The Taoist master Wang Ch’ung-yang (1113-70 CE) was the founder of the Complete Reality School of Taoism. This integrates the Zen experience of emptiness, the ethics of Confucianism, and the Taoist technique of health and longevity, and teaches that this approach offers a complete understanding of the ultimate reality of things. The Complete Reality school is today the principle monastic form of Taoist practice, and the most highly-organized and officially-sanctioned lineage of mainland China.
Here is an extract from Eva Wong’s The Shambala Guide to Taoism, showing how these practices may be combined and their intended benefit. Here she discusses one of Wang Ch’ung-yang’s successors, Liu Hua-yang (1736-1846? CE).
In Liu Hua-yang’s system of internal alchemy, immortality and attainment of Buddhahood are different names for the same spiritual experience. A Buddhist who embraced Taoism in his middle years, Liu Hua-yang claimed that Taoist alchemy alone could cultivate life but not original mind, and Buddhism alone could cultivate original mind but not health and longevity. Thus, his approach used both Taoist internal alchemical techniques and Zen and Hua-yen Buddhist meditation to attain the highest level of spiritual experience.
According to Liu Hua-yang, everyone possesses the essence of life, which is the energy of the Tao inside the body. Desire, negative attitude, and emotional attachment cause this life force to leak from the body, resulting in the loss of health and immortality. If the mind is still and if craving is curbed, the leakage will be stopped, and life force will circulate through the body. With continued cultivation, the spiritual fetus, or original spirit, which is the seed of immortality, will grow within. This fetus is the consciousness of the original mind, as well as the energy that nourishes the body. After a period of incubation, the spiritual fetus emerges from the body to create a spirit-body that can travel to other realms of existence. Eventually, the spirit is mature enough to be independent of the shell that bore it. When the shell dies, the spirit, in the form of energy, is liberated, to merge with the energy of the universe.
This metaphor of the birth and development of a child within us, having the potential to become True Man and uniting us, like the prodigal son, with our origin and source, appears regularly in the mystical literature. Here is Meister Eckhart from a sermon on the birth of Jesus.
Now note where this birth occurs. I say again, as I have often said before, that this birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more or less, for it is the same birth. This birth falls in the ground and essence of the soul….
…God is in all things as being, as activity, as power, But God gives birth in the soul alone, for though every creature bears God’s mark, the soul is the natural image of God. This image is perfected and adorned in this birth. No creature but the soul alone is susceptible to this act, this birth. Whatever perfection enters the soul, whether it be divine light, grace or bliss, must enter the soul in this birth. If you nurture this birth in yourself, you will experience all good, all comfort, all happiness, all being and all truth….
…To find the newborn King in you, all else you might find must be passed by and left behind.
Wang Ch’ung-yang founded his school of Taoism a thousand years after the time of Jesus, but its roots lie in the philosophical tradition of the Tao Te Ching, dating some centuries before the historical Jesus was a twinkle in God’s eye, as it were. At around the same time an author of the Bhagavad Gita was writing, ‘When a man sees that the infinity of various beings is abiding in the One, and is an evolution from the One, then he becomes one with Brahman.’ With seemingly paradoxical words so typical of Taoist writings, ‘Blessed is he whose beginning is before he came into being!” says Jesus in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas. ‘Die before your death’ advises the Prophet Mohammed.
Wang Ch’ung-yang built a tomb for himself near Mount Zhongnan and called it “Tomb of the Living Dead”. He lived in it for three years. At the end of the three years he filled the tomb with earth and built a hut on top of it and called it “Complete Perfection Hut”. His principle students are remembered in Taoist tradition as the ‘Seven Perfected Beings’.
Backhouse, Halcyon (Ed.) Meister Eckhart, Hodder & Stoughton (1984)
Eva Wong, The Shambala Guide to Taoism, Shambala, (1997)