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Religion Library: Taoism

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

Written by: Julia Hardy

During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), neo-Confucian ethics were being promoted by the state.  Morality books, which had existed for centuries, became quite popular during this time.  In these books, Confucian ethics were combined with Taoist concepts of longevity and a divine bureaucracy, or with Buddhist notions of karma.  Following this trend, Wang Kunyang (1622-1680), who was the abbot of the Quanzhen White Cloud Temple in Beijing, reorganized the Quanzhen precepts and ordination system to reflect the neo-Confucian ethical system. 

Members of the lay population often did not identify with Confucianism, Taoism, or Buddhism to the exclusion of the others.  While there were no radical differences in terms of moral expectations, there were structural differences between the three traditions.  Confucianism focused on daily life, on home and family and work; Buddhism and Taoism had different pantheons of divine beings, different sacred texts, different rituals, and different concepts of the afterlife.  The morality books provided ways of synthesizing the three traditions into an ethical system by which one might govern one's life.

Study Questions:
1.    How did piety evolve within Taoism?
2.    Compare and contrast the Lingbao sect's ten precepts with those of the Buddhists.
3.    Why could the Morality Books be considered a helpful starting point for interreligious dialogue?


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