The Thirty-six Heavens

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Laozi's Creative Use of The Concept of Dao
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Dao is ruled by Spontaneity
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Observing the Way of Heaven and Following its Motions
The Creation of the World
Formation of the Daoist Theory of Universal Evolution
The Process of The Creation of the World
The Thirty-six Heavens
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Yin-Yang and the Supreme Ultimate
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The Skies are Divided into Ten Directions

The Thirty-Two Heavens arising out of the Original Matrix ( 元綱 Yuangang ) are located in the four cardinal directions, with eight heavens per cardinal direction. To these four directions can further be added Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and Northwest, as well as above and below. In addition to these Thirty-Two Heavens, there are also four other Heavens. All of these Heavens are distributed among the Eight Directions mentioned above, as well as above and below, for a total of ten directions.

Names of the Thirty-Six Heavens

We have mentioned that the Original Matrix gave birth to Thirty-Two Heavens. These Heavens are subject to calamities and universal cycles (kalpas); they therefore undergo birth and death. The other four Heavens are not subject to kalpas: they include the Three Pristine Heavens, and the Great Overarching Heaven. In total, there are Thirty-Six Heavens ( 三十六天 Sanshiliu ). Their names are:

The Thirty-Two Heavens: The Taihuang Huangceng Heaven, Taiming Yuwan Heaven, Qingming Hetong Heaven, Xuantai Pingyu Heaven, Yuanming Wenju Heaven, Shangming Qiyao Moyi Heaven, Xuwu Yueheng Heaven, Taiji Mengyi Heaven: the above-mentioned constitute the Eight Heavens of the East. The Ciming Heyang Heaven, Xuanming Gonghua Heaven, Yaoming Zhongpiao Heaven, Zhuluo Huangjia Heaven, Xuming Tangliao Heaven, Guanming Duanjing Heaven, Xuanming Gongqing Heaven, and Taihuan Jiyao Heaven are the Eight Heavens of the South. The Yuanzai Kongshen Heaven, Tai'an Wangya Heaven, Xianding Jifeng Heaven, Sihuang Xiaomang Heaven, Taiji Weng Chongfu Rong Heaven, Wusi Jiangyou Heaven, Shangshe Ruanle Heaven, and Wuji Fangshi Heaven are the Eight Heavens of the West. The Haoting Xiaodu Heaven, Yuantong Yuandong Heaven, Taiwen Hanchong Miaocheng Heaven, Taisu Xiule Jingshang Heaven, Taisu Wushang Changrong Heaven, Taishi Yulong Tengsheng Heaven, Longbian Fandu Heaven, and Taiji Pingyu Jiayi Heaven are the Eight Heavens of the North.

The Heavens of the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清天 Sanqing Tian ): the Heaven of Supreme Clarity ( 太清天 Taiqing Tian ); the Heaven of Highest Clarity ( 上清天 Shangqing Tian ); the Heaven of Jade Clarity ( 玉清天 Yuqing Tian ).

The Great Overarching Heaven

Thirty-five of the Thirty-Six Heavens are part of the Great Overarching Heaven( 大羅天 Daluo Tian ). The Great Overarching Heaven is infinite, while other heavens are all finite. It is the highest heaven, transcends all the other heavens, and has no limits. In space, the universe is infinite.

The Three Worlds and outside

The Thirty-Six Heavens are divided into different worlds. The Three Worlds( 三界 Sanjie ) are the World of Desire ( 欲界 Yujie ), the World of Form ( 色界 Sejie ), and the World of Formlessness ( 無色界 Wusejie ). Altogether 28 heavens are included in the Three Worlds. They are subject to kalpas; those who are born in or enter these heavens do not escape from reincarnation and karma. Outside of the Three Worlds are a further eight heavens. Those who Cultivate Dao and leap out of the Three Worlds can escape from kalpas, karma, and reincarnation.

The Three Worlds are the World of Desire, the World of Form, and the World of Formlessness

The World of Desire contains six Heavens, from the Taihuang Huangceng Heaven to the Qiyao Moyi Heaven. In this world, there is visible form and desire, men and women have intercourse, and give birth to descendants. The World of Form includes eight Heavens, from the Xuwu Yueheng Heaven to the Wuji Tanshi Heaven. In this world there is form but no desire; there is no sexual intercourse and people are directly born out of Vital Breath. The World of Formlessness is made up of four Heavens, from the Haoting Xiaodu Heaven to the Xiule Zhishang Heaven. In this world there is neither desire nor form; common people cannot see the people in this world, who can be seen only by Perfect Men ( 真人 Zhenren ).

Outside of the Three Worlds, the heavens can be divided into several levels inluding the Four Pure Heavens, the Three Pristine Heavens and the Great Overarching Heaven

The Four Pure Heavens ( 四梵天 Sifantian ) are also called the Four Heavens of the Seed People ( 種民 Zhongmin ), from the Taixu Wushang Changrong Heaven to the Taiji Pingyu Jiayi Heaven. They are called the Four Heavens of the Seed People because those who enter this realm have already escaped from the cycle of reincarnations; at the time of a kalpa, they do not die but become the seeds of the people of the next kalpa. The Three Prisitne Heavens are also called the Three Pristine Realms ( 三清境 Sanqing Jing ), and are governed by the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 元始天尊 Yuanshi Tianzun ). The Great Overarching Heaven is above all other Heavens and englobes the entire universe. It is infinite, and contains the Jade Capital Mountain ( 玉京山 Yujing Shan ) where the Primeval Lord of Heaven ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun ) resides. Outside of the Three Worlds, evberything is pure Vital Breath of Dao. All is formless and invisible; it is the abode of the Immortals ( 神仙 Shenxian ). When they unite together they become forms; when they disperse they become Vital Breath; self-dependent, they wander about unfettered. In the Great Overarching Heaven, all is Pure Vital Breath ( 道氣 Daoqi ). The Highest level of Cultivation of Immortality is the level of the Golden Immortality ( 金仙 Jinxian ) of the Great Overarching Heaven.