Manifestations of Taoism
In its most remote era, Taoism created the ideal of a sage, adviser to the sovereign, whose ultimate virtue was to be unnoticed. In later centuries, it became a popular religion with countless gods, in which the supreme question was to achieve immortality.
The oldest Taoism
In the time before the consolidation of Confucianism (2nd century BC), Taoism was interested in public life and the art of governing. He created an ideal of a sage very different from the Confucian sage, since the Taoist lives in hiding, away from power and fame. It stands out for its ability to advise and advise the sovereign. Its maximum virtue is wu wei, “not to act”, not to be noticed.
Another fundamental concept in older Taoism is the relativity of opposites; there are no criteria that allow the good to be generally discerned from the bad. These are relative concepts, since they end up summarizing in coincidence, which is the Tao. The masculine and the feminine are not radically different, neither is life and death; there is a way to overcome contradictions on a human scale and that is the ultimate purpose of wisdom.
Taoism is also a non-intellectual option that stands out for its simplicity and naturalness, facing social norms and even the government. Man must seek submission to his own nature, to follow this path is not to act (wu wei), to adapt to the tao. Hence the importance of meditation in order to achieve this union with Tao, which puts into practice several techniques. The oldest Taoism has no systematic pretension, it does not seem to have needed a complex theology or cosmology, it seems like an intuitive way that is poorly expressed through language.
Taoism after the official consolidation of Confucianism
With the consolidation of Confucianism as a state religion, Taoist thinkers lost interest in government practice; on the other hand, they focused on improving techniques to achieve longevity and immortality. The Buddhist impact led, from the 8th century onwards, to the development of a Taoist monastery.
Taoism diversified its message, magic rites, the making of talismans (fu), medical recipes, geomancy techniques, moral advice, multiplied. It becomes a popular religion, alien to the circles of scholars and thinkers.
Theology, more and more complex, is populated by gods and immortal beings who can communicate the secrets to reach the wisdom that overcomes death, as well as recipes for making talismans and magical objects. In this way, immortal communicators of secrets return to the interior of the Taoist adept instead of swarming through the outside world, and mystical physiology is a way to overcome death.
Death and immortality in Taoism
For certain Taoist schools, the human body is a microcosm in which the whole universe is reflected and incorporated. The key to achieving immortality is to nurture the vital principle: Yang-Hsing. For that, it is necessary to feed life, Yang-Sheng, and spirit, Yang-Shen.
According to Taoism, the body is a receptacle in which there are multiple spirits, whose dispersion must be prevented by different techniques, since its deterioration brings old age and death. Only the body offers unity to all principles and, consequently, death can only be overcome by maintaining identity, that is, maintaining the body.
Taoism is the only one of the great religions that promises the durability of the physical body, not the soul. This physical immortality means the confusion between the beyond and the world: the beyond is at the limits of the world or in the middle of the world, but it is not visible to everyone.
To achieve immortality, several techniques were combined:
- Tao-yin: gymnastic exercises to stimulate the correct circulation of chi (qi) through the body.
- T’ai-ish: embryonic breathing, consists of breathing techniques, such as retaining the breath a thousand times.
- Pi-ku: feeding techniques, consists of abstaining from cereals, meat and alcohol and consuming especially wild products, such as herbs, berries or fruits.
- Fu-lu: use and manufacture of talismans, a technique related to magic.
- Wai-tan:external cinnabar, technique of external alchemy that consisted of ingesting purified cinnabar – mercury sulfate.
- Nei-tan: cinnabar interior, technique of internal alchemy that consisted of creating in the body of the adept the flower of gold through the union of the yin principle with the yang principle.
- Fan-chung: art of the alcove, techniques of sexual union aimed at obtaining immortality.