Over the nearly two thousand years of the development of the religion of Daoism many denominations and sects have come into being due to differences in interpretations of teachings, lineages, and transmission, and methods of organizing and forming institutions. There are eighty-six denominations and sects recorded in documents at White Cloud Temple in Beijing. After the 15th century, more eclectic sects emerged among the people because of Daoist intercourse with Confucianism and Buddhism. Among these numerous sects, some were named after famous historical masters, some after their places of origin, some after particular Daoist scriptures they followed, and some after cultivation methods. However, throughout history there have been only four widely recognized major denominations, which can be categorized in turn under one of the two systems of Zhengyi Dao (Orthodox Unity Dao) and Quanzhen Dao (Complete Realization Dao). Zhengyi Dao evolved directly from the Celestial Masters Way In the middle of the 3rd century, central China was reunited after many decades of war and chaos.

Many wrote new treatises on Daoist tenets and many Daoist ceremonies and ritual practices were accordingly adjusted. Thus, during this period of fragmentation of China following the four centuries of the Han, a Daoist reformation took place, with thinkers like Gehong (284-364), of the Eastern Jin dynasty, Kou Qianzhi (365-448), of the Northern Wei dynasty, Lu Xiujing (406-477), of the Liu Song dynasty, and Tao Hongjin (456-536), of the Liang dynasty leading the way. The inner and outer chapters of Baopuzi (The Philosopher Who Embraces Simplicity) by Gehong were canonized by later Daoists as major theoretical works. Gehong shifted the goal of Daoist ideology from a pursuit of millennial salvation to one of personal delivery and immortality. He argued eloquently for the existence of immortals and the possibility of immortality through self-cultivation, and meticulously itemized various methods of cultivation and alchemy. He also re-annotated Daoist theological works according to Confucian thought, argued Daoist cultivation practice was consistent with Confucian morality, and accepted Confucian norms of righteous words and deeds as being a necessary precondition of cultivation.

Yan Dynasty relief of Daoist subjects:

In the 2nd century, the books that were canonized by the earliest Daoist religious sects, the Five Bushels Sect and the Supreme Peace Sect, were the Book of Supreme Peace, and the Daode ling and its commentaries, such as those of Xiang'er and Heshanggong. Since its first appearance, the Book of Supreme Peace has had many different names and versions, while the Daode ling has been the text most widely propagated and explicated by Daoist masters and their followers from varying perspectives. Among the commentaries available today, that of Heshanggong (literally, the "Revered Old Man by the River"), was the first to explain the Daodeling from the perspective of Huang-Lao Daoism. This commentary, which is commonly regarded as a work edited during the middle of the Later Han . dynasty, formulated the theory of "identification of body and state," which proposed that the principles of cultivation of personal health and state management are identical in that both require purity, reduction of desire, and accomplishment by means of wu wei.

The number of Daoist scriptures increased with the development and spread of Daoism. During the Eastern Jin dynasty, Gehong listed a catalogue of 1299 scrolls of Daoist books in the "Further Reading" chapter of his The Philosopher Who Embraces Simplicity. With the rapid spread of the Zhengyi Sect, Daoist charms and liturgies had been further elaborated on, resulting in the production of a many classics. These works come from three major traditions: Shangqing, Lingbao, and Sanhuang. The Shangqing tradition honored its founder, Madam Wei, who ascended on the Southern Sacred Mountain. Its exponents, among whom were Yangxi and Xumi, composed many works in Madam Wei's name.

The Lingbao tradition claimed that its earliest scripture had been found in a stone city by Helu, King of the State of Wu during the Warring States Period. The Supreme Master Lao had sent Three Sage-Perfect Men to grant many scriptures to Gexuan, who had practiced cultivation at Tiantai Mountain. The Lingbao tradition continued to amass scriptures as well.

The Sanhuang tradition honored Baoliang, father-in-law of Gehong, as its founder. There are different stories concerning the origin of these scriptures: one held that they were found in a stone house on the central sacred mountain by Baoliang in 292 AD; the other is that they were granted to Baoliang by his teacher, Zuo Yuanfang, or Zhengying, an occult practitioner of the Later Han dynasty The majority of the contents of the Sanhuang scriptures concern rituals of exorcism, charms, talismans, and cultivation methods based of concentration on deities. All of the scriptures of these three traditions converged into the Daoist Canon. The compilation of the Daoist Canon began during the Tang dynasty, when Daoism had its first prosperous period. Under the powerful patronage of emperors of the Li family, the collection and compilation of Daoist scriptures reached new heights. Tang Emperor Xuanzong ordered Shi Chongxuan and another 40 scholars to compile a complete set of Daoist scriptures during his Kaiyuan era (713-741). Using this work of 113 scrolls as a base, he sent researchers into provinces to bring back more Daoist texts. These were then compiled into the first Daoist Canon, the Exquisite Compendium of Three Insights. "Insight" is a translation of the Chinese dong, which many Western scholars translate as "grottoes," because the basic meaning of dong is "cave" or "grotto." However, in this sense it is equivalent to tong, which means "to communicate." Thus the "three insights" (sandong) are actually three ways of communicating with deities, in other words, three insights into the supernatural. These texts are all believed to be revelations from deities. The total number of scrolls recorded was 3744, which were classified according to their contents into three canons, each with 36 subdivisions: Insights into the Perfect, with 12 subdivisions; Insights into the Mysterious, with 12 subdivisions; and Insights into the Sacred, with 12 subdivisions. It was titled the Daoist Canon of Kaiyuan because it was printed in the Kaiyuan era.

The Song dynasty is the second period of the expansion and promotion of Daoism. Daoist canons were compiled on six occasions during the Song: 1) In the early years of the Song dynasty, Emperor Taizong ordered officials of all local governments to search for Daoist texts. More than 7000 scrolls were collected. After making many amendments, duplicates were expunged, resulting in a compilation of 3737 scrolls. 2) In 1008, a further supplement reached 4359 total scrolls. 3) In 1012, this work was again supplemented to become the Precious Canon of the Celestial Palace of the Great Song, in 4565 scrolls. 4) For the convenience of the emperor's reading, chief editor Zhang junfang extracted 122 scrolls from the more than 700 designated as the most important classics in the Great Song compilation, resulting in the Yunji Qiqian (literally, Cloud Chests with Seven Labels) in fact meaning a complete Daoist canon, but popularly referred to as the Small Daoist Canon. 5) During the reign of Emperor Song Huizong, who as an ardent believer in Daoism, the Daoist Canon was re-compiled twice; the 6455 scrolls. The recent edition of the Xuandu Canon, compiled in 1244 during the Yuan Dynasty, contained 7800 scrolls and was supplemented with scriptures of the Quanzhen sect that was in ascendancy at that time.

These editions of the Daoist Canon have mostly been lost; only a few remnant scrolls survive. The available editions today are the Zhentong Daoist Canon and Wanli Supplementary Daoist Canon. These are fruits of projects undertaken under Ming rulers Yingzong in the 15th century and Shenzong in the 17th century The total of the two editions is 5485 scrolls.

The scriptures were arranged in Three Insights or Three Primary Canons, Four Secondary Canons, and Twelve Accessory Canons. The so-called Three Insights or Three Primary Canons followed the classification system of past editions. All scriptures believed to be granted by the Heavenly Sage of the Pre-existence (Yuanshi Tianzun) were included in Insights into the Perfect, of which most were from the Lingbao tradition; all scriptures that were believed to be bestowed by Supreme Master of Dao (Heavenly Sage of the Lingbao) were classified as Insights into the Mysterious, of which most were from the Lingbao tradition; all scriptures that were believed to be granted by Supreme Master of Lao were classified as Insights into the Sacred, of which most were from the Sanhuang tradition. The so-called Four Secondary Canons include Great Purity, Great Peace, Great Mystery, and Zhengyi canons. All books in these canons were expository and complementary to one or more of the Three Insights. Great Purity texts were expository and complementary to Insights into the Perfect; Great Peace texts to Insights into the Mysterious; Great Mystery texts to Insights into the Sacred; and Zhengyi to all Three Insights. Twelve Accessory Canons were miscellaneous scriptures that could not be classified into the Three Insights Oy the Four Secondary Canons.

Kou Qianzhi lived in the years of the split between the Southern and Northern dynasties. Supported by imperial family members and nobles of the Northern dynasty, he claimed to have been visited by Supreme Master Lao, who gave him the title of Celestial Master, along with the New Musical Liturgy of Commandments from the Clouds (clouds representing the heavenly realm), a classic in 20 scrolls. He courageously reformed the teachings of the Celestial Masters Way (now Datong in Shanxi Province) during the Northern Wei dynasty Kou successfully effected the unification of Daoism with feudal power. Lu Xiujing lived in southern China. His major contribution was to inherit and develop Gehong's theories and apply them in the reformation of extant Daoist organizations. He collected large numbers of Daoist scriptures and improved liturgies. His reformed Daoism is called the Southern Celestial Masters Way.

Tao Hongjing enriched and developed Daoist cosmology on the basis of Laozi and the Yijing (Book of Changes). He was among the earliest advocates for the unification of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. In his Catalogue of the Daoist Pantheon, he arranged various Daoist deities into a great hierarchical system for the first time, and promoted the unification and systematization of Daoist theories.

In 364, during the Eastern Jin dynasty, a Daoist priest named Yangxi claimed that the goddess Madam Wei had given him a scripture in 31 scrolls titled the True Book of Shangqing (shangqing means "supreme purity"). He subsequently founded the Shangqing Sect, which took the True Book of Shangqing as its central text, promoted the Heavenly King of the Origin and Supreme Master Lao as its two highest celestial gods, and adopted a practice called cunxiang as its chief method of cultivation. By this method, a practitioner can guide celestial gods into his body and communicate with the gods of his own internal organs. The practitioners internal gods report his or her behavior to the celestial gods, who in turn raise or lower the practitioner's status. Followers continue with this practice until they are ready to ascend to heaven as immortals. As this practice became more widespread, the sect became popular on Mount Mao, in Jiangsu Province.

There are some Daoists who have chosen the Sacred Jewel Scriptures as their central texts. This tradition is the called Lingbao Sect (lingbao translates roughly as "sacred jewel"). lts main characteristics include declaring universal salvation, paying special attention to liturgies and rituals, and emphasizing moral conversions. lts most sacred mountain is Mount Gezao in Jiangxi Province. Many other Daoist sects, including the Pure Bright Qingming) Sect, the Highest Heaven (Shenxiao) Sect, the Dragon Tiger (Longhu) Sect, the Wudang Sect (which originated at Mount Wudang), and the Pure Beauty (Qingwei) Sect, continued to emerge throughout the jin, Tang, and Song dynasties. They both coexisted and communicated, learning from each other.

This changed in 1304, during Yuan Dynasty, when the emperor granted the honorific title of Orthodoxy Oneness Lord (Zhengyi Lord) to Zhang Yucai, the 38th generation Celestial Master, and placed him in charge of all Daoist sects in China. Since then, Southern and Northern Celestial Master Sects, the Shangqing Sect, and the Lingbao Sect, have been generally called Zhengyi Dao. Their common characteristics are: they take Zhengyi classics as their central scriptures; they undertake liturgy and exorcist rituals as their major religious services; their clerics are allowed to marry and have children; they are not forced to live in temples and lead monastic lives; and their commandments are not particularly strict. Zhengyi Dao is the general name for all kinds of talismanic sects directed from Mount Dragon and Tiger, formed after Daoism had already entered a relatively mature stage. Among the sects in this denomination, some have preserved their own unique tenets and liturgies, whilst others have conformed to Zhengyi norms.

There were once other important Daoist sects in China, among which the most famous were Taiyi (Great Unity) Daoism, and Zhenda (True Great) Daoism. However, they only survive in various forms on Taiwan, and only the Zhengyi Dao and Quanzhen Dao denominations have survived in mainland China.

In 1900, when Western forces invaded Beijing, the wooden printing blocks of the Zhentong Daoist Canon and the Wanli Supplementary Daoist Canon were burned. Only one set of the Daoist Canon from the Ming was kept preserved, at the White Cloud Temple. From 1923 to 1936, in order to rescue this cultural heritage, Zhao Erxun and other important scholars initiated a program of reprinting these texts. Using the Daoist Canon of White Cloud Temple as the source, they engaged Hanfenlou Bookstore in Shanghai to reprint 350 sets, each with 1120 volumes. These copies were called the Hanfenlou edition, which is the major version of the Daoist Canon available today. The familiar classics such as Daode Jing, Zhuangzi, Book oJ Divine Deliverance, Classic oJ Pure Quit, and Book of the Intuitive Enlightenment, are all included in this collection.

Although there was no new compilation of the Daoist Canon undertaken in Qing dynasty, some important reference works were published, including the Compilation oJ Important Books in the Daoist Canon, the Contents oJ the Compilation oJ Important Books in the Daoist Canon, and the Basic Index oJ Compilation oJ Important Books in the Daoist Canon. The earliest edition of the Compilation of Important Books in the Daoist Canon was completed by abstracting 173 books from the Daoist Canon of the Ming during the Jiaqing era (1796-1820). This collection was gradually supplemented, reaGhing 287 volumes in 1906. Since none of the 114 books which were added were included in the Ming dynasty Daoist Canon, they naturally became important materials for the study of Daoism during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Another important event during the Qing dynasty was the discovery at the beginning of the 20th century by a Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu of ancient scrolls in cave number 17 at Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, in western China. Some long-lost Daoist classics were found among these scrolls, which are now called the Dunhuang Daoist Scriptures. These books, numbering 496 items, are hand-written, and date from the 6th to the 10th century, mostly from the reigns of Gaozong and Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty Most of them are fragmentary, yet they remain important relics of great historical value for Daoist studies, and are crucial for both supplementing and collating the Daoist Canon of the Ming dynasty Unfortunately, as a result of political corruption during the Qing dynasty, these scrolls were stolen from China, a first large batch by the British explorer Aurel Stein in 1907, and subsequently more scrolls by a Frenchman, Paul Pelliot, then a Russian, Pyotr Koslov, and finally a Japanese, Zuicho Tachibana. After the establishment of People's Republic of China, through the joint efforts of the Chinese government and overseas friends, a small number of the priceless Dunhuang scrolls have been brought back to their homeland and preserved.

The Quanzhen and Zhengyi sects have their own specific succession systems and liturgies; those of Quanzhen are called chuanjie (literally, "to pass down commandments"), while those of Zhengyi are called shoulu (literally, "to bestow the sacred registry"). The system of chuanjie in Quanzhen Daoism, founded by Qiu ehuji in the 13th century, has a history of over 700 years; and that of shoulu in Zhengyi Daoism, founded by Zhang Daoling in the 2nd century, has a history of over 1800 years. The shoulu assemblies were often held on the days before Triplet Days, because these are occasions when the Three Elements Gods inspect human deeds and determine blessings and punishments accordingly

It subsequently became a custom for the Celestial Masters to descend to altars to bestow sacred registries in the Mansion on Mount Dragon and Tiger on the Triplet Days. Lu is an entry in the registry book of deities from all directions, but also the certificate to summon divine generals to execute Daoist orders. Zhengyi Daoists believe that only after having been bestowed with lu can they ascend-to the Heavenly Court and get divine positions. Only those who have divine positions can make their memorials to Heaven heard or seen in ceremonies, and thereby command divine soldiers or generals.

Shoulu ceremonies are presided over by the Three Masters, of Proselytism, Inspection, and Recommendation. Since the 24th generation, the Celestial Master was authorized by Emperor Zhengzong of the Northern Song Cr. 997-1022) to set up a shoulu court in the capital city, and in these ceremonies the Proselytizing Master has always been played by the Celestial Masters themselves.

In the Daoist tradition, chuanjie and shoulu are not only ordination ceremonies which call for participants' belief in Dao and their commitment to priesthood, but also educational ceremonies to regulate the words and deeds of priests. In modern times, war and chaotic conditions halted the practice of these rituals for decades. Although the White Cloud Temple in Beijing was the central place for chuanjie, no such ceremony had been held since the 1920s.

More recently then, following the founding of the Government sponsored Chinese Taoist Association traditional systems and rituals that had not been practiced since the 1920’s a chuanjie ceremony was first re-introduced again on Dec. 2, 1989 see picture:

Since then the Chinese Taoist Association CTA has grown into an International organization and March 17th to 20th, 2003, the CTA hosted a ‘Laozi’ Celebration where concerts were performed by Daoist orchestras of White Cloud Temple in Beijing, Mount Mao in jiangsu, Xuanmiao Temple in Suzhou, Mount Mian in Shanxi, the Hong Kong Penglai Daoist Temple, Gaoxiong Culture Institute, Wall and Moat God Temple in Singapore, and the Choir of Daode jing of Dashibo Palace in Singapore.

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