Thursday, September 20, 2007

Taoist Mtns of China - Intro

Sacred Taoist Mountains: 9/19/2007 - 10/13/2007


As a focus for sacred mountains in China (there are many of them), we put our efforts into the Taoist mountains. Taoism (Tao, or "the way") is one of the three historical religious systems of China; Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. It originated in China from the philosophical system of Lao-tse老子(604?-531 BC). Who's written work, the Da De Jing (the Way of Power; written often as Tao De Ching) is its main doctrine. It has 81 chapters dealing with many topics, like "Nature", "Hypocrisy", "Indulgence", and "Harmony" for example. An excerpt from the chapter "Experience" follows:

"Experience is a riverbed,
Its source hidden, forever flowing:
Its entrance, the root of the world,
The Way moves within it:
Draw upon it; it will not run dry."

And from the chapter "Beneath Abstraction":

"The mother of nature.
It has no name, but I call it "the Way";
It has no limit, but I call it "limitless".

Being limitless, it flows away forever;
Flowing away forever, it returns to my self:

The Way is limitless,
So nature is limitless,
So the world is limitless,
And so I am limitless."

The ideas in the Da De Jing came into a formal religious form around the 2nd century AD, through the founding work of Zhang Daoling张道陵(AD 34-156). By the 14th century AD, Taoism had been divided into many sects. It developed into two main philosophies: Quanzhen Tao, emphasizing self-cultivation to attain immortality or enlightenment, and Zhengyi Tao, which involves beliefs in charms and spells.

After some research, we concluded that the mountains China officially claims as "The Five Taoist Mountains of China" are not the ones most worthy of focus. Writing in Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China, John Lagerwey comments: "A note on what is meant by "Taoist mountain" is perhaps in order here. It is traditional to regard the Five Peaks (wu-yueh) as Taoist, in contrast with the "four most famous (Buddhist) mountains" (ssu-ta ming shan). While both history and cosmology can be called on to justify this identification of the Five Peaks with Taoism, these mountains already constituted a distinct group in the Former Han dynasty before Taoism had taken on an organized ecclesiastical form, and it is only from the late sixth century on that Taoists made a concerted effort to claim these mountains as theirs. The Taoists were never entirely successful in pressing this claim, and of the five only Hua Shan and T'ai Shan, albeit in a very different manner, play a significant and ongoing role in Taoist religious history. Perhaps even more to the point, even these two mountains are nowhere near as important to Taoist history as are such mountains as Mao Shan and LungHu Shan, centers, respectively, of Shang-ch'ing and Cheng-i Taoism. Together with Ko-tsao Shan (in Kiangsi), the ordination center of Ling-pao Taoism, these mountains constituted the "tripod" on which officially recognized forms of Taoism rested from the early twelfth century on."

So, in our exploration of Taoist sacred mountains in china, we will visit and climb four (it is interesting, the Chinese phrase for pilgrimage - ch' ao-shan chin-hsiang - means 'paying one's respect to a mountain'): Mao Shan, T'ai Shan, Hua Shan, and LungHu Shan.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am going to China next week and would love your comments on the sacred mountains trip you took