Asceticism in Early Taoist Religion

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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 practice 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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About the author

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

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Pages
229
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ISBN
9781438402154
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Taoist
Religion / Taoism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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For centuries Daoism (Taoism) has played a central role in the development of Chinese thought and civilization, yet to this day only a few of its sacred texts have been translated into English. Now Stephen R. Bokenkamp introduces the reader to ancient scriptures never before published in the West, providing a systematic and easily accessible introduction to early Daoism (c. 2nd-6th C.E.). Representative works from each of the principal Daoist traditions comprise the basic structure of the book, with each chapter accompanied by an introduction that places the material within a historical and cultural context. Included are translations of the earliest Daoist commentary to Laozi's Daode jing (Tao Te Ching); historical documents relating the history of the early Daoist church; a petitioning ritual used to free believers from complaints brought against them by the dead; and two complete scriptures, one on individual meditation practice and another designed to rescue humanity from the terrors of hell through recitation of its powerful charms. In addition, Bokenkamp elucidates the connections Daoism holds with other schools of thought, particularly Confucianism and Buddhism.

This book provides a much-needed introduction to Daoism for students of religion and is a welcome addition for scholars wishing to explore Daoist sacred literature. It serves as an overview to every aspect of early Daoist tradition and all the seminal practices which have helped shape the religion as it exists today.
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