The Dragon Gate sect incorporates elements of Buddhism and Confucianism into a comprehensive form of Taoism. Complete Reality Taoism is generally divided into two main traditions, Southern and Northern. The Dragon Gate sect is an offshoot of the Northern school. Its spiritual descent is traced to the thirteenth-century master Qiu Chang-chun, who was one of the original seven disciples of Wang Chongyang. Chang-chun means “Eternal Spring”. Genghis Khan appointed Chang-chun overseer of all religions in China, and the Dragon Gate sect thus played a critical role in the conservation of the Han Chinese culture. The entry here tries the show how it comes together in unison with common themes in Chinese history.
The Quanzhen School is a branch of Taoism that originated in Northern China under the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). One of its founders was the Taoist Wang Chongyang, who lived in the early Jin. When the Mongols invaded the Song dynasty (960–1279) in 1254, the Quanzhen Taoists exerted great effort in keeping the peace, thus saving thousands of lives, particularly among those of Han Chinese descent.
The meaning of Quanzhen can be translated literally to “All True” and for this reason, it is often called the “All Truth Religion” or the “Way of Completeness and Truth”. In some texts, it is also referred to as “The Way of Complete Perfection”. “The Way of Complete Perfection” is a text/reference book I have had for some time and refer to it frequently.
An excerpt from Discourse 7 is called “Sitting in Meditation” and reads as follows:
Sitting in meditation does not simply mean to sit with the body erect and the eyes closed. This is superficial sitting. To sit authentically, you must maintain a clear heart-mind like Mount Tai, remaining unmovable and unshakable throughout the entire day. Maintain this practice rather standing, sitting, or lying down, whether in movement or stillness. Restrain and seal the four Gates – namely the eyes, ears, mouth,and nose. Do not allow the external world to enter in. If there is even the slightest trace of a thought about movement and stillness, this cannot be called quiet sitting. If you can practice like this, although your body exists in the world of dust, your name will be listed in the ranks of the immortals.
Then there is no need to travel great distances and consult others. Rather worthiness and sagehood resides in this very body. After one hundred years, with accomplishment complete, you will cast off the husk and ascend to perfection. With a single pellet of elixir (inner wisdom) completed, spirit wanders through the eight realms. (page 111 from Daily Practice)
Kunyu Mountain in Shandong province lies near the cities of Yantai and Weihai and is the birthplace of Quanzhen Taoism. I have been to both cities and had several students from this area while teaching at Jining University and Qufu Normal School in Qufu. For centuries, the mountain has been popular not only with emperors and monks, it has attracted innumerable members of the literati – writers, poets, calligraphers, and painters – who built retreats on the mountain where they could pursue their respective artistic inspirations. Inscriptions and stelae are spread about the mountain, bearing witness to the presence of these scholars and artists.
With strong Taoist roots, the Quanzhen School specializes in the process of “alchemy within the body” or Neidan (internal alchemy), as opposed to Waidan (external alchemy which experiments with the ingestion of herbs and minerals, etc.). The Waidan tradition has been largely replaced by Neidan, as Waidan was a sometimes dangerous and lethal pursuit. Quanzhen focuses on internal cultivation of the person which is consistent with the pervading Taoist desire for attaining wu wei, which is essentially unconscious action.
Like most Taoists, Quanzhen priests were particularly concerned with longevity and immortality through alchemy, harmonizing oneself with the Tao, studying the Five Elements, and ideas on balance consistent with yin and yang (I Ching) theory. The school is also known for using Buddhist and Confucian ideas.
The Wu Xing, also known as the Five Elements, Five Phases, the Five Agents, the Five Movements, Five Processes, the Five Steps/Stages and the Five Planets of significant gravity (Mars: 火, Mercury: 水, Jupiter: 木, Venus: 金, and Saturn: 土) is the short form of “Wǔ zhǒng liúxíng zhī qì” (五種流行之氣) or “the five types of chi dominating at different times”. It is a five-fold conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields used to explain a wide array of phenomena, from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs, and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicinal drugs. The “Five Phases” are wood (木 mù), fire (火 huǒ), earth (土tǔ), metal (金 jīn), and water (水 shuǐ). This order of presentation is known as the “mutual generation” (相生 xiāngshēng) sequence. In the order of “mutual overcoming” (相剋/相克 xiāngkè); they are Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal.
The system of five phases was used for describing interactions and relationships between phenomena. After it came to maturity in the first or second century BCE during the Han dynasty, this device was employed in many fields of early Chinese thought, including seemingly disparate fields such as geomancy or feng shui, astrology, traditional Chinese medicine, music, military strategy, and martial arts. The system is still used as a reference in some forms of complementary and alternative medicine and martial arts with the I Ching providing an over-reaching… or over-arching (as I call it), connecting point that transcends everything bringing understanding to it all. This is all a lot to take in at once. Just remember the Chinese have had thousands of years to “connect the dots, or stars, or planets” so to speak.
Xing: 行 of ‘Wu Xing’ means moving; a planet is called a ‘moving star’: 行星) in Chinese. Wu Xing: 五行 originally refers to the five major planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, Venus) that create five dimensions of earth life. Wu Xing” is also widely translated as “Five Elements” and this is used extensively by many including practitioners of Five Element acupuncture. This translation arose by false analogy with the Western system of the four elements. Whereas, the classical Greek elements were concerned with substances or natural qualities – the Chinese xíng are “primarily concerned with process and change”… along with balance, hence the common translation as “phases” or “agents”. By the same token, Mù is thought of as “Tree” rather than “Wood”. The word ‘element’ is thus used within the context of Chinese medicine with a different meaning to its usual meaning.
It should be recognized that the word phase, although commonly preferred, is not perfect. Phase is a better translation for the five seasons (五運 Wǔ Yùn) mentioned below, and so agents or processes might be preferred for the primary term xíng. Manfred Porkert attempts to resolve this by using Evolutive Phase for 五行 Wǔ Xíng and Circuit Phase for 五運 Wǔ Yùn, but these terms are unwieldy. As one’s nature is constantly changing and evolving, nothing stays the same over time.
Some of the Mawangdui Silk Texts (no later than 168 BC) also present the Wu Xing as “five virtues” or types of activities. Within Chinese medicine texts, the Wu Xing are also referred to as Wu Yun: 五運; wǔ yùn or a combination of the two characters (Wu Xing-Yun) these emphasize the correspondence of five elements to five ‘seasons’ (four seasons plus one). Another tradition refers to the Wǔ Xíng as Wǔ Dé (五德), the Five Virtues (usually translated as “inherent character”, inner power, or integrity in Taoism). Also viewed important in Confucianism as: benevolence (rén 仁), righteousness (yì 义), propriety (lǐ 礼), wisdom (zhì 智) and fidelity (xìn 信) as the Five Constant Virtues (wǔ cháng 五常) which are important as traditional virtues of China.
The phases – Referenced above it’s important to refer to again. The five phases are around 72 days each and are usually used to describe the state in nature:
- Wood/Spring: a period of growth, which generates abundant wood and vitality.
- Fire/Summer: a period of swelling, flowering, brimming with fire and energy.
- Earth: the in-between transitional seasonal periods, or a separate ‘season’ known as Late Summer or Long Summer – in the latter case associated with leveling and dampening (moderation) and fruition.
- Metal/Autumn: a period of harvesting and collecting…..
- Water/Winter: a period of retreat, where stillness and storage pervades.
Cycles – The doctrine of five phases describes two cycles, a generating or creation (生, shēng) cycle, also known as “mother-son”, and an overcoming or destruction (剋/克, kè) cycle, also known as “grandfather-grandson”, of interactions between the phases.
Within Chinese medicine the effects of these two main relations are further elaborated: Inter-promoting (shēng cycle, mother/son)
- Inter-acting (grandmother/grandson)
- Over-acting (kè cycle, grandfather/grandson)
- Counter-acting (reverse kè)
Generating – The common memory jogs, which help to remind in what order the phases are:
- Wood feeds Fire
- Fire creates Earth (ash)
- Earth bears Metal
- Metal collects Water
- Water nourishes Wood
Other common words for this cycle include “begets”, “engenders” and “mothers”.
- Wood parts Earth (such as roots or trees can prevent soil erosion)
- Earth dams (or muddies or absorbs) Water
- Water extinguishes Fire
- Fire melts Metal
- Metal chops Wood
This cycle might also be called “controls”, “restrains” or “fathers”.
Cosmology and feng shui
According to Wu Xing theory, the structure of the cosmos mirrors the five phases. Each phase has a complex series of associations with different aspects of nature, as can be seen in the following table. In the ancient Chinese form of geomancy, known as feng shui, practitioners all based their art and system on the five phases (Wu Xing).
To the left is one of the “celestial deities” found on twenty-four stone engravings dating back more than a thousand years at Qingyang Taoist Temple in Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
All of these phases are represented within the trigrams focusing on “complimentary opposites”. Associated with these phases are colors, seasons and shapes; all of which are interacting with each other. Understanding that along with innate knowing comes the grace of impermanence – everything changes – and that there is no separation. We are simply one with the ten thousand things… everything found in nature.
Based on a particular directional energy flow from one phase to the next, the interaction can be expansive, destructive, or exhaustive. A proper knowledge of each aspect of energy flow will enable the Feng Shui practitioner to apply certain cures or rearrangement of energy in a way they believe to be beneficial for the receiver of the Feng Shui Treatment.
|Trigram in pinyin||qián||duì||lí||zhèn||xùn||kǎn||gèn||kūn|
Dynastic transition – According to the Warring States period political philosopher Zou Yan 鄒衍 (c. 305–240 BCE), each of the five elements possesses a personified “virtue” (de 德), which indicates the foreordained destiny (yun 運) of a dynasty; accordingly, the cyclic succession of the elements also indicates dynastic transitions. Zou Yan claims that the Mandate of Heaven sanctions the legitimacy of a dynasty by sending self-manifesting auspicious signs in the ritual color (yellow, blue, white, red, and black) that matches the element of the new dynasty (Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire, and Water). From the Qin dynasty onward, most Chinese dynasties invoked the theory of the Five Elements to legitimize their reign.
According to traditional legend, Wang Chongyang met two Taoist immortals in the summer of 1159 CE. The immortals, Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongbin taught him Taoist beliefs and trained him in secret rituals. The meeting proved deeply influential, and roughly a year later, in 1160, Wang met one of these men again. In this second encounter, he was provided with a set of five written instructions which led to his decision of living by himself in a grave (a cave) he created for himself in Zhongnan Mountain for three years. (The Zhongnan mountains have been a popular dwelling-place for Daoist hermits since the Qin dynasty. Buddhist monks began living in the mountains after Buddhism’s introduction into China from India in the early first millennium AD. Due to the mountains’ close proximity to the ancient capital of Xi’an, officials who incurred the imperial court’s wrath often fled to these mountains to escape punishment. It was from here that early Taoism left and went to Shandong).
Landscape painting of the Zhongnan Mountains by Huang Junbi
After seven years of living in the mountain (three inside the cave and another four in a hut he later called “Complete Perfection Hut”), Wang met two of his seven future disciples, Tan Chuduan and Qiu Chuji. In 1167, Wang traveled to Shandong Province and met Ma Yu and Ma’s wife Sun Bu’er who became his students. These and others would become part of the seven Quanzhen disciples, who were later known as the Seven Masters of Quanzhen. After Wang’s departure, it was left to his disciples to continue expounding the Quanzhen beliefs. Ma Yu succeeded Wang as head of the school, while Sun Bu’er went on to establish the Purity and Tranquility School, one of the foremost branches of Quanzhen.
Another excerpt from “The Way of Complete Perfection” I like to refer to is…
The innate nature of heaven is humanity. The human heart-mind is the pivot. Establishing the Way of Heaven enables the stabilization of humanity.
The celestial nature of every human being has the capacity to be good or perverse, great or petty. It longs for cultural refinement over military activity, for the Dao (Tao) over ordinariness, for dignity over debasement, for loftiness over lowliness. From ancient times to the present, the innate nature of human beings has sought to cast forth the immortal embryo and exchange the husk, to change the bones and transform form. Like ants going out on their circuit, it has not ceased for a moment.
The pivot of every human heart-mind daily and constantly goes through myriad transformations. There are moments of ingenuity and awkwardness, alignment and perversion, as well as profundity and shallowness. There are moments of kindness and cruelty, loyalty and contrariness, broad-mindedness and narrow-mindedness, greatness and smallness, clarity and turbidity, worthiness and rudeness, love and hate, as well as correctness and falsity. If you examine this pivot of the heart-mind, you will know the innate nature of humans.
With respect to “establishing the Way of Heaven”, those who are ignorant about this way do not know that the grace of heaven is extensive. Spring is warm, and summer is hot; autumn is cool, and winter is cold. In each of these four seasons, there is a transformative influence. It produces and completes the myriad beings. Its assistance extends to the human world. (Scripture study / page 191).
Branches and sects
The seven disciples of Wang Chongyang continued to expound the Quanzhen beliefs. The seven Masters of Quanzhen established the following seven branches.
- Ma Yu (馬鈺): Yuxian lineage (Meeting the Immortals, 遇仙派)
- Tan Chuduan (譚處端): Nanwu lineage (Southern Void, 南无派)
- Liu Chuxuan (劉處玄): Suishan lineage (Mount Sui, 随山派)
- Qui Chuji (丘處機): Longmen lineage (Dragon Gate Taoism, 龙门派)
- Wang Chuji (王處一): Yushan lineage (Mount Yu, 崳山派)
- Hao Datong (郝大通): Huashan lineage (Mount Hua, 华山派)
- Sun Bu’er (孫不二): Qingjing lineage (Purity and Tranquility Sect, 清静派)
Dragon Gate priests
The 11th generation Dragon Gate priest Min Yi-De (闵一得) combined three religions (Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism) together to develop the “Dragon convenience methods”. The principle is “learn from Buddhism, to comply with the precepts, diligently practice inner alchemy arts”, so that the Dragon Gate branch became thriving. Dragon Gate is currently the largest existing Taoism branch in the world.
After the decline of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of People’s Republic of China, people’s understanding of Taoism became more limited to the type of Taoism practiced in the temples located in major urban centers.