Filial Piety in Chinese Thought and History

By Alan K. L. Chan; Sor-Hoon Tan | Go to book overview

5

Immortal parents and universal kin

Family values in medieval Daoism

Livia Kohn

The Daoist religion in medieval China developed in three major phases or stages. First, in the second and third centuries CE, there were the communal movements of Great Peace and Celestial Masters, whose followers lived together in family and village units, paid taxes to the religious leadership, and worked together in preparation of the millennial new age soon to arise. Following this, in the fourth and fifth centuries, new revelations from various Daoist heavens were received by aristocratic seekers, in both north and south China, and new schools grew, including Highest Clarity, Numinous Treasure, and the new Celestial Masters. Numinous Treasure in particular integrated large portions of the Buddhist worldview and ritual into the Daoist system, enhancing its growth into a fully organized religion. The third phase, finally, developed in the sixth and seventh centuries with the integration of the various Daoist schools into one system under the umbrella of the Three Caverns. More Buddhist doctrine and organization were integrated, and Daoism developed a full-fledged monastic institution together with more sophisticated doctrines and elaborate religious practices.

The concept of filial piety (xiao) in the context of these developments tends to focus on the relationship between the present generation and its ancestors and descendants. Ancestors were commonly seen as potential obstacles to the religious attainment of Daoists, mainly because their sins were visited upon their descendants and thus obstructed the latter's salvation. This notion was first formulated in the Later Han dynasty, in the context of the Great Peace movement, as the doctrine of "inherited evil." It meant that all misdeeds and negativity of the ancestors did not die with them but, unless expiated in some way or another, remained to haunt the descendants for generations.

This family consciousness of the early movements is also evident in their collections of rules, where living with the family and observing propriety toward one's relatives are emphasized as important virtues - as they are in the later rules of Complete Perfection. In addition, as Daoism developed further, the doctrine of karma and retribution was added to its family values, and filial piety became a key factor in the creation of good karma.

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