Yi Xinying

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Life of Yi Xinying (AD 1896-1976)

Yi Xinying, a native of Suining, Sichuan, who had the popular name Liangde and style Zongqian, and had the religious name Yili and style Xinying, was a renowned contemporary Daoist scholar. Weak and frequently ill since childhood, he often heard of the Daoist way to strengthen the body and to guard the country, and therefore determined to seek after Dao. At the age of 17, he left home, and went to the Celestial Masters' Grotto ( 天師洞 Tianshi Dong ) (i.e. the Temple of Eternal Dao ( 常道觀 Changdao Guan )) of Mt. Qingcheng, where he asked to become a Daoist disciple. Over a year later, his brother went to the mountain to take him home. But on the way, he escaped to the Black Sheep Temple ( 青羊宮 Qingyang Gong ) in Chengdu, where he stayed and did odd jobs in the institution, learning and passing on skills of silkworm breeding and mulberry growing. In 1917, when the Daoist priest Wei Songxia of the Celestial Masters' Cave went to the Two Immortals' Temple ( 二仙庵 Erxian An ), he was moved by Xinying's piousness and so led him back to the Celestial Masters' Grotto and took him as his disciple. In view of the Daoists' low educational level, Wei told him to go to Chaoyang Temple on the same mountain and to learn from Wu Junke. Wu was a Confucianist, but he was also expert in Dao. Xinying kept forging ahead. He read classics and historical records, and his study was duly rewarded. In 1926, Xinying became a pupil of Yan Kai, a famous Confucianist of Chengdu, and pursued advanced studies in Yan's Studio for Venerating Virtue ( 顏崇德書屋 Yan Chongde Shuwu ). Three years later, Yan died from illness. Xinying went back to Mt. Qingcheng and became a Daoist in charge of reception of visitors. He was at the post for three years. Then the abbot Peng Chunxian appointed someone else as receptionist and let Xinying concentrate on Daoist academic research. In 1942, Yi Xinying succeeded Peng as the abbot of the Celestial Masters' Grotto. One year later, he resigned from office, and once again concentrated on the study of Daoist thought. After the founding of the New China, Xinying led the Daoists into agricultural production. In 1955, he was re-elected abbot of the Celestial Masters' Grotto of Mt. Qingcheng. In 1956, he participated in the preparations for the founding of the Chinese Daoist Association ( 中國道教協會 Zhongguo Daojiao Xiehui ), and was elected its vice president and President of the Sichuan Daoist Association ( 四川道教協會 Sichuan Daojiao Xiehui ) in the next year. Yi Xinying ardently loved reading and collecting books, and searched and collected many Daoist books. Always humble, he never ceased to seek instruction. He kept in contact with Chen Yingning, Chen Guofu, Meng Wentong and the like by letters to discuss academic problems.


Ideas and works

Yi Xinying venerated the Primeval Lord of Heaven ( 元始天尊 Yuanshi Tianzun ), the Great Dao Sovereign of the Jade Morning Star ( 玉晨大道君 Yuchen Daddao Jun ), and the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun ), whom he held in particular esteem. He regarded the Venerable Sovereign ( 老君 Laojun ) as the Body of the Great Dao ( 大道之身 Dadao Zhi Shen ), Ancestor of the Original Vital Breath ( 元氣之祖 Yuanqi Zhi Zu ) and Root of Heaven and Earth ( 天地之根 Tiandi Zhi Gen ), who leads Divine Immortals ( 神仙 Shenxian ), Perfect Men ( 真人 Zhenren ), Immortals ( 仙人 Xianren ), Saints ( 聖人 Shengren ) and Sages ( 賢人 Xianren ). In his Cosmogony, Dao is taken to be the origin of all things, "is characterized by emptiness, numinousness, and profundity", transforms into the black, white and yellow cosmic Vital Breaths ( 氣 Qi ), and "gives birth to all things". Yi Xinying's theory of life brings Buddhism into Daoism, which holds that when the Five Spirits ( 五神 Wushen ) (Essence ( 精 Jing ), Mind ( 神 Shen ), the Celestial Soul ( 魂 Hun ), the Terrestrial Soul ( 魄 Po ) and Idea ( 意 Yi )) correspond with the Five Thieves ( 五賊 Wuzei ) (fate, utility, opportunity, thing and matter), "the retributive spirit emerges and the six desires arise", and "those who are misled become mortals while those who are enlightened become Saints". When practising Dao, one should firstly refine the commandments and venerate Dao so as to secure Dao. Otherwise, one would transmigrate among the three evils.


Yi Xinying's thinking belonged to orthodox Daoism, which insists on the Integrated Cultivation of Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life ( 性命雙修 Xingming Shuanxiu ) together with respecting commandments. His thinking had few modern characteristics. His works include The Meaning of Laozi's Dao ( 老子通義 Laozi Tongyi ), Explanations to Laozi's System of Daoist Teachings ( 老子道學系統表 Laozi Daoxue Xitong Biao ), Explanations to the Daoist System ( 道學系統表 Daoxue Xitong Biao ), Textbook of Daoist Learning ( 道學課本 Daoxue Keben ), and the Daoist Three-Character Classic ( 道教三字經 Daojiao Sanzingjing ), most of which are lost today. Besides, he edited the Excellent Daoist Series for Women ( 女子道教叢書 Nuzi Daojiao Congshu ) and books on Daoist alchemy and Nourishing Life, most of which were printed and published in temples.