Taoism For Dummies
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The origin of Taoism reaches back as far as prehistoric China, and has had a strong influence over Chinese culture throughout its history. The following people shaped Taoism over time, making it what it is today:

  • Lao Tzu: Lao Tzu is the traditional “founder” of Taoism and the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching. He lived in the 5th century b.c.e.

  • Chuang Tzu: Chuang Tzu was the author of several chapters of a text that bears his name. He lived in the 4th century b.c.e.

  • Liu An: Liu An was the sponsor of a Han Dynasty text called the Huai Nan Tzu. He lived in the 2nd century b.c.e.

  • Chang Tao-ling: Chang Tao-ling was the founder of the Way of the Celestial Masters, which was the first actual Taoist community. He is still revered by all Taoists as the first Celestial Master, the Heavenly mandated spiritual leader of the community. He lived in the 2nd century c.e.

  • K’ou-Ch’ien-chih: K’ou-Ch’ien-chih was the leader of a Taoist theocracy and the reviver of the Celestial Masters tradition. He lived from the 4th to 5th centuries.

  • T’ao Hung-ching: T’ao Hung-ching compiled the Highest Clarity scriptures, which are some of the most important revealed texts in the Taoist Canon. He also founded a Taoist temple on Mount Mao. He lived from the 5th to 6th centuries.

  • Ssu-ma Ch’eng-chen: Ssu-ma Ch’eng-chen wrote the Treatise on Sitting and Forgetting, which teaches techniques of meditation and “unlearning.” He lived from the 7th to 8th centuries.

  • Lü Tung-pin: Lü Tung-pin was a legendary poet and alchemist. He was the best known among the Eight Immortals, an octet of mythic Taoist adepts who are revered in the Complete Perfection lineage of Taoism. He lived around the 9th century.

  • Chang Po-tuan: Chang Po-tuan was the pioneer of internal alchemy, a form of physical-spiritual cultivation that applied alchemical practices metaphorically. He lived in the 12th century.

  • Wang Ch’ung-yang: Wang Ch’ung-yang was the founder of the Complete Perfection Taoist lineage, one of the two main sects of Taoism in China today. He lived in the 12th century.

  • Chang San-feng: Chang San-feng was a legendary Taoist immortal, someone who Taoists believe became adept at advanced cultivation techniques and became an immortal spirit in Heaven after his death. He is traditionally identified as the founder of t’ai-chi ch’üan, a set of stylized martial arts thought to promote physical and spiritual health. He lived in the 15th century.

  • Ch’en Wang-t’ing: Ch’en Wang-t’ing was the first known practitioner of t’ai-chi ch’üan. He lived in the 17th century.

  • Chang En-p’u: Chang En-p’u was the 63rd Celestial Master (the officially recognized spiritual leader) of Orthodox Unity Taoism. He fled to Taiwan to escape communist rule. He lived from 1904 to 1969.

  • Chang Tao-ch’en: Chang Tao-ch’en is the current, 64th Celestial Master of Orthodox Unity Taoism, though several other people (all surnamed Chang) claim to be the rightful heir to the title. He was born around 1967.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Jonathan Herman, PhD, is the Director of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where he teaches courses in Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Shinto, world religions, comparative mysticism, and critical theory in the study of religion. He has written extensively on various aspects of Taoism, Chinese religion, and modern religious issues.

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