Edited by Matthew Clarke
Chapter 8: Daoism and development
Daoism, also spelled Taoism, is China’s organized, indigenous religious system. Daoists take as their focus the goal of obtaining the Dao, or Way, the unnameable source of generative vitality in a universe of constant transformation. The methods for realizing this goal have been revised and reinvented throughout Daoism’s 2000-year history but can be generally understood in terms of mediating between the fluid energies of the body, the community and the cosmos. Daoists pay attention to the subtle energies of the inner body and engage in meditative cultivation practices that aim to restore and enhance the functioning of the body with the goal of bringing about long life and spiritual transcendence. They also worship a complex hierarchy of sacred powers that includes at its apex the Three Pure Ones, impersonal instantiations of the Dao itself, and also a wide variety of personal gods who were once human beings but who, over the course of their lives, achieved transcendence, sometimes understood as immortality. From the perspective of an outside observer, Daoism has two distinct characters: an elite tradition of monks and priests who are dedicated to the quest of obtaining the Dao, and a communal tradition integrated into local society and patronized by non-initiated lay people. The elite tradition is focused on maintaining and transmitting the teachings of the various lineages to a relatively small number of initiates who are deemed to be suitably qualified by virtue of their religious commitment.
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