Monday, June 7, 2010

New Ways in Taoist Lands

"We now come to the second Southern school, which has no connection whatsoever with the first Southern school."
--Taoism, The Parting of the Way by Holmes Welch

Much is written in the context of Taoism about a "northern school" and a "southern school" but what is the meaning of these two developments within Taoist thought? The most simple explanation is that the "Northern School," while founded in the modern Chinese province of Shanxi about 1150AD, later moved to the South China city of Ninghai, and is thought to have developed for several purposes within several sects. Among the sects within the Northern School, some were to encourage Ch'un Yang or Pure Yang; the group came to be known commonly as "Ch'uan Chen" or Perfect Realization. While going by various names, this first northern school of thought while later located in the south, practiced with consistent aims, and is not to be confused as one and another.

In his book, Taoism, Parting of the Way, Welch writes, "Perfect Realization was one of several sects that arose soon after the Shin Tartars overran the Northern half of China. Modern Chinese scholar, Ch'en Yuan, has suggested that their purpose was to mobilize non-cooperation with the foreign invaders. This may have been why the principle of ascetic withdrawal" from everyday world affairs was encouraged in the sects' followers, for ultimately spiritual, rather than political reasons. A desire to restore man's nature to its original purity prompted the movement.

However the asceticism "required for Perfect Realization was fanatical." Perfect continence in all bodily matters was to be observed; secondly adherents were to nurture the yang and suppress the yin in connection with the old idea of replacing "Earthly Breaths for Heavenly Breaths." Finally, immortality was to be realized through exterior means such as incantations or use of drugs. In contrast, the first Southern school developed, with an interior emphasis, employing such practices as meditation, hygiene and care of the body. Both schools ultimately share a connecting belief that cultivating nature, and not physical immortality was key.

Coming to consideration of the second Southern School, remember there is no connection with the first. Rather the second Southern school concerns itself with none other than the sect of the Chang family, the Celestial Master of the Dragon and Tiger mountain. As time unfolded, this sect came to be called by its modern name, Realized Men of Right Unity, or Right Unity as it is still known. Within Right Unity was ming (life); their practice came to be clearly described as cultivating ming by exterior means. Realizing one's nature was secondary, if at all. Welch writes of them, "Priests of this sect marry and hand down their arts hereditarily... no monasteries, no Taoist robes... [and they] do not restrict themselves to a vegetable diet. Living in the family hearth, they are called, huo-chu-shih, fire dwellers." They serve others who come to them for spiritual help or protection. Some Taoist priests offer other services within this sect such as: astrology, spirit medium, fore-telling of events, and hexagrams.

The relationship of these priests, writes Welch, to the Celestial Master "has been tenuous." During the Republican period, 1911-1950, some applied to him as a leading figure of a tradition of Taoism for diplomas or certificates. The author, Welch notes, the Celestial Master is not to be "thought of as a Pope. He is nothing more than a leading repository of Taoist tradition." During this revolutionary period, the Celestial Master was able to maintain himself through various means, including collecting rents from approximately 250 acres of rice fields which he owned, located near the Dragon and Tiger mountain itself.

The period of time since 1950 finds the Celestial Master treated with "waning respect." In the period commencing about 1911, an anti-religious tide was unleashed in the Revolution; the governor of Jiangxi abolished their titles and confiscated their property. Yet the Taoists remained a friend in the person of Zhang Xun, a Manchu monarchist and arch-conservative. In 1914 Zhang Xun persuaded Chinese President Yuan Shikai to aid in the restoration of the title and lands to the sect. With gratitude and respect, the Celestial Master traveled to Peking at the invitation of the prominent "war lords" Wu Peifu and Sun Chuanfang.

On the death of the Celestial Master, the title passed on to his eldest son, Chang En-p'u who was captured by Communists in 1927, and imprisoned. Later he escaped to Shanghai and took up a quiet residence there in the French Concession of the city. After the Communists made their sweep throughout China in 1949, "Chang En-p'u left home for the last time. He made his way through Macao, Hong Kong, and took up residence in Taiwan." It was by his initiative that the various Taoist organizations established themselves in that place, and that the Taoist Cannon was re-printed, thwarting Communist efforts to suppress the ancient religion.

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