Sayings of Daoists

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Quotations are collections of individual speech or dialogues between two or more people. Sayings of Daoists are the collected sayings about the explanation, study and propaganda of Dao by people in Daoist circles. Sayings of Daoists are classified as prose by style. As for their emergence, quotation prose was already formed in the pre-Qin days. For instance, the sayings of Confucius were recorded and compiled by his students into The Analects of Confucius ( 論語 Lunyu ), the representative work of early Chinese quotation prose.

As other religious communities, Daoism has its own form of organization. In this organization, transmission takes place from masters to disciples, who probe together into Daoist doctrines, Magical Arts ( 方術 Fangshu ), talismanic skills, and rituals. In this process, either the master and disciples dialogue, or a Daoist master gives lectures on a certain problem while his disciples take notes. Thereby a good many sayings are recorded after long-term accumulation. Most chapters of an early Daoist scripture, the Book of Supreme Peace ( 太平經 Taiping Jing ), are actually in the style of quotations. In some chapters, the Perfect Man ( 真人 Zhenren ) puts questions to the deity, and in others disciples put questions to the Celestial Master ( 天師 Tianshi ). For example, in the second part of the book, the Perfect Man and the deity have a series of dialogues about how to achieve "eternal happiness". Through explanations of different levels, the deity tells the Perfect Man that mortals live in misery and only the "I" converted to Daoism can be eternal, and that this is what "eternal happiness" means. Such conversations are the greatest feature of the Book of Supreme Peace. The formation of this feature has something to do with Shamans' activities and Magicians' ( 方士 Fangshi ) production of prophecies, because the main aim of Shamans' activities it to ask deities to descend, and when "deities" descend, they give "divine words" which the present disciples note down immediately. Besides, the Celestial Masters and Perfect Men like collating ancient books. When doing so, they usually make extracts, which also form part of the sayings.

The tradition founded by the Book of Supreme Peace was inherited and developed in later Daoist activities. Ever since the Wei and Jin dynasties, Daoist sayings have been enriched gradually. Examining the repository of Daoist books, we may find quite a few scriptures titled "yulu" (sayings, quotations). There are more than ten such scriptures, such as The Sayings of Perfect Man Wang, Hermit of Mt. Pan ( 盤山棲雲王真人語錄 Panshan Qiyun Wang Zhenren Yulu ), The Sayings of Perfect Man Bai of Haiqiong ( 海瓊白真人語錄 Haiqiong Bai Zhenren Yulu ), The Sayings of Perfect Man Jin ( 晉真人語錄 Jin Zhenren Yulu ), and Quotations of Qing An, Master of Yin Chan ( 清庵瑩蟾子語錄 Qing'an Yingchanzi Yulu ). There are also many other similar titles.

Sayings of Daoists play a special function in the propaganda of Daoism. Usually there is no mistaking what they are aimed at. What they discuss are general problems about Daoist doctrines or contemporary pioneering theoretical problems. Many Daoist thinkers demonstrate their comprehension and reflection of Daoist philosophic theories in the form of sayings.

In style, sayings of Daoists have simple sentence patterns, a plain wording, and features of spoken language. In order for receivers to understand easily, Daoist leaders tend to make use of various familiar figures of speech, such as analogy and metaphor. In order for the theories elaborated to be generalized, sayings of Daoists are concise and extract many formulae, ballads and proverbs, whereupon the ideas conveyed by the sayings are profound as well.