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Chinese mysticism

Category: Mystic groups and systems

 

Chinese mysticism is principally based upon Taoism.  In much the same way that Japanese mysticism was based on Shinto and then absorbed Buddhist ideas into a unified whole, the Chinese did much the same with Taoism, combining ideas from both Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.

Along with Taoism the other supporting system is Qigong.

The combination of Taoism [adapted by the better ideas of Buddhism] and Qigong  is a complete system of spiritual living, a self-contained set of methods to live one's life linked to the spiritual world and its benefits.

1.  Taoism (or Daoism)

 

Taoism is a philosophical, ethical or religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. The term Tao means "way", "path" or "principle". In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source of, and the force behind, everything that exists.  It is the combination of the Great Work - the plan for creation, destruction and evolution as well as the systems of the universe - a concept we might loosely define as 'Nature'.  In effect, one does not fight or go against Nature, and one tries to support the plan for the creation and evolution of the universe by being a 'co-creator'.

Taoism is based on the Way - the Great Work and Destiny.  We are here to fulfill our destiny - play our part in evolution, this is our purpose - thus many of the practises built into Taoism of old were designed to help you determine your destiny.  The Chinese at one time used astrology extensively to do just this - to find out what their personality was and thus what their destiny was likely to be.

Taoism also defines all the spiritual concepts used in the system - Qi, Jing, Kan, Li and so on.  More details are provided in the section on Taoism on this site.

It is worth noting that Chinese alchemy grew out of this branch of the structure and they also used all the alchemical symbols.  The metal correspondences, however, do not appear to be quite the same.  The use of metal symbolism has led to some very unfortunate additions to Chinese medicines, with actual metals such as mercury being used, when the original alchemists were using symbols.  This means that some Chinese medicine is poisonous.

2.  Qigong

Once one knows one's Destiny, one uses Qigong to keep fit and to keep healthy so that you can play your part, to defend the spiritual values of which you are a part and to gain spiritual experience when you need it - wisdom, inspiration and so on.

You follow the plan - the Great Work - by going with the flow [the Tao] and not opposing the path that has been mapped out for you, and you follow the plan by being as fit, healthy and open to input from the spiritual world as you can.  Qigong is thus a means to an end - the end being the achievement of your destiny.

Qigong consists of three main complementary activities: –

  • Techniques for healing oneself or being healed and thus keeping healthy,
  •  
    Martial arts - which are intended to be used to defend the whole system

the latter are, of course, of particular interest if we are on the spiritual path

Included in the latter are some very comprehensive methods based on sexual stimulation and other sex based methods.

3.  The arts in the complete system

As part of the overall system of Chinese mysticism, almost the last but by no means least important support were the arts.  The arts were built in to ensure that the world in which the Chinese lived was filled with beauty, art and music.

  • At one time the Chinese had 'High priestesses"
    to help with the sex based methods, as sophisticated
    as the Geisha and they too were heavily involved
    in all the arts
    Feng shui  - is the art of Sacred geography.  A sacred landscape maps spiritual features and symbols onto the physical landscape using a mix of naturally occurring features and sites which have spiritual 'power'.   The objective of all sacred landscapes was to recreate heaven on earth - to recreate the symbols and features seen in spiritual experience using the physical landscape, thus reminding people of both spiritual truths but also guiding them to places where such experience could be obtained.
  •  Chinese painting is one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in the world.  Just like Japanese painting it is based on the idea of the floating world.  Painting in this traditional style is known as guóhuà ( 國畫, Simplified Characters:国画).  Art in general used paper and silk, walls, lacquerware, folding screens, and other media.  The two main techniques were:
    • Gong-bi (工筆), meaning "meticulous", using highly detailed brushstrokes and coloured inks.  It was often practised by artists working for the royal court or in independent workshops.
    • Ink and wash painting, in Chinese Shui-mo or (水墨) also loosely termed watercolour or brush painting.  This style was also referred to as "xie yi" (寫意) or freehand style.
  • Music - At one time an extremely comprehensive system supported music in China.   The Music Bureau (Traditional Chinese: 樂府; Simplified Chinese: 乐府; Hanyu Pinyin: yuèfǔ, and sometimes known as the "Imperial Music Bureau") served in the capacity of an organ of various imperial government bureaucracies of China. Discontinuously and in various incarnations, the Music Bureau was charged directly, by the emperor (or other monarchical ruler), or indirectly, through the royal (or imperial) government to perform various tasks related to music, poetry, entertainment, or religious worship.
  • Poetry and literature - we have numerous examples of poets and their poetry on this site.  They are listed below.  Old Chinese poetry is supremely gentle and subtle, it has a beauty all of its own, even after translation into English

4.  Confucianism

 

Confucianism was intended to provide an ethical political framework on which the spiritual system could rest. 

It was Confucianism that was intended to provide justice for example, a proper legal system and the ethical values that drove good government.  These values are well explained in the I Ching

Something went very wrong here however.  All power corrupts and it appears that in China it corrupted very badly.  Somehow the checks and balances were not kept in place to ensure that the ideals actually espoused by Confucius were adhered to. 

For many years this was the one weak pillar in the system and it appears it continues to be so.

Wikipedia
In 1999, in response to widespread revival of old traditions of spirituality, morality, and mysticism, and perceived challenges to State control, the Chinese government took measures to enforce control of public qigong practice, including shutting down qigong clinics and hospitals, and banning groups such as Zhong Gong and Falun Gong.

Overall

  Without all four pillars the Chinese system of mysticism is currently unbalanced and the other pillars have struggled to keep going. 

Qigong is relatively healthy under its martial arts disguise, but is a far cry from its once powerful roots.  The arts are stagnant, and Taoism struggles. 

Chinese mysticism was such a powerful all-encompassing and well thought through system 500 or 600 years ago, it is tragic to see its decline and fragmentation. 

References

All the observations for each of the individual components of this system are to be found under the headings of Taoism and Qigong.  There is also an entry for Confucius.

There are more observations to be found on this site grouped under some major sources of Taoist and Chinese mystic thought:

  • Chen Zi'ang (simplified Chinese: 陈子昂; traditional Chinese: 陳子昂; pinyin: Chén Zĭ'áng; Wade–Giles: Ch‛en Tzŭ-ang, 661 (or 656)–702) was a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty
  • I Ching - The I Ching is also known as the Book of Changes.  It is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts.
  • Chuang Tzu  - was an influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BCE during the Warring States Period, a period corresponding to the philosophical summit of Chinese thought
  • The Huáinánzǐ  - (Chinese: 淮南子; Wade–Giles: Huai-nan Tzu; literally "The Masters/Philosophers of Huainan") is a 2nd-century BCE Chinese philosophical classic from the Han dynasty that blends Daoist, Confucianist, and Legalist concepts, including theories such as Yin-Yang and the Five Phases.
  • Muqi-persimmons
    Lao Tzu - (also Laosi, Lao Tse, Laotze, Lao Zi, Laocius, and other variations) was a mystic philosopher of ancient China and is a central figure in Taoism. Lao Tzu was also the author of the Tao Te Ching.
  • The Huangdi Neijing  - also known as The Inner Canon of Huangdi or Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, is an ancient Chinese medical text that has been treated as the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese medicine for more than two millennia and until today.
  • Lyrics from the Chinese  - is a compendium of Chinese poems dating from 2000- 3000 years ago.   There are poems dated 718 BC, 769 BC and 826 BC, for example, in this collection.  They are all simple and supremely beautiful.
  • Qigong - also called Chi Kung, consists of several different fields – acupuncture, herbs for regulating human Qi or Chi [synonymous names], martial arts, massage, exercises, healing and ‘religious enlightenment’ – spiritual experience.  It has very close links with Taoism
  •  
    Zhang Zai (simplified Chinese: 张载; traditional Chinese: 張載; pinyin: Zhāng Zǎi; Wade–Giles: Chang Tsai) (1020–1077) was a philosopher who decided that "The Way" was best described by a combination of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucian texts.
  • Chang Jian (Chinese: 常建; pinyin: Cháng Jiàn, early part 8th century)  was a poet of the Tang Dynasty, and whose poems were in the popular anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems
  • Zhang Zhihe or Chang Chih-ho (Chinese: 張志和, fl. 8th century) was a Chinese government official, Taoist scholar and poet
  • Chen Zi'ang (simplified Chinese: 陈子昂; traditional Chinese: 陳子昂; pinyin: Chén Zĭ'áng; Wade–Giles: Ch‛en Tzŭ-ang, 661 (or 656)–702) was a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty.
  •  Kao-Shih  - also known as Gao Shi (ca. 704–765), was a poet of the Tang Dynasty, two of whose poems were collected in the popular anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems.
  • Li Bai (701–762), also known as Li Po, was a Chinese poet acclaimed from his own day to the present as a genius and romantic figure who took traditional poetic forms to new heights.
  •  
    Li Qingzhao (Chinese: 李清照; pinyin: Lǐ Qīngzhào; Wade–Giles: Li Ch'ing-chao; 1084 – ca 1151), pseudonym Yi'an Jushi (易安居士), was a Chinese writer and poet of the Song dynasty.
  • Lü Dongbin (Chinese: 呂洞賓; Wade–Giles: Lü Tung-Pin) - born 796 AD and also called Lü Yán, was one of the Eight Immortals.
  • Meng Haoran (Chinese: 孟浩然; pinyin: Mèng Hàorán; Wade–Giles :) (689 or 691 – 740, during the Tang Dynasty) was a major Tang Dynasty poet.
  • The Music Bureau (Traditional Chinese: 樂府; Simplified Chinese: 乐府; Hanyu Pinyin: yuèfǔ, performed various tasks related to music, poetry, in the context of religious worship.
  • Ouyang Xiu (1007 – September 22, 1072) was a Chinese statesman, historian, essayist, calligrapher and poet of the Song Dynasty.
  • Bai Juyi (772–846), or Po Chu-I, was a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty.
  • Qu Yuan or Ch’u Yuan (c. 339 BC–unknown; alt. c. 340–278 BC) was a Chinese poet and minister who lived during the Warring States period of ancient China
  • Song Zhiwen or Sung Chih-Wen (simplified Chinese: 宋之问; traditional Chinese: 宋之; c. 660–712) was a Chinese poet
  • Ssu-K’ung T’u  (also called Piao-sheng T’u) was a Chinese poet born 837; and died 908. He lived during the decline of the T’ang dynasty.
  • Su Hui (Fourth Century CE) was a Chinese poet of the Middle Sixteen Kingdoms period (304 to 439) during the Six Dynasties period. Her courtesy name is Yun Yan.
  • Huang Gongwang Stone Cliff at Pond of Heaven
    Cen Can or Cen Shen (traditional Chinese: 岑參; simplified Chinese: 岑参; pinyin: Cén Cān or Cén Shēn; Wade–Giles : Ts'en Ts'an or Ts'en Shen) was a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty.
  • Du Fu (Wade-Giles: Tu Fu; Chinese: 杜甫; pinyin: Dù Fǔ; 712 – 770) was a prominent Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty.  Along with Li Bai (Li Po), he is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets.
  •  Wang Changling (simplified Chinese: 王昌龄; traditional Chinese: 王昌齡; pinyin: Wáng Chānglíng) (698–756) was a major Tang Dynasty poet
  • Yuan Chen or Zhen (779 –, 831 was a politician of the middle Tang Dynasty, but is more known as an important Chinese writer and poet
  • Yu Xuanji (simplified Chinese: 鱼玄机; traditional Chinese: 魚玄機; pinyin: Yú Xuánjī; Wade–Giles: 844–869) was a Late Tang Dynasty Chinese poet. 
  • Zhu Xi or Chu Hsi or Zhu-Zi (Chinese: 朱熹, October 18, 1130 – April 23, 1200) was a key  Song dynasty Confucian scholar

Throughout Chinese history there have been many examples of art being influenced by Taoist thought. Notable painters influenced by Taoism include Wu Wei, Huang Gongwang, Mi Fu, Muqi Fachang, Shitao, Ni Zan, T'ang Mi, and Wang Tseng-tsu. 

In due course we hope to be able to have more examples of their work on the site.

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