A universal guide for China studies
Chinese Philosophy - Religious Daoism
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > Literature > Daoists > Daoist religion][bottom]
|Literature by A to Z|
Literature by time
Literature by theme
While Confucianism has only a small religious aspect that focuses on ancestor veneration and the yearly worshipping to Heaven and Earth by the emperor, Daoist philosophy makes man free being concerned about his ancestors or deified natural forces. For Daoists, man lives among the wild beasts and the free nature. He is only concerned about himself and his own happiness. The highest happiness for a Daoist is, similar to Buddhism, to make himself free worldy thought and the sorrow of having to die. Several techniques help the Buddhist to get rid of these sorrows, even to make him immortal. Daoists developed ways to enlighten their mind with breath techniques, body movements (what we would call gymnastics), medical herbs or chemical materials.
In popular belief, many persons have already obtained immortality, becoming fairies or deities. The highest deity of Daoism is, of course, the "Old Master" Laozi 老子, who is called in temples "Old Lord" Lao Jun 老君, or "Holy Lord" Shengjun 聖君. He and the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi 黃帝), who made order in the world and who was the first to create the traditional way of Chinese rulership, are the main persons of the Daoist religion that developed during the late Warring States period 戰國時代 on and was called Huang-Lao thought 黃老.
There are many other fairies that have obtained immortality. Many of them are assembled in groups like the Eight Fairies (Ba Xian 八仙: Li Tiekuai, Zhong Liuquan, Lan Caihe, Zhang Guolao, He Xiangu, Lü Dongbin, Han Xiangzi and Cao Guojin) that were able to cross the sea on a tree-trunk. Other fairies are able to fly on clouds or to transform into the shape of an animal or a fire. Some of them are historical persons, like "Duke Guan 關公" Guan Yu 關羽, a general of the Three Kingdoms period 三國, or Dongfang Shuo 東方朔. Many Daoist fairies and deities are heroes in popular theatre plays and novels. Most of these deities are admired and venerated all over China, like the hero Zhong Kui 鐘馗, but some are simple products of local religion, like the southern fishermen deity Mazu 媽祖, or the wise tactician of Shu (Sichuan), Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮. Some deities are no concrete person, but types of benevolent deities that bestow luck and health, like the Heavenly Official (Tianguan 天官), the Jade Emperor (Yuhuang 玉皇), the Dragon Emperor (Huolong Dadi 火龍大帝), the God of Wealth (Caishen 財神), the Door Guardians (Menshen 門神) or the Star Trinity of Luck (Fulushou Sanxing 福祿壽三星) that bring longevity, children and prosperity, all with their fellowers attributes like the Saints in Christianity. Children, peaches, balls and fish are symbols of familiar prosperity, pine and stone are symbols of longevity, crane and deer are fellowers of fairies that hold gourds in their hand containing a medicine bringing immortality. The bat is a symbol of happiness because the Chinese word for "bat" fú 蝠 sounds like the words for "luck" fú 福, althought the characters are different except their phonetical part.
In this field, we already see that religious Daoism is a fertile combination of popular belief in heroes and immortals, bringing luck, happiness and wealth to them. Even Buddhist deities can be seen in Daoism, like the four temple guardians or Heavenly Kings (Si Da Tianwang 四大天王).