Louguantai---- the Birthplace of Taoism

2017-04-28 11:31:20 , Source : The Government Website of Shaanxi Province

Statue of Lao-tzu made with white marble

The superior geographical advantages of Shaanxi, and Chang’an, as the starting point of the Silk Road and the center for Chinese and foreign cultural exchanges, has provided unique beneficial conditions for the development and dissemination of various religions. “Chang’an is a world of gold, and numerous pavilions and towers are scattered across Zhongnan Mountain”, “the white cloud cannot cover the countless monks—just like the red leaves spreading all over the mountain”. Through the ancient poems, we can imagine, a thousand years ago, how the spectacular religious culture in the bustling Chang’an City and Zhongnan Mountain flourished in the gray fog.

In 771BC, as the King Ping wang of Zhou moved eastwards to Luoyang, China entered the 500-year of the Spring and Autumn Period which was full of disputes between princes and dukes. The Spring and Autumn Period was undoubtedly the most turbulent period in China’s history, but severe turbulence and change also created a rare era for the individuation and emancipation of Chinese history. At this point, Confucianism, Legalism, Taoism, Mohism and other competitive schools of thought, known as the “Hundred Schools of Thought”, emerged. They wrote books and established theories, recruited disciples, and argued with each other, thus creating the cultural wonders with unprecedentedly active and prosperous academic ideas, later called “The Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought”.

Among the “Philosophers” in the Spring and Autumn Period, Lao-tzu was the author of the immortal The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao and is thus considered the founder of Taoism. The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao, though not written in Shaanxi, had its earliest dissemination start in Louguantai, which is located in Zhouzhi County in Shaanxi Province.

Lao-tzu, surnamed Li, named Er or Boyang, and also known as Laodan, was a citizen of the state of Chu during the Spring and Autumn Period. In order to explore the source of rituals and the objective of morality, Lao-tzu came to the capital of the State of Zhou from the state of Chu and took the position of an official who is in charge of archiving books, administrative documents of the imperial court, and other important documents for the whole country. In 516BC, internal strife happened in the royal court, due to the long time frustrated by the royal family of Zhou, Lao-tzu decided to go westwards to the State of Qin to exert his talent. When going through the Hangu Pass, Lao-tzu was stopped by the pass officer, Yin Xi, and persuaded to start writing The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao. After finishing The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao, Lao-tzu went all the way west to Louguantai in Zhouzhi. Yin Xi also quit as the Hangu Pass officer to follow Lao-tzu to Louguantai. Yin Xi’s repeated please moved Lao-tzu, who then stayed at Louguantai, facing the Qinling Mountains, and began preaching The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao, known as the “collection of human wisdom” to the world. The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao thus began to be disseminated across China and the world. Today, in Louguantai, the “Dais for Preaching” on which Lao-tzu stood to preach, is still there.

The first work of comprehensive philosophy in China’s history, The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao, contains only five thousand Chinese characters but covers topics related to politics, economics, military, culture, art, medicine, health, life sciences and even areas such as the origin of the universe, and the book has also creatively built some simple dialectic philosophical systems. The doctrine is not only an important source of Taoism, but also has had a tremendous impact on Confucianism and the traditional Chinese culture. In addition, the philosophy not only nourished the Chinese nation, but also became a powerful ideological driving force for the development of western philosophy, society, and science after it was introduced to Europe. After the sixteenth century, the book was brought by western merchants and missionaries to the West where it was soon translated into a variety of western languages and disseminated throughout Europe. After reading The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao, German philosopher Leibniz put forward the binary thinking according to the yin and yang Theory of Lao-tzu, and he also gave a foreign name to Lao-tzu’s theory: dialectics. Since then, Lao-tzu has been regarded as the father of dialectics. In the West, the book is more popular than the works of Confucius or any other Confucian works. Many in the western world believe that The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao and The Bible run neck to neck in popularity and influence; both of them are classical philosophies regulating human thought and behavior. In the world of cultural history, Lao-tzu, Sakyamuni (about 565 to 486 years ago), the founder of ancient India Buddhism, and Confucius, are collectively called the “Oriental Trinity”.

Since the great philosophical work The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao began circulating from Louguantai, this ridge, only 580 meters above sea level, was greatly admired as the philosophy summit by future generations. By the late Han Dynasty, the Taoism that originated in Hanzhong started to regard Lao-tzu as the Lord Lao Zi, as the supreme Taoist deity to be worshipped by believers. Lao-tzu became the ancestor of Taoism, The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao became the highest classical philosophical work for the Taoist, and Louguantai became the birthplace of Chinese Taoism. The Han Dynasty and the dynasties that followed all regarded Louguantai as the Holy Land, and expanded or repaired it. After the founding of the Tang Dynasty, in order to trace the source of his own ancestral connections, Empire Gaozu of Tang, Li Yuan, traced his surname back to Lao-tzu, who also had the surname of Li, and regarded Taoism as the state religion. In 620AD, Li Yuan paid a special visit to Louguantai, regarded Lao-tzu as the ancestor for royal family Li, and designated Louguantai as the royal temple. The court granted funds and rewards for its expansion and supplies. From then on, Louguantai was considered by Taoists as “The World’s Best Promised Land”.

Louguantai, deep among the Qinling Mountains, became famous because of its connections with Lao-tzu 2,500 years ago. Even today, visitors coming from all directions will devoutly light an incense cone of gratitude for Lao-tzu, the saint, who likes Socrates in the West, brought bright light to the night sky of human minds.

Since the Taoism doctrine is relatively simple, and alchemy requires a large amount of wealth, the vitality of Taoism is weaker than Buddhism. But, as a native religion also vigorously promoted by the rulers, Taoism is widely believed. After the troops of the Jin State invaded China, the ethnic conflicts increased. Many officials in Guanzhong Plain resigned or retired into the mountains and resolutely followed Taoism. Through their transformation, Taoism developed into “Quanzhen Taoist Religion”, and quickly expanded to become an important ideological genre in the Song and Yuan dynasties.

Quanzhen Religion originated in Shaanxi. Wang Chongyang, its founder, was also a Shaanxi native, who was later regarded as one of the Northern Five Patriarchs of Taoism. Wang Chongyang integrated the ideas of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism and advocated the combination of the three religions. He claimed that “Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are inter-connected, the three religions share the same progenitor”. He also claimed that “Pursuing quietism is really a shortcut to self-cultivation”. Since its emergence in the Jin Dynasty, Quanzhen religion had soon become popular throughout the country. In the Yuan Dynasty, Quanzhen Religion was designated as the state religion. According to the legend, Wang Chongyang came across the embodiment of the immortal Lu Dongbin at Huxian County in Shaanxi, and then mastered Taoism, afterwards going to Shandong and other places to preach. After the death of Wang Chongyang, his disciples escorted his remains to the former residence at Huxian County to be buried, and the Taoist temple was built there. In the big hall, there was a plaque with the words “The Founder Died at the Birthplace” written by the disciple Ma Danyang, and from then on all Taoists called this temple the “Birthplace Temple”, later on, it was renamed as “Chongyang Temple”. Many halls, pavilions and towers were also built, therefore it was regarded as the fi rst of the three birthplaces of Quanzhen Taoist Religion, also earning it the name of the “Birthplace of the World” and the “Holy Land for Quanzhen Taoist Religion”. There are 40 or more existing large monuments written in Chinese and Mongolian, which provide valuable historic data for the study of the culture and the history of Taoism in the Yuan Dynasty. They are therefore also known as the “Forest of Stone Tablets at Birthplace Temple”—national relics of key cultural heritage.

Inscription on the Stone Table—“Birthplace of the World” within Chongyang Temple in Huxian County

Shaanxi is the birthplace and location for the dissemination of Chinese Taoism. Besides Louguantai, Wang Chongyang, Chongyang Temple, Huashan Mountain, Longmen Cave in Longxian County, Baiyun Monastery in Jiaxian County, the Eight Immortals Temple in Xi’an, and other famous Taoist temples, many well-known figures in the history of Taoism were born in Shaanxi or had their major activities in Shaanxi. Most of the legendary Eight Immortals cultivated themselves at Zhongnanshan Mountain, especially Li T’ieh-kuai, Chungli Ch’uan, Lu Dongbin, Han Hsiang-tzu, Ho Hsien-ku, Lan Ts’ai-ho and so on, who became the most famous Taoist immortals in Zhongnanshan Mountain; the famous follower of Taoism, Li Chunfeng, is a native of Fufeng County in Shaanxi, and Sun Simiao is a native of Yaoxian County in Shaanxi. The former is a famous astronomer in the Tang Dynasty, pioneering the method for classifying wind power into several levels; the latter was the most famous physician of ancient China. His superb medical skills and noble ethics earned him the reputation as the Chinese “Medicine King” and he compiled the masterpiece of traditional Chinese medicine, Qingjingfang (Essentially Treasured Prescriptions) in his 70’s, the completion of a great mission as the Chinese “Medicine King”. Today, Medicine King Temples are all over the country, and a hill at the home of Sun Simiao was also renamed as Medicine King Mountain to honor him. As Taoism places emphasis on alchemy, a wealth of chemical knowledge and practice were accumulated in this process. There are many scholars who believe that one of the world-famous ancient four Chinese inventions, gunpowder, has a direct correlation with Taoist alchemy activities and the works of Sun Simiao also revealed a lot about this.

Powered by: E-government Office of Shaanxi Province    Commerce Department of Shaanxi Province
Foreign Affairs Office of Shaanxi Province   Shaanxi Provincial Tourism Development Commission