Asceticism in Early Taoist Religion

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SUNY Press, 1998 - History - 229 pages
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Using a wide variety of original sources, this book brings to light how and why asceticism was carried out by Taoists during the first six centuries of the common era. It examines the practices of fasting, celibacy, self-imposed poverty, wilderness seclusion, and sleep-avoidance, and it discusses the beliefs and attitudes that motivated and justified such drastic actions.

Asceticism in Early Taoist Religion demonstrates that although Taoist ascetics pursued austerities that were extremely rigorous, they did not seek to mortify the flesh. Through their austerities, they almost always sought to improve their physical strength and health, because they aspired toward physical longevity as well as spiritual perfection. Even though they sometimes taxed their bodies severely, they believed that their strength and health would eventually be restored if they persevered. The highest goal was to ascend to divine realms in an immortal body.

However, certain beliefs that emerged during this period—particularly those influenced by Buddhism—may have caused some Taoist ascetics to virtually abandon their concern with longevity, and to focus disproportionately upon the perfection of the spirit. Such ascetics were more likely to purposely harm and neglect their bodies, contradictory as this may have been to the cherished ideals of the Taoist religion. Eskildsen traces how this problem may have emerged, and how it was viewed and dealt with by those who maintained the ideal of longevity.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
The Lives of Taoist Ascetics 1Depictions in the Liexian zhuan and Shenxian zhuan
15
The Lives of Taoist Ascetics 2Depictions in the Daoxue zhuan
31
Taoist Methods of Fasting
43
The Fasting Regimen of the Zhonghuang jing
44
The Fasting Regimens of the Daoji tuna jing and Tuna jing
51
Imbibing the Five Qi
53
Imbibing the Essences of the Sun and Moon
56
Gaining Divine Sympathy
79
Evils in the Worldly Environment
84
The Place of Asceticism in the Hierarchy of Spiritual Progress
90
The Glorification of Suicidal Methods
92
Asceticism in the Lingbao Scriptures
95
The New Saintly Ideal
96
Precepts and Retreats
105
A Soteriological Puzzle
121

Talisman Swallowing
58
Sucking on a Seed
59
Drug Recipes
60
Final Comments
67
Asceticism in the Shangqing Texts
69
The Buddhist Influence
72
NonBuddhistic Reasons for Celibacy
75
Criticisms of Heretical Asceticism in the Yuqing jing
129
Conclusion
153
Summary Information on the Lingbao Scriptures Cited in Chapter Six
161
Notes
167
Bibliography
203
Index
215
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About the author (1998)

Stephen Eskildsen is Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Religion, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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