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Religion Library: Taoism

Community Organization

Written by: Julia Hardy

Shangqing and Lingbao Taoism were originally textually based.  Organizational structures that developed later were not central to the sect in the formalized way that they had been for the Celestial Masters organization.  As Buddhism became more and more important in China, Taoism reacted by adopting similar structures.  Lingbao developed scriptures encouraging monastic living, and there were organized groups of priests and temples in both of these sects. 

In 666 C.E., the emperor Gaozong (reign 649-683) ordered that a system of state-sponsored monasteries be built for both Taoism and Buddhism in every prefecture of China.  The emperor Xuanzong (reign 713-756), who was a Shangqing initiate, also encouraged and regulated monastic communities and ordered the building of new temples.  Despite state support, Taoism had far fewer monasteries than Buddhism, and many that did exist were founded without state permission, in order to avoid strict regulations.

In the 9th century there was a revival of the Way of the Celestial Masters, now usually called Zhengyi, or Orthodox Unity, and it became the most prominent Taoist sect.  Zhengyi leaders were married priests who lived at home.  By the Yuan dynasty there were thousands of Zhengyi temples serving local communities.

A new 12th-century sect, Quanzhen, or Complete Perfection, was based on a monastic structure.  Its early leaders were known for their aesthetic acts.  Quanzhen inspired the building of new temples and the institution of pilgrimage sites, and it attracted a large number of lay supporters.  Priests were the administrators and occupants of these popular temples and pilgrimage sites.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, during the course of various persecutions, most Taoist temples and monasteries were destroyed or converted to schools, hospitals, or government offices, but there has been a revival of Taoism in China in recent decades.  The central monastery of the Quanzhen sect, the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, is the administrative center for all of Taoism, and novice priests of all sects often train there. Generally speaking, Zhengyi dominates in Taiwan and southern China, while Quanzhen is more prevalent in the rest of China.  These two Taoist sects, with their differing structures, are currently the most influential sects in modern China.  



Study Questions:
1.    How does Taoism differ from other religious patriarchies?
2.    What is the role of a libationer?
3.    How does age influence an individual's connection to Taoism?


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