Taoism: Chang Ling and the Heavenly Masters Video

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  • 0:01 Taoism Defined
  • 1:26 Chang Ling
  • 2:36 Heavenly Masters
  • 4:08 Han Chung
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the development of Taoism as a philosophy and as a structured faith system. In doing so, it will highlight the concept of the Tao as well as the contributions of Lao-tzu, Chang Ling, and Chang Lu.

Taoism Defined

In today's lesson, we're going to discuss the official beginning of Taoism as a structured, religious institution. In other words, we're going to try to figure out when Taoism finally got a recognized leader and a formalized set of principles and doctrines. However, before we answer these questions, we'd better do a quick review of Taoism itself.

Taoism, also spelled Daoism, is a Chinese philosophy that stresses living simply, honestly, and in harmony with nature. However, when it comes to how and when Taoism actually originated, no one can give a really definite answer. Most Taoists cite a man named Lao-tzu, also spelled Laozi, as the first to receive the inspiration of the Tao. However, not many scholars agree on when he lived, with some even asserting he wasn't a real man.

Making it even more difficult to nail down, there really is no concrete definition of the word Tao. The best most come up with is to describe it as 'the way of perfect harmony with nature in its original form.' In more simple terms, it's sort of the idea that all of creation is connected as one. With this rather obscure information in mind, let's get onto the more historically recorded formation of Taoism as a centralized institution.

Chang Ling

For starters, the man Chang Tao Ling, often just referred to as Chang Ling, is usually credited with formalizing Taoism. According to Taoist tradition, sometime around 142 CE, Chang Ling was visited by an incarnation of Lao-tzu (yes, the guy we talked about earlier that many scholars think was just a myth). During this rather mystical visit, Lao-Tzu conferred on Chang Ling the title of Heavenly Master. To give it a Western slant, Taoists believe Lao-tzu sort of gave him the keys to the kingdom.

However one chooses to clarify this episode, it's pretty safe to say that Chang Ling was the new guy in charge, and boy did he take this role seriously. Not wasting anytime, Chang Ling began amassing a group of followers. Taoist tradition tells us he did this by exercising supernatural powers, like casting out demons and even creating the recipe for immortality. Of course, claims of this recipe, also known as the Elixir of Immortality, have never quite been, shall we say, substantiated.

Heavenly Masters

Despite not much historical documentation of his supernatural feats or even his actual beliefs, Chang Ling was very successful in rallying people around himself. In fact, with him at the helm, the 2nd century saw the formation of what most consider the first organized Taoist sect, known as the Heavenly Masters or the Way of the Heavenly Masters. Interestingly, this sect was actually funded by the donations of rice required from its members. For this reason, many also referred to the group simply as the Five Pecks of Rice.

Under the authority of Chang Ling and then later his grandson, Chang Lu, the Heavenly Masters developed Taoism into an organized system of religion. However, they did not stray from the original concept of the Tao or harmony with nature. Instead, they sort of tried to put some feet to the Tao. Believing that benevolence and kindness led to harmony, part of the mission of the Heavenly Masters was to supply food and shelter for the needy of their day.

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