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Religion Library: Taoism

Afterlife and Salvation

Written by: Julia Hardy

Some Taoist gods are believed to reside on the sun, moon, planets, and constellations, and the Taoist adept is able to travel to these places during ritual trances.  Some of the mystical excursions of Shangqing Taoism, for example, are to astronomical realms.  The Big Dipper and its central star, the Pole Star, are especially important to Taoism.  The deity Taiyi is believed to have a residence on the Pole Star, and the gods who reside within the body also reside in the (literal) heavens.  The origin of these beliefs can be traced to a highly developed astronomical knowledge and religious engagement with astronomical realms that date back to the Shang dynasty (1700-1027 B.C.E.).

Salvation for Taoism (absent the Buddhist influence) is a matter of participation in the eternal return of the natural world, a yielding to chaos followed by spontaneous creation, in a never-ending cycle.  This is not a permanent transcendent state or redemption such as has been articulated in the Abrahamic traditions. For Taoism, salvation is not an escape from this world; rather, it is to become perfectly aligned with the natural world and with the cosmic forces that sustain it.


Study Questions:
1.    Why do Taoists lack a unified view on the afterlife?
2.    How does the early Taoist view of the afterlife differ from the later, Buddhist-inspired belief?
3.    What does salvation look like to a Taoist?


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