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10 years ago  ::  Mar 12, 2008 - 8:07PM #1
SeraphimR
Posts: 12,687
What is the Taoist view of immortality?

What happens after we die?
“So long as there is squalor in the world, those obsessed with social justice feel obliged not only to live in it themselves but also to spread it evenly.”

http://takimag.com/article/the_ugly_truth_theodore_dalrymple
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10 years ago  ::  Mar 14, 2008 - 7:33PM #2
MengTzu
Posts: 110
[QUOTE=SeraphimR;352590]What is the Taoist view of immortality?

What happens after we die?[/QUOTE]

Due to my limited knowledge, I can be wrong about certain things that I'm writing below.  I welcome any correction and addition.

There are different views on immortality and afterlife in Daoism.  In the early classics such as Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi, there are no formal explanations about the afterlife.  In one place, Zhuangzi equated life with death, and stated that neither is absolute, but each is relative to another: "to life, death is death; to death, life is death."  However, Zhuangzi also mentioned the idea of a humans and animals living for hundreds and hundreds of years, and the idea of people capable of supernatural feats (such as travelling in air.)  This, along with Dao De Jing's own teaching of longevity, the various ascetics who seek to prolong their lives through cultivational practices, and other legends regarding longevity, laid the foundation of the theories of immortality of later times. 

The word for immortal is "Xian," but the word Xian really emcompasses a much broader definition.  In the most literal sense, some Daoists (such as Ge Hong) suggested one can achieve literal immortality, where the physical body itself does not die, and can become "flying immortals in broad daylight".  Nonetheless, Ge Hong suggested that there are different levels of immortality.  The highest level are the flying immortals in broad daylight type.  The second are the ones live forever in hidden valleys and the forested hills.  The lowest level are the "corpse escaping immortals," who leave behind their corpses or some other objects when they become immortals.  On the other extreme, there are daoists who, influenced by Buddhism's rejection of the physical body, believe in completely trascending phsyical existence.  These Daoists are more focused on reaching a state of trascending existence and non-existence.  There are also those whose opinions are somewhere between the two extremes.

Inner alchemy seems to propose a middle ground: it suggests cultivation of both body and soul, and suggests that the "incredients" for immortality -- essence, breath, and spirit -- all exist within a person, and by cultivating these incredients one can achieve a pure yang spirit and a sacred embryo, and the combination of these can leave the old physical shell behind.  My understanding of this is that this new transcendant existence is neither purely spiritual nor exactly physical in the sense of physical tangibility, but a higher level of existence that transcends the limitation of our mundane existence.  At the highest level, the person can transcend form and substance, a realization of Zhuangzi's statement: traveling on the rightness of heaven and earth, on the changes of the six breaths, and to the boundlessness.

But what of people who did not cultivate for immortality?  The older belief was that there was an underworld called the City of Feng, which is where the dead go.  Later, influenced by Buddhism, Daoists also accepted reincarnation.  Daoists' view of the afterlife thus becomes complex and layered.  My understanding is that even a regular person can achieve immortality after death.  For example, in Lian Du rituals, Daoists priests use the internal energies that they cultivated in themselves to refine the souls of the dead to help them achieve immortality.  I also believe, though I may be mistaken, that, since it's possible to cultivate for Xian in this life, it's possible to cultivate for Xian in the afterworld (and if one is reincarnated, it's certainly possible to cultivate in the next life, though I'm not sure if cultivation is limit to humans or not.)

Just a brief word about methods of cultivation: this is an extremely diverse area.  In ancient times, many Daoists attempted to create elixirs, but this method eventually went out of favor -- however, healthy diets and verbal medicines have always been and still are very important to cultivation.  Some focus on meditations, such as those of the Shangqing order.  The recitation of certain Daoist texts is another method.  Neidan (inner alchemy) appeared a bit later, but has been a very important method, and can perhaps be said to be the culmination of many previous methods and theories.

I personally don't believe in immortality (though I don't discount it as completely impossible.)  What's important to me, however, is that the practice of the Way of Xian (Immortality) can improve our lives here and now.  It promotes healthy living, meditation, a peaceful mind, and compassion for all lives.  The last item is due to the fact that the Way of Xian is also not about just self-cultivation -- it is about caring for all life forms.  Duren Jing says: The Way of Xian treasures life [the life of all beings,] and brings limitless deliverance to humanity.  Whether or not an adherent of Daoism believes supernatural immortality is possible, I think the spirit of the Way of Xian is important to the practice of Daoism.

I should also note that there is no essential contradiction between the ideals of immortality and Zhuangzi's concept of "life and death are one."  A Xian must transcend life and death, and true immortality, in my opinion, does not carry with it an intense fear and rejection of death, but rather such freedom of mind that accepts all forms of existence, to the point that even death and life are viewed simply as different sides of the same coin.  We must keep in mind that the ideal of Xian has a greater scope than simply "not dying."
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9 years ago  ::  Jul 28, 2008 - 8:57PM #3
SeraphimR
Posts: 12,687
Very belated thanks for your reply.

It was very helpful.
“So long as there is squalor in the world, those obsessed with social justice feel obliged not only to live in it themselves but also to spread it evenly.”

http://takimag.com/article/the_ugly_truth_theodore_dalrymple
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9 years ago  ::  Aug 28, 2008 - 2:41AM #4
kilo_watt
Posts: 1
When we die, we die.

The original poster's real question hasn't yet been asked, and would only be known to him, the answer to which might be more satisfying, but unlikely to really answer anything.

Questions like these project the self as a superimportant entity into a fantastical version of "what is". Are any of us so significant outside of our egos that we can conceivably ponder that that act of dying, which occurs so often as to be unremarkable in the universe but with remarkable consistency, might for us offer something extra? it is neither good nor bad to ponder, i suppose, but to my mind isn't living.

It is certain that you will find out what happens. Why hurry to it? What is insufficient in the present moment that it does not fill your awareness?

If you are asking because you wanted to ask, well, then it is a good question. If you are asking because you wanted to know... well, the vinegar is always sweet in taoist paintings, and so is dying.
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9 years ago  ::  Aug 28, 2008 - 4:32PM #5
EyesoftheWorld
Posts: 1,708
Think of your memory of your awareness of before you were born. That's what your awareness will be like when you die. You go back to from whence you came.
What Fatal Flowers of Darkness Bloom from Seeds of Light!
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9 years ago  ::  Sep 21, 2008 - 1:17PM #6
SeraphimR
Posts: 12,687
Gee kilo_watt, learning about other religions is a sort of hobby with me.  Sometimes, the present moment contains a sort of curiousity about what the other guys think.

Some Taoists apparently are concerned about the afterlife and/or immortality.  I visited a Taoist temple dedicated to a famous Taoist who acheived immortality by concocting some sort of pill.

Eyes of the World:

Personally, I have no memory of my awareness before I was born, although I understand that some people claim to have such memories, including past lives. 

But I also don't have any memory of my awareness at the age of two, but my parents have told me that I was quite active and curious, so I figure I did have one.  Perhaps I was also aware before I was born?

I don't think your suggestion is a very reliable method.  It is also founded on the assumption that I shall go back to whence I came.  How do you know that?  Or is it an article of faith among the Taoists?
“So long as there is squalor in the world, those obsessed with social justice feel obliged not only to live in it themselves but also to spread it evenly.”

http://takimag.com/article/the_ugly_truth_theodore_dalrymple
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9 years ago  ::  Oct 03, 2008 - 3:08PM #7
EyesoftheWorld
Posts: 1,708
I don't know why I said it. I don't know where I got the idea.

This reminds me of a little Zen story:

A monk and his assistant were walking through the woods and it got rather dark so the assistant lit a torch. The monk asked "From whence did that fire come?"
The assistant quickly extinguished the flame and said "O master, if you can tell me where it went, I'll tell you from whence it came!"

I've observed numerous instances in stories of persons seemingly in subordinate positions actually being wiser than those in superior positions.

One of my favorites is this one:

The head of the monastery died so they were looking to replace him. All the monks were gathered. The monks charged with finding the next leader set a jug of water on the floor and said to all "He who can tell us what is in this jug without using the explicit words to describe it shall be our next master." (I know I didn't get that quote quite right. I'll check and repost it later on. The monks may have not know exactly what was in the jug.)
Anyway, there are a couple of rather convoluted, obscure attempts, sort of riddle like by the assemble monks.
Then the cook of the monastery walks up to the jug and knocks it over with his foot, spilling the water.
He became the head of the monastery.

That second story doesn't seem very related to the first except for the theme of the servant being the master.

Maybe the subconsious theme is that maybe Birth is the Master of Death and humans usually think of it backwards, the way ususally the Master is assumed superior to the servant, but the servant is actually more advanced in certain ways.

If you think about it, without those willing to serve, nothing would ever get done.

I think I'm really straying off topic though I feel I at least started on topic.

To wrap this up, I started out saying I'm not sure why I related that post to which you replied, SeraphimR, and I'm not sure why this post has turned out the way it has. I'm learning to just let things happen as naturally as I can without thinking to much about it.
I'm sure this can lead to frustrated readers, and I apologize for that.
I hope I've shed more light than shadow.

take care
What Fatal Flowers of Darkness Bloom from Seeds of Light!
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9 years ago  ::  Oct 12, 2008 - 5:54PM #8
alyosha77
Posts: 148
[QUOTE=MengTzu;357345]Due to my limited knowledge, I can be wrong about certain things that I'm writing below.  I welcome any correction and addition.

There are different views on immortality and afterlife in Daoism.  In the early classics such as Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi, there are no formal explanations about the afterlife.  In one place, Zhuangzi equated life with death, and stated that neither is absolute, but each is relative to another: "to life, death is death; to death, life is death."  However, Zhuangzi also mentioned the idea of a humans and animals living for hundreds and hundreds of years, and the idea of people capable of supernatural feats (such as travelling in air.)  This, along with Dao De Jing's own teaching of longevity, the various ascetics who seek to prolong their lives through cultivational practices, and other legends regarding longevity, laid the foundation of the theories of immortality of later times. 

The word for immortal is "Xian," but the word Xian really emcompasses a much broader definition.  In the most literal sense, some Daoists (such as Ge Hong) suggested one can achieve literal immortality, where the physical body itself does not die, and can become "flying immortals in broad daylight".  Nonetheless, Ge Hong suggested that there are different levels of immortality.  The highest level are the flying immortals in broad daylight type.  The second are the ones live forever in hidden valleys and the forested hills.  The lowest level are the "corpse escaping immortals," who leave behind their corpses or some other objects when they become immortals.  On the other extreme, there are daoists who, influenced by Buddhism's rejection of the physical body, believe in completely trascending phsyical existence.  These Daoists are more focused on reaching a state of trascending existence and non-existence.  There are also those whose opinions are somewhere between the two extremes.

Inner alchemy seems to propose a middle ground: it suggests cultivation of both body and soul, and suggests that the "incredients" for immortality -- essence, breath, and spirit -- all exist within a person, and by cultivating these incredients one can achieve a pure yang spirit and a sacred embryo, and the combination of these can leave the old physical shell behind.  My understanding of this is that this new transcendant existence is neither purely spiritual nor exactly physical in the sense of physical tangibility, but a higher level of existence that transcends the limitation of our mundane existence.  At the highest level, the person can transcend form and substance, a realization of Zhuangzi's statement: traveling on the rightness of heaven and earth, on the changes of the six breaths, and to the boundlessness.

But what of people who did not cultivate for immortality?  The older belief was that there was an underworld called the City of Feng, which is where the dead go.  Later, influenced by Buddhism, Daoists also accepted reincarnation.  Daoists' view of the afterlife thus becomes complex and layered.  My understanding is that even a regular person can achieve immortality after death.  For example, in Lian Du rituals, Daoists priests use the internal energies that they cultivated in themselves to refine the souls of the dead to help them achieve immortality.  I also believe, though I may be mistaken, that, since it's possible to cultivate for Xian in this life, it's possible to cultivate for Xian in the afterworld (and if one is reincarnated, it's certainly possible to cultivate in the next life, though I'm not sure if cultivation is limit to humans or not.)

Just a brief word about methods of cultivation: this is an extremely diverse area.  In ancient times, many Daoists attempted to create elixirs, but this method eventually went out of favor -- however, healthy diets and verbal medicines have always been and still are very important to cultivation.  Some focus on meditations, such as those of the Shangqing order.  The recitation of certain Daoist texts is another method.  Neidan (inner alchemy) appeared a bit later, but has been a very important method, and can perhaps be said to be the culmination of many previous methods and theories.

I personally don't believe in immortality (though I don't discount it as completely impossible.)  What's important to me, however, is that the practice of the Way of Xian (Immortality) can improve our lives here and now.  It promotes healthy living, meditation, a peaceful mind, and compassion for all lives.  The last item is due to the fact that the Way of Xian is also not about just self-cultivation -- it is about caring for all life forms.  Duren Jing says: The Way of Xian treasures life [the life of all beings,] and brings limitless deliverance to humanity.  Whether or not an adherent of Daoism believes supernatural immortality is possible, I think the spirit of the Way of Xian is important to the practice of Daoism.

I should also note that there is no essential contradiction between the ideals of immortality and Zhuangzi's concept of "life and death are one."  A Xian must transcend life and death, and true immortality, in my opinion, does not carry with it an intense fear and rejection of death, but rather such freedom of mind that accepts all forms of existence, to the point that even death and life are viewed simply as different sides of the same coin.  We must keep in mind that the ideal of Xian has a greater scope than simply "not dying."[/QUOTE]

Helpful is right,
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7 years ago  ::  Apr 19, 2011 - 7:16PM #9
Eisenhans
Posts: 54

Mar 12, 2008 -- 8:07PM, SeraphimR wrote:

What is the Taoist view of immortality?  What happens after we die?



Here's an article that explains what happens when we die: Taoism vs Reincarnation


As far as immortals go: They are the younger inhabitants of the Heaven Realm.  The older ones with a "career" are the deities.  It is not at all easy to go to the Heaven Realm, and it is not a requirement in Taoism to do so. 


We focus more on making THIS life better. =)


Eisenhans

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