Similarities and differences between religious and philosophical Daoism

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Religious Daoism ( 道教 Daojiao) is the indigenous religion of China, which holds longevity and immortality as its highest object of faith. It advocates attaining Longevity ( 長生 Changsheng) and Immortality ( 成仙 Chengxian) through a process of Nourishing Life ( 養生 Yangsheng), Cultivation and Refinement ( 修煉 Xiulian), and the practise of virtuous conduct, in order to escape death and reach eternity. Philosophical Daoism ( 道家 Daojia) is a current in the history of Chinese philosophy, while religious Daoism is a religion. However, the two are intimately related. The core concept of Daoist thought, `Dao'( 道 Dao), was inherited and transformed by Daoist religion, while Laozi, the founder of Daoist philosophy, was incorporated into religious Daoism as the `Supreme Venerable Sovereign' ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun) divinity. The ''Book of Dao and its Virtue'' ( 道德經 Daodejing) and the Book of Master Zhuang ( 莊子 Zhuangzi), classics of Daoist philosophy, became `Perfect Scriptures' ( 真經 Zhenjing) of religious Daoism. The inheritance and transformation of elements of Daoist philosophy by Daoist religion shows both the links between the two as well as the differences between them. We can say that the value orientations of religious and philosophical Daoism are fundamentally different


According to later scholars, the development of Daoist philosophy can be divided into three stages: Lao-Zhuang Daoist philosophy ( 老莊道家 Laozhuang Daojia) of the pre-Qin era; Huang-Lao Daoism ( 黃老道 Huanglaodao) of the Qin and Han dynasties; and the 'Science of Mysteries' ( 玄學 Xuanxue) Daoist philosophy of the Wei and Jin dynasties. After the Wei and Jin, `Philosophical Daoism' became a thing of the past, as Daoist philosophy came to be completely replaced by Daoist religion. Therefore, after the Jin dynasty, references to the `Daoist School' ( 道家 Daojia)actually refer to the Daoist religion, when not specifically designating the philosophical Daoism of the pre-Qin, Qin, Han, Wei or Jin dynasties. We can thus say that after the Jin, religious Daoism took the place of Daoist philosophy in terms of social role and function.


According to the Guide to Chinese Thought by the American Prof. T. Bishop, `there is no reason to see Daoist religion as a product of the degeneration and corruption of a pure Daoist philosophy. The relationship between the two should be seen in a different light. The ideological system of the Daoist religion includes many aspects lacking in Daoist philosophy, which are of utmost importance to peoples' practical life: for example, Daoist philosophy appeals to logic and the spirit, while Daoist religion appeals to peoples' emotions, feelings and interests. Religious Daoism makes full use of peoples' sense of fear and mystery, which are ignored by philosphical Daoism." When looking at the differences between religious and philosophical Daoism, we can see that although the two are mutually complementary, Daoist religion is more significant to the practical lives of common people.


In order to understand Daoism, it is necessary to understand the clear difference between religious and philosophical Daoism, as well as their intimate relationship.