Heavenly Master Daoism

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Gate of a heaven master temple on Longhu Shan

The Heavenly Master Daoism ( Chinese  天師 道  /  天师 道 , Pinyin Tiānshī Dào  - "Way of the Heavenly Master", also Zhengyi 正 一 , zhèngyī  - "Orthodox Unity") is the first manifestation of organized Daoism , which up to the present day in China persists. The Sky Masters are a religious Daoist organization whose origins lie in the later Han period . The Sky Masters Movement was founded by Zhang Daoling .


The historical forerunners of the Sky Masters are the Yellow Turban Movement ( Taiping Dao ) in central and eastern China and the Five Bushels of Rice ( Wudoumi Dao ) in Sichuan Province . The yellow turbans were a messianic movement and received large crowds of followers. In 184 the Yellow Turbans started an uprising that would overthrow the decadent Han and begin the Age of Great Peace ( Taiping ). The practices of the yellow urban such as healing through the confession of sins, retreats , recitation of sacred texts and hierarchies were very similar to the practices of the heavenly masters, who also adopted a writing of the yellow urban, the Taiping Jing , the classic of the great peace.

The founder of the Heavenly Masters, Zhang Daoling , appeared in 142 Laozi , who was venerated as a saint by the people. Zhang Daoling then proclaimed the "law of the rightful one based on the authority of a sworn oath" ( Zhengyi ), which should initiate the rule of the three heavens, free the world from decay, and restore the chosen people in a perfect state. Here, too, it seemed to be about the overthrow of the Han, because the sky masters, especially the first sky master Zhang Daoling, are considered earthly representatives of the Laojun, the deified Laozi, one of the three pure ones . From this Zhang Daoling received the power to banish evil forces and to lead people. Since the followers had to pay five bushels of rice ( Wudou Mi , 五 斗 米 , wǔdòumǐ ), the movement initially got its name from this tax.

In Sichuan , Zhang Daoling's son and grandson, Zhang Lu , organized an independent state that was politically and financially autonomous thanks to the tax levied. In 215, Zhang Lu surrendered to Cao Cao , whom he recognized as the new emperor legitimized by Laozi, and in return, Cao Cao recognized the sky masters and provided Zhang Lu with income and titles. The heirs of Zhang Daoling and Zhang Lu carried the title of Tianshi , Heaven Master.

During the 4th to 6th centuries the sky masters split into the southern and northern sky masters. Southern Sky Masters refers to the group that formed in the Jiangnan region of southeast China. Although it was in the tradition of the sky masters, it never had its own church organization and mingled with other Daoist currents such as the Shangqing .

Northern Sky Masters refers to the group who continued the tradition of Zhang Daoling directly under the Wei dynasty of the Toba ( Huns ). They achieved political power at court, where they presented their ideas alongside Buddhism. The Wei dynasty emerged from a people whose religion - a mixture of shamanic practices and animistic ideas - made them receptive to the magical- religious practices of the sky masters, and so the sky master Kou Qianzhi also gained political power: the emperors abandoned themselves confirm their mandate under the government motto "Perfect Ruler of the Great Peace", and a Taoist altar was erected on the outskirts of the capital, where one hundred and twenty priests celebrated their cult .

However, after the death of Kou Qianzhi and the emergence of new currents of Daoism, the sky masters could no longer hold themselves at court, and in the following centuries they had little influence.

Then in the 8th and 9th centuries new centers and a new line of heavenly masters were formed. The Zhengyi Church formed associations and guilds that became centers of local cults and have continued to this day. Under the Song and Ming , the Zhengyi priests were promoted to the rank of heads of all Daoist schools, and today the Heavenly Masters sect, or the Zhengyi Church, is one of the most flourishing and active Daoist schools still in existence.


Zhengyi ( 正 一 , zhèngyī  - "Orthodox Unity"), Zhengyi Dao ( 正 一道 , zhèngyīdào ), Zhengyi Jiao ( 正 一 教 , zhèngyījiāo ) or Zhengyi Pai ( 正 一派 , zhèngyīpài refers to another term for Heavenlyism and zhèngyīpài ) also refers to the five bushel rice movement , however the term five bushel rice is often used for the early period, heaven masters from the Six Dynasties to the Tang period, and zhengyi for later periods.


The Sky Master Zhengyi Daoists resided on Longhu Shan . It was to this mountain that the Daoist priests traveled to obtain methods and registers ( Fulu ). In 1239, Song Emperor Lizong instructed the thirty-fifth Heavenly Master, Zhang Keda, to unite the talismans and registers of the three mountains and three schools. The three schools refer to Zhengyi, Lingbao and Shangqing , which resided on three different mountains, next to the Longhu Shan on the Maoshan (Shangqing) and the Gezao Shan (Lingbao). Only Zhang Keda received the title of Xiansheng (Elder), and the schools were united under the leadership of the Sky Masters. Under the Yuan Dynasty , Khublai Khan continued to grant the Zhengyi the title of Sky Masters and the right to serve as leaders of Daoism. During this time all important Daoist activities were subordinate to the reigning heavenly master on the Longhu Shan or were brought to his attention.

In 1304, Zhang Yucai was the acting Master of Heaven and held the title of Leader of the Teachings of Orthodox Unity, Protector of Talismans and Register of the Three Mountains. By an imperial decree, the Daoists of Longhu Shan took control of the other two mountains and were responsible for them. As a result, all of the Taoist schools, with the exception of the Quanzhen School , were reunited on Longhu Shan and became Zhengyi Daoism. The Zhengyi School from then on had a structure similar to the Quanzhen School.

Religious Practices

The religious practices of the sky masters were varied. They worshiped the diverse and popular pantheon of Daoism . In the course of their training they received “registers” with the names of divine powers that they could invoke and activate. There was a mixture of law and morality. Offenses such as drunkenness, vice and theft were observed and recorded by the gods , and atoned for by mostly public confessions and punishments. The punishments were charitable acts or atonement through seclusion, and there were penitential rituals. Illnesses were treated by confession and with magical water as they were punishments for offenses.

The believers recited sacred texts such as Daodejing , practiced breathing exercises, and abstained for the purpose of the longevity of the grain. There were also collective ceremonies performed by the Heavenly Masters and lent ceremonies called zhai, which were the forerunners of later Daoist liturgical ceremonies. Feasts were held three times a year to cure illnesses through intercessions to the gods in charge.

The sexual rituals of the heavenly master movement, which Buddhism denounced as orgies, were notorious. Each participant in such a ritual had to unite with a partner prescribed by the Heavenly Master, who was chosen according to a ranking, after three days of fasting. The ritual was accompanied by fasting, prayers , breathing exercises , visual meditation and invocations of the gods. The aim of these rituals was to inscribe the names of the participants in " the registers of life ".

Although the Heavenly Masters movement had adopted many popular religious elements, it always fought against the other popular religions, which never achieved the importance of Heavenly Masters.

In their history, the sky masters corresponded to the people's wishes for healing, a good harvest, rain and other needs. Scriptures developed that were used for recitation, meditation and prayer , which was supposed to connect with the sphere of the divine ( Shen-ming ). Only those who mastered this perfectly were able to carry out the liturgies correctly. The profession of a heavenly master was given exclusivity, as secret formulas ( mi-jue ) were also communicated to him, which were to be used in the liturgies.

Common prayer or songs and chorales of a community of believers, as they play a role in the Western understanding of religion, are phenomena that never had a meaning in Daoism of the heavenly masters.

The sky masters in today's China

The Zhengyi still exist today in Taiwan and the People's Republic of China , but their rituals are modified and more complex today. Some of them go back to the Lingbao School, and it is doubted that today's sky masters residing in Taiwan are true descendants of the original sky masters of the Zhang family. The reigning sky master is in possession of the traditional jade seal and the magic sword of Zhang Daoling, the origins of which can be traced back to the Yuan period . There are many impressive Zhengyi temples in Taiwan, and each village has its own temple which is the center of the community.

The Daoism of the Heavenly Masters is carried by priests who exercise their office professionally and who undergo a long training that often begins at the age of seven. The profession is often passed on from father to son, and the teacher-student principle determines the individual lines of tradition. It takes 20 years of study to become a Zhengyi priest. The rituals and texts of the Heavenly Masters developed differently according to the various lines of tradition, places and epochs, and the texts are often inherited in a priestly family. These priests often exercise, with great tolerance, a kind of spiritual supervision over the religious life of the people, in which sorcerers , magicians and shamans are popular, who are called "red heads" or "black heads" after their caps and are generally opponents of the orthodox Daoists counting.

Today's sky masters believe in hierarchies of gods that resemble an administrative apparatus. Mythologically, a system of heavens and hells was adopted from Buddhism , and many Buddhist bodhisattvas and deities can be found in the pantheon of the sky masters , as well as outstanding historical personalities.

The sky masters offer a ritual service for private individuals and temples, for example at weddings, funerals or the birthday of a local god. Also exorcisms and healings are performed. Their rituals are complex and elaborate, and in the complex mystical systems there are ritual initiations , purification and renewal. For example, one of the rituals is the burning of paper talismans, sometimes combined with prayers. The highest ritual is that of cosmic renewal, which is performed at the winter solstice and symbolizes cosmic rebirth. It can take up to nine days. Before the rituals, there is often fasting and a spirit of forgiveness invoked. Some of the priests are also shamans or spirit mediums who make contact with the dead and can be trained astrologically .

The usual form of worship by believers is the offering of incense in a tripod filled with ashes. Some temples also have their own amateur theaters that put on performances for the gods and spectators.

In the People's Republic of China, Daoism is tainted with superstition and has been suppressed for decades with the suggestion that it is not a question of religion, but of primitive shamanism . However, it has spread again in the last decade, and temples have been restored, more priests have been trained, and university research centers have been established. Daoism is still very widespread in Taiwan.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fabrizio Pregadio (ed.): The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism. Volume II. London 2008. p. 1258
  2. ^ Fabrizio Pregadio (ed.): The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism. Volume II. London 2008. pp. 1258f.

Web links

Tianshi Dao

Institution and Court Taoists in Late-Qing China (PDF; 421 kB)