Spiritual Taoism is the 'core' of Taoist teachings.
Only through spiritual cultivation, can we realize and achieve an understanding and feeling of the mystery of universe (Tao) on a personal level. This understanding cannot be achieved solely through classes (oral transmission) or by reading books.
Taoist Masters, Saints, and Prophets are all Taoist Spiritual practitioners. They passed down their spiritual methods to 'disciples'. However, the 'Follower' (Folk religious adherent) learned only Taoist religious theory and tradition.
In Taoism, the act of Taoist Spiritual Cultivation is called "Xiu Dao", which literally means;
1. Xiu = To Revise, Improve, Fix, Mentor.
2. Dao = Universe with its own law and all of the elements inside it.
So, Xiu Dao can be translated as "To revise your own self into perfection/immortality as a whole, in the Taoist way"
Therefore, The layers of cultivation in Xiu Dao cover all aspects of life. This can generally be divided into 4 parts;
1. Physical body
2. Conscious body (Mind/soul/heart & Spirit)
3. Subtle body
4. Righteous morality and Merit accumulation (Gong De)
Tracing the origin of Taoist teaching is impossible to do. According to the oral tradition, the basic fundamentals of Taoism have existed since 3500 BCE. During which time Emperor Fu Xi Da Di. Fu Xi Da Di was believe to be the individual that wrote the foundation of I Ching Book(Book of changes of universe). This book became a basic fundamental source of Taoist development. During this period, the term of "Tian"(Heaven) was used to describe the power of universe. Worshipping Shang Di (Almighty God / Jade emperor) were already popular. Taoist schools had not yet been formed.
Emperor Fu Xi Da Di
Fu Xi taught mankind many arts, such as the use of fishing nets, the breeding of silk worms, and the taming of wild animals. Furthermore, Fu Xi is said to have invented one hundred Chinese family names and declared that marriages could only take place between persons bearing different family names. Fu Xi is represented as a human being with the body of a snake. His wife is Nü-gua. In Taoist temples he is usually portrayed holding a panel on which the eight trigrams are inscribed.
Taoist teachings became more organized during the reign of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di); who is said to have ruled Ancient China in or about 2697 BCE. An oral traceable history of Taoism can be marked during this time. Huang Di contributed to the authoring a book of Medicine, the Huang Di Nei Jing, the first medical treatise in the history of China.
He is venerated as the person that opened the way of teaching Taoism. Furthermore, Huang Di is credited with the creation of mankind, the invention of writing, the compass, the pottery wheel, and the breeding of silkworms. He is also considered to have been a determining influence in establishing Chinese social order, in that he allocated a name to each family.
According to one tradition, Huang Di spontaneously came into being as a result of the fusion of energies that marked the beginning of the world. He created man by placing earthly statues at the cardinal points of the world, leaving them exposed to the breath of the world's beginning for three hundred years. When they were totally pervaded by the energy of that breath, the statues were able to speak and move. In this way, the various races of mankind came into being.
During this time, there was not a separation between Spiritual Taoism and Philosophical Taoism. There only existed the Ancient Taoist way of thinking and the method to cultivate in life. Taoism expressed the thought and concept of unification with life and freedom from groups or organizations. This basic Taoist concept influenced the life of the Chinese Ancestors that become the Chinese culture.
1753 BCE (Shang Dynasty)
Unfortunately, recorded history can only be traced to this period (Sang Dynasty) since Emperor Qin She Huang (221BCE-206BCE) burned all the ancient books.
However, there is significant archeology evidence to the fact that the ancient Emperor from Hsia Dynasty actually existed and is not a mythical figure. The remains of this ancient Neolithic civilization were found the area near Hsian in Shanxi province and also in Jinan in Shandong province.
Zhou Dynasty started
The official founder of Taoism is Lao Zi also known as Lie Er and Pek Yang. He was born around 605 BCE. Lao Zi (Old child) was born with white hair. In his old age, he created the famous Taoist book, Dao De Ching that consisted of 5000 Chinese characters, and then riding a green cow went toward the Himalayas from Han Kuk Kwan (North West of China Ocean) and disappeared. Some believed he went to India via Himalayan mountains.
Chuang-Tzu further develops Taoist teachings and left a book called Nan Hua Jing.
Qin Dynasty started. Construction of great wall in 214 BCE
Immortality Taoism develops; Taiping Jing is compiled.
During Han Dynasty, Emperor Han Wu Di supported the teaching of Taoism. Due to this patronage, the root of Taoism became very strong.
During this period there was a Great Taoist Grandmaster, Zhang Dao Ling aka Zhang Tian Shi, who founded the sect of the Way of Five Bushels of Rice. He set a standard for Taoism. He contributed greatly to Taoist teachings by handing down Taoist Books, a stamp (In) and Kiam (Sword). Thus the standardization of Taoist sects officially began. In his old age, he settled down and established a Taoist school/sect in Mount Lung Hu San known as Tian Shi Dao
Zhang Tian Shi, hand painted by Dao Shi Yek Fa Pao
He also organized the Way of Five Bushels of Rice into religious communities, which become known as Taoism of Heavenly Masters. (Religious Taoism). He also handed down Spiritual Taoist to a few disciples.
Han Dynasty started. Introduction Buddhism in China
Tao Hong Jing develops the Shang Qing school.
The first Taoist Book Compilation was organized, called Dao Zhang / 道藏. It consisted of many of the available 'open-Taoist-religious-books' (those volumes openly available to the general literate population) of the time.
However, most of the 'closed-Taoist-spiritual-books' were not included in the Dao Zhang. This is because most of the spiritual knowledge was only passed down to the disciples secretly. So different families/schools transmitted different collections of Taoist books, and none wanted to have their versions published.
Emperor Gaozu built a great temple at the birthplace of Lao-Tze.
Rule of Taoist Emperor Xuanzong. Questions on Taoist texts become a feature of civil service examinations.
During the Song dynasty, Perfect Truth Taoism and Orthodox One Taoism arise and the Taoist canon is edited.
San Yi Jiao (Three-in-One Religion) is founded by Lin Zhaoen (1517-98) as a synthesis of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
Temple of the Three-in-One Religion is built.
During the Manchu Qing dynasty, new movements were founded within Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity in China. The Three-in-One Religion is persecuted. Many of Taoist spiritual masters immigrated to South East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Taiwan).
China becomes a republic.
The Fourth of May movement is founded and seeks to stamp out religion using science.
National Taoist organizations are founded. They tried to organize many Taoist sects and books. However, there are still many sects of Taoism that is not listed with them.
Taoist and Buddhist temples are dismantled.
Religions are tightly controlled by the Chinese government.
A Taoist Grandmaster living in Indonesia began teaching Tai Shang Men Sect Taoism to many disciples openly.
Taoist Tai Shang Men school established in the USA and it is available for all who have a sincere desire to learn.
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