The emergence of Daoism as an organized religion can be traced back to the second century CE, during the social turmoil and political disintegration that marked the final decades of the Han dynasty. The pivotal year in that process is 142, when Zhang Daoling, hereto an obscure practitioner of fangshi techniques, purportedly had an inspired vision of Laozi in deified form. Laozi allegedly transmitted to him new teachings that could deliver people from the adverse circumstances brought by the decadent Han dynasty and serve as a proper alternative to the debased cults prevalent at the time. Zhang went on to preach the newly-found doctrine, which was tinged with millenarian overtones and was directed toward chosen people, attracting numerous followers with a utopian vision that held the promise of a new sociopolitical order and better future.
Eventually, Zhang’s expanding following was transformed into a highly organized and influential religious movement, the first of its kind in the history of Daoism. The movement was called the Way of the Celestial Masters (Tianshi dao). ... Its leaders instituted a peculiar form of government that mixed familiar Han bureaucratic institutions with novel ecclesiastical structures. The families of the faithful were organized into twenty-four parishes, led by priest-officials known as libationers, who performed a combination of civil and religious functions. An important part of the libationers’ duties was their mediating between the parishioners and the various gods and spirits. They also kept household registers that were supposedly held by the gods of the celestial bureaucracy, who watched over each individual and recorded his or her misdeeds. ... [The] communication and supplication of the various celestial powers was supposed to go via proper bureaucratic channels, with a priest submitting a written petition to the appropriate celestial bureaucrat in the same manner as a government official would present a memorial to the court. The whole Celestial Masters movement was permeated with a bureaucratic outlook that extended to the terrestrial and celestial realms, which became a prominent feature of Daoism and popular religion. [ICR, 72-4]
Doctrines & PracticesIn terms of doctrines and practices, the Celestial Masters believed in Dao as the center of creation, which was represented by the personal creator god Lord Lao, who appeared to special seekers (and virtuous rulers) as the need arose. ... The belief was that he created and ruled the universe, assisted in this task by a celestial administration which kept records of life and death, and consisted of the Three Bureaus (sanguan) of Heaven, Earth, and Water. ... Throughout the year, followers practiced the recitation of Laozi’s Daodejing and were encouraged to follow a set of three times nine precepts based on it. These survive in a later text associated with the Xiang’er commentary [on the Daodejing], and are:
Aside from living morally and harmonizing yin and yang, the early communal Daoists joined popular believers of the time in that they were very concerned with the impact of demons on their lives. ...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tao_Te_ChingIf ... someone was attacked by a demon, they would suffer sickness and disease. Moreover, such an attack could occur only because the person had been careless and had a moral failing. As a result, all healing of the Celestial Masters was undertaken through ritual and magic; acupuncture, herbs, and other medical treatments were expressly prohibited. First the sick person was isolated in a so-called quiet chamber (jingshi), an adaptation of a Han institution for punishing wayward officials involving solitary confinement. There they had to think of their sins going all the way back to their birth to try and find an explanation for the illness. Once certain sins had been identified, a senior master would come to write them down — in triplicate and together with a formal petition for their eradication from the person’s divine record. The three copies would then, in a formal ceremony, be transmitted to Heaven (by burning), Earth (by burying), and Water (by casting into a river), whose officials supposedly set the record straight and restore the person’s good health. Additional measures of purification involved the ingestion of “talisman water” — the ashes of a talisman dissolved in water (fushui) — gymnastic exercises (daoyin), and meditations (jingsi). [Daoism and Chinese Culture, 74-5]
zhengren) that descended from a high heaven named Supreme Clarity (Shangqing, also known as Highest Clarity or Highest Purity). That became the name for the whole corpus of revealed scriptures and the school of Daoism that grew around them. ... [The] new movement initially grew within a fairly narrow social milieu constituted by elite southern families. While proud of their illustrious ancestry, at the time these families felt marginalized by the recent arrival of emigrants within [sic] elite backgrounds from the North, who moved south together with the imperial court of the Jin dynasty after the fall of its capital to foreign invaders in 316 CE.
As the northerners established their political control in the South, they also set up their own cultural traditions and religious institutions. That included Celestial Masters Daoism, which initiated a program of suppression of local religious movements. The initial rise of the Shangqing tradition can be seen as a particular mode of Southern response to the loss of sociopolitical power and the encroachment of alien culture. ... Notwithstanding claims made regarding the newness of the revelations, the Shangqing scriptures did not represent a revolutionary break from preceding Daoist traditions. Basically they incorporated a range of teachings and practices derived from the major strands of Daoism that existed at the time. That included doctrines and techniques associated with seekers of immortality such as Ge Hong [287-347], although with a changed emphasis, as external (laboratory) alchemy was deemphasized at the expense of contemplative practices or reinterpreted in a metaphorical manner. There were also substantial borrowings from Celestial Masters Daoism and popular religion. There were even traces of Buddhist influences, which are indicative of the growing clout of the foreign religion. ...
zhai), of which there were nine main categories. Together with the “offerings” rites (jiao), sometimes also referred to as “rituals of cosmic renewal,” these rites form the two main categories of Daoist ritual. Staged in carefully designated sacred space that contained a central altar, the rites involved public confession of past transgressions, as well as communal chants, prayers, and petitions directed towards the heavenly realms and the gods that reside there. [ICR, 87-8]