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Early Daoist Scriptures

Stephen R. Bokenkamp (Author), Peter Nickerson (Contributor)

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Paperback, 520 pages
ISBN: 9780520219311
June 1999
$34.95, £24.95
For centuries Daoism (Taoism) has played a central role in the development of Chinese thought and civilization, yet to this day only a few of its sacred texts have been translated into English. Now Stephen R. Bokenkamp introduces the reader to ancient scriptures never before published in the West, providing a systematic and easily accessible introduction to early Daoism (c. 2nd-6th C.E.). Representative works from each of the principal Daoist traditions comprise the basic structure of the book, with each chapter accompanied by an introduction that places the material within a historical and cultural context. Included are translations of the earliest Daoist commentary to Laozi's Daode jing (Tao Te Ching); historical documents relating the history of the early Daoist church; a petitioning ritual used to free believers from complaints brought against them by the dead; and two complete scriptures, one on individual meditation practice and another designed to rescue humanity from the terrors of hell through recitation of its powerful charms. In addition, Bokenkamp elucidates the connections Daoism holds with other schools of thought, particularly Confucianism and Buddhism.

This book provides a much-needed introduction to Daoism for students of religion and is a welcome addition for scholars wishing to explore Daoist sacred literature. It serves as an overview to every aspect of early Daoist tradition and all the seminal practices which have helped shape the religion as it exists today.
Stephen R. Bokenkamp is Professor of East Asian Languages and Culture at Indiana University.
"A work of historic proportions. . . . A whole new world of ancient religious life is being opened to us here, and readers can trust Bokenkamp to guide them through that world."—Russell Kirkland, University of Georgia

"Bokenkamp, whose previous works on Daoism are already deservedly well known and appreciated, presents complete translations of six major Daoist texts. His introductions to each of them delineate and elucidate some points of both the history and fundamental notions of Daoism, which so far have remained unclear or subject to debate. This book will undoubtedly provide a better understanding of Daoism."—Isabelle Robinet, author of Taoist Meditation: The Mao-shan Tradition of Great Purity
Among the "three teachings" of traditional China, Daoism (Taoism) is the least understood, although it has played a central role in the development of Chinese thought and civilization. This book provides a systematic and easily accessible introduction to the origins and early development of the Daoist religion (c. 2nd-6th C.E.). Representative works from each of the principal early Daoist traditions--the Celestial Master, Shangqing, and Lingbao sects--comprise the basic structure of the work, with each chapter headed by an introduction that places the material within a historical and cultural context. Explanatory footnotes aid the reader in understanding difficult terms and concepts within the texts, while endnotes cover textual matters and arguments of more concern to scholars of Daoism. Included are translations of the earliest Daoist commentary to Laozi's [Lao-tzu] Daode jing [Tao-te ching], accounts of the early history of the church, and a petitioning ritual used to free believers from complaints brought against them by the dead. In addition, the book features complete translations of two important scriptures, a Shangqing text outlining meditation practices based on Celestial Master sexual rites that foreshadowed the development of Inner Alchemy [neidan or nei-tan] and a Lingbao ritual text designed to rescue humanity from the terrors of hell through recitation of its powerful charms. Through these works, fundamental aspects of Daoism are revealed in the words of those who helped to shape the religion during the period in which it grew from a small sect cut off in an isolated valley to a major religion with temples spread throughout the land, commanding the attention of rulers and commoners alike during one of China's most prosperous periods of history. The texts selected here reveal a developing pantheon of gods and transcended humans, many of whom inhabit the religious landscape of China to the present day. Among the topics covered, the reader will find extended discussions of the nature of the Dao [Tao]; Daoist divinities and concepts of immortality; heavens and hells; cosmogony and millennial expectations; alchemy and meditiation; the makeup of the human body and views of sex; ethics and the prospects for human perfectability. Throughout the work, Bokenkamp elucidates the connections between Daoism and other schools of thought, particularly Confucianism and Buddhism, but also popular religion and traditions of divination. He shows some of the ways that Daoism, while influenced by its rivals, served to shape them in its turn through adapting traditional Chinese systems of thought into a compelling and enduring religious system.

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