchemy; other sects were equally reformed by the integration of Daoist teachings with Inner Alchemy ( 內丹 Neidan ). Whereas the previous period of reforms, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 420 - 581), had focussed on raising Daoism from the lower society to the official realm, this new phase of reforms was intrinsic to Daoism, and involved improving basic theories and principles. This process led to the emergence of new Daoist sects.

Daoism in the Southern Song Dynasty ( AD 1127 - 1279)

The emperors of the Southern Song dynasty weren't pious Daoists like the former Tang emperors Zhenzong and Huizong. Emperor Gaozong even reversed some previous policies favouring Daoism. Strict regulations and tight controls were placed on establishing Daoist temples and recruiting new Daoist monks. In general, however, the ruling class of the Southern Song still believed in Daoism. The Daoist divinities High Official Cui and the Four Sagely and Perfect Sovereigns were acknowledged as protectors of the imperial family as well as of the Southern part of China under its control. They were respected and worshiped nationwide. In addition, the rulers considered Daoist Magical Skills to be a powerful and reliable tool. When disasters and festivals came, Daoist monks were expected to practice Magical Skills and pray for good weather, peace, and a prosperous nation. The rulers of the Southern Song also stressed Daoist ethics. For example, Emperor Lizong recommended the moralistic storybook "Tablet of Supreme Correspondence" ( 太上感應篇 Taiswhang Ganying Pian ) to his people. In his preface to the book, the emperor admonished them to "go away from evil, and seek after good" in order to avoid the retributions of the holy souls and spirits. Through encouragement from the ruling class, Daoist moralistic storybooks became so popular that other similar books encouraging Daoist ethics began to appear, exhorting the readers to cleanse sensual desires and maintain social order and stability. Even so, for the rulers of the Southern Song regime, Daoism was nothing but a useful tool to control its people, stablize the society and strengthen the throne.


The Talismans and Registers sects dominated Daoism during the Southern Song dynasty. With the "Three Mountains" (Mt. Longhu, Mt. Mao, and Mt. Gezao) at the core, traditional sects such as the Orthodox Oneness ( 正一 Zhengyi ), the Highest Clarity ( 上清 Shangqing ) and the Numinous Treasure ( 靈寶 Lingbao ) remained in the mainstream. The Pure Brightness sect, the Southern Lineage of Inner Alchemy, as well as new sects such as the Donghua sect, the Divine Heaven sect and the Pristine Subtlety sect, also flourished during this period.


During the Southern Song Dynasty, the Mt. Mao sect produced fifteen generations of patriarchs. Most of them became famous for their Daoist Magical Skills. A few were even summoned and given respectable titles by the imperial courts. But, with the exception of Patriarch Jiang Zongyi, none of them is known to have authored any books. This shows that, in terms of the development of religious thought, this sect had been declining since its golden age during the Sui and Tang Dynastes (AD 581 - 907). Accordingly, during the Southern Song dynasty, the Mt. Mao sect lost its leading position, which was taken by the Celestial Masters Tradition of Orthodox Oneness, based on Mt. Longhu.


The emperors Gaozong, Xiaozong, Ningzong and Lizong of the Southern Song dynasty had great esteem for Daoism. Besides investing large sums for the construction of the Temple of Highest Clarity on Mt. Longhu, they treated the Celestial Masters kindly as well. As a special favour, emperor Lizong conferred upon Celestial Master Zhang Lin the title "Great Master of the Three Heavens and Perfect Sovereign of the Orthodox Oneness" ( 三天扶教輔元大法師正一靖應顯佑真君 Santian Fujiao Fuyuan Dafa Shizheng Yijing Yingxian Youzhen Jun ). Mt. Longhu thus officially won leadership over all Talismans and Registers sects in the South represented by the Three Mountains. In this way, the Zhang Celestial Master Tradition on Mt. Longhu was given privilege to control all Talismans and Registers sects.


The Gezao sect evolved from the Numinous Treasure sect. It is sometimes regarded as merely another name for the Numinous Treasure sect, used in the later Yuan dynasty (AD 1271- 1368). Most monks of the Numinous Treasure sect lived among secular people. They were rarely summoned or given respectable titles by the emperors. Accordingly, in terms of influence and status among Daoist sects, the Numinous Treasure was not as prominent as either the Maoshan or Mt. Longhu sects. But during the Southern Song Dynasty, the Numinous Treasure sect based on Mt. Gezao was very influential in the lower classes. The practitioners included not only professional Daoist monks, but also ordinary believers.

The Southern Lineage of the Golden Elixir

During the Northern Song, Southern Song, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties (AD 960 - 1368), the school of Daoist Inner Alchemy reached its highest degree of development. Following the theories and practices of Inner Alchemy, new Daoist sects came into being, among which the Southern Lineage of the Golden Elixir was most influential. It became widely reknowned in the Southern Song Dynasty. Stictly speaking, the Southern Lineage referred to a specific school of Inner Alchemy which followed the principles enumerated in the Tablet on Realizing Perfection ( 悟真篇 Wuzhen Pian ) by Zhang Boduan. He suggested that Daoist followers live in secular society and stay at home along with their family members. These principles were utterly different from the ideas of the Complete Perfection sect.


Throughout the Southern Song dynasty, the Southern Lineage went through four generations of patriarchs. The first partiarch was Chen Lan, one of Zhang Boduan's third generation disciples. From Master Zhang Boduan to Master Chen Lan, the sect didn't have a religious organization nor its own temples, except for some formulas of Inner Alchemy passed on secretly among its followers. The second master was Bai Yuchan, who ultimately changed the Southern Lineage into a real Daoist organization. The five masters, Zhang Boduan, Shi Tai, Xue Daoguang, Chen Lan and Bai Yuchan, were known as "The Five Southern Patriarchs" ( 南五祖 Nanwu Zu ). Master Peng Lu of the third generation and Li Daochun of the fourth generation were also famous figures in its history. After Master Zhang Boduan's time, the Southern Lineage divided into two currents following different methods of Cultivation and Refinement. One stressed traditional Inner Alchemy; the other paid more attention to the combination of Daoism and Buddhism. The former current further divided into two factions: Single Cultivators ( 清修 Qingxiu ) (i.e., unisex) and Integrated Cultivators ( 雙修 Shuangxiu ) (i.e., dual sex). They tried to base their theories on "Integrating the Heart with the Dao", an idea taken from both Daoism and Buddhism. However, since the Yuan Dynasty, the Southern Lineage had been declining. Finally, it was absorbed by the Complete Perfection and Orthodox Oneness sects, and disappeared from the limelight.

Daoism during the Jin Dynasty (AD 1115-1234)

While showing their respect for Daoism, the rulers of the Jin dynasty nonetheless imposed restraints on it to prevent it from "misleading the masses". In this period, the North was plunged in chaotic warfare; the different nationalities conflicted with each other. The rulers of the Jin regime tried to win support from the upper class of Daoism; meanwhile, Daoism itself continued to develop. All these factors led to the emergence of three new sects - the Supreme Oneness, the Great Dao, and the Complete Perfection, which ultimately became the mainstream of Daoism in the Jin Dynasty.

Daoism during the Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271 - 1368)

During the Yuan Dynasty, Daoism enjoyed renewed support from the rulers, leading to a new period of development for the religion. This growth was manifested by the expansion and enlargement of Daoist organizations, rather than by conceptual improvements such as had occured during the Sui and Tang dynasties (AD 581 - 907). New sects merged into old ones. In the north, Daoism was dominated by the Complete Perfection Tradition, in the South by the Orthodox Oneness Tradition.


As early as the end of the Southern Song dynasty, the Zhang Celestial Master Tradition had established good relations with the rulers of the Yuan regime. Just before he conquered Southern Song, Fu Bilie, the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty, following the example of his predecessor Genghis Khan's reverential treatment to Qiu Chuji, the patriarch of the Complete Perfection Sect, sent a special envoy to Mt. Longhu to obtain a lucky charm from Zhang Keda, the 35th generation Celestial Master ( 天師 Tianshi ), who predicted that the Yuan would conquer the whole state in 20 years. After conquering the Southern Song, Hu Bilie invited the 36th Celestial Master, Zhang Zhongyan, son of Master Zhang Keda, to the imperial court in 1276. The following year, the Master held a Daoist Rite in the imperial palace and was given the second class silver seal which entitled him to control Daoist affairs in the South and ordain Daoist monks. After that, the Celestial Masters of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition routinely inherited the title of "Perfect Man" given by the imperial Yuan court, and held control over the Talismans and Registers sects of the Three Mountains, as well as Daoist affairs in the South. After being summoned twice by the first emperor of the Yuan regime, Master Zhang Zongyan earned himself several titles and governmental positions, of which the title of "Celestial Master" was most important. In the official document entitled "Rules", the Yuan emperor titled Zhang Zongyan "The 36th Generation Celestial Master since the Han Dynasty", which showed that the title "Celestial Master" had been recognized by the government. Previously, although the descendants of Zhang Lin used to call themselves "Celestial Master", a title which was also popularly used in society, the government had never recognized it. The emperors of the Song Dynasty, for instance, just called them "Teachers". It was the first emperor of the Yuan regime who began the tradition of calling Zhang Lin's descendants "Celestial Masters". However, this recognition was to be exceptional: no sooner had the first emperor of the Ming regime come to the throne than he cancelled the title. In the Yuan Dynasty, the privilege of controlling Daoism in the South came to the Celestial Masters of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition. When Zhang Keda had been in charge of the Talismans and Registers sects of the Three Mountains, the Celestial Masters Tradition sect wasn't so influential. But after Zhang Zongyan became the leader of Daoism in the South, the Celestial Masters developed into the most prosperous and widespread Daoist sect, ultmately surpassing the Maoshan sect and the Gezao sect, and parallelling the Complete Perfection sect in the North. After the Yuan Dynasty, all Celestial Masters, from Zhang Zongyan of the 36th generation, down to Zhang Zhengyan of the 41st generation, won unprecedented honor. The emperors of the Yuan regime bestowed them not only respectable titles such as "Perfect Man" ( 真人 Zhenren ) and "Celestial Master", but also the privilege of controlling Daoism in the South. Throughout the Yuan Dynasty, the Celestial Masters sect on Mt. Longhu witnessed great developments unseen before. Since the Celestial Masters won the control over Daoist sects in the South, the Talismans and Registers sects as well as the Complete Perfection sect in the southern part of China fell under their control. Such matters as establishing Daoist temples, appointing Daoist officials and giving titles to Daoist monks had to be ratified and carried out by the Celestial Masters. In this way, the Celestial Masters' status in Daoism became so essential that after the middle of the Yuan dynasty, Mt. Longhu with the Celestial Masters at its core became the leader of Daoism in the South. In alignment with other Talismans and Registers sects, it ultimately developed into the Orthodox Oneness Tradition, a very large Daoist organization.


Accordingly, the Southern Song, Jin, and Yuan dynasties represented a turning period in Daoist history. It is during this time that the Complete Perfection sect and the Orthodox Oneness Tradition of the Celestial Masters developed into the two dominant powers in the North and South respectively, laying the foundation for the development of modern Daoism as well as the sectarian distribution that has remained unchanged up to now, with the Orthodox Oneness sect widespread in the South and the Complete Perfection sect in the North. Comparatively speaking, the Complete Perfection sect was influencial over a wider geographic area, with many temples even in the South. This pattern was ultimately formed during the Ming and Qing dynasties (AD 1368 - 1840).