The Taoist Experience: An Anthology

The Taoist Experience: An Anthology

The Taoist Experience: An Anthology

The Taoist Experience: An Anthology

Synopsis

Containing sixty translations from a large variety of texts, this is an accessible yet thorough introduction to the major concepts, doctrines, and practices of Taoism. It presents the philosophy, rituals, and health techniques of the ancients as well as the practices and ideas of Taoists today. Divided into four sections, it follows the Taoist Path: The Tao, Long Life, Eternal Vision, and Immortality. It shows how the world of the Tao is perceived from within the tradition, what fervent Taoists did, and how practitioners saw their path and goals. The Taoist Experience is unique in that it presents the whole of Taoist tradition in the very words of its active practitioners. It conveys not only a sense of the depth of the Taoist religious experience but also of the underlying unity of the various schools and strands.

Excerpt

What is Taoism? Is it a degenerate form of a highly sophisticated ancient philosophy? Is it an organized form of popular religion? Or has it nothing much to do with either?

Is Taoism found mostly in a messianic movement of mass salvation that began in the second century C.E.? Is it most essentially present in the elaborate performance of majestic rituals of renewal and ancestral salvation? Or, again, is it found first of all in the leisurely play of immortals, sitting under pine trees, sipping elixirs of immortality?

Is Taoism a political force, developed and supported by the imperial court for its own ends? Or is it the physical retention of youth, the attainment of longevity and health in the body? Is it, in the end, maybe just an unstructured mass of beliefs, doctrines, and practices that have changed from century to century, from school to school, even from believer to believer?

Taoism, of course, is all these things and none of them. It is an unknown and enigmatic, yet pervasive and ubiquitous aspect of Chinese, even East Asian, religion and culture. It is a force that has influenced Eastern thinking like few others; it is an organized religion, a philosophy, and also the attitude that individuals have toward their lives and the world.

Taoism plays a central part in the development of East Asian culture, and yet it is not a religion in our sense that can be easily defined in terms of founder, doctrines, pantheon, practices, and scriptures. Only the latter are relatively well delineated through the corpus of the Taoist canon, published in 1445, and its various supplements. Still, even there confusion prevails.

Most of the materials are undated and do not contain clear references to an author or sectarian affiliation. Many documents contained in the canon come from non-Taoist traditions, such as . . .

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