Origins

In 748 the Taoist emperor Xuanzong (reign 712-756) sent envoys throughout the empire to collect all Taoist texts.  He also caused the newly expanded canon to be copied and distributed, the first time this had occurred.  Not long after this, rebels destroyed the Imperial Libraries and most of this canon was destroyed.   New, expanded compilations were made by two Song Dynasty (960-1279) emperors.  The second of these was carved on woodblocks and printed around 1120.  A third Song emperor had the canon reedited and additional blocks carved.  With the Mongol invasion of 1215, many copies were destroyed, but in 1237, work on a new edition began.  Sponsored by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan (c. 1162-1227) and completed in 1244, this was the largest version yet. 

During the Yuan Dynasty, founded by Khubilai (Kublai) Khan (1215-1294), a new Quanzhen, or Total Truth sect was initially favored by the court.  After its representatives lost a series of public debates with Buddhists, however, Khubilai Khan ordered all Taoist texts destroyed except the Taode jing.   The first Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) emperor turned to the Way of the Celestial Masters sect to create a new Taoist canon.  This version, which took nearly forty years to compile, was wide-ranging and included any texts that might legitimately be considered Taoist.  Current versions are based on this Ming canon.

 


Study Questions:
1.      How was the Taoist canon formed?
2.     What role does the Taoist canon play in Taoist tradition?
3.     Why were Taoist texts divided into the Three Caverns, and then again subdivided?

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