An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Daozang 道藏, The Daoist Canon

Sep 12, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

The name "Daoist Canon" usually refers to the collection compiled during the Zhengtong reign-period 正統 (1436-1449) of the Ming era 明 (1368-1644). A supplement including books written after that time was compiled during the Wanli reign-period 萬曆 (1573-1619). These two versions are called (Zhengtong) Daozang (正統)道藏 (or Da-Ming daozang jing 大明道藏經) and (Wanli) Xu daozang (萬曆)正統.

Yet this history of collections of Daoist writings or of catalogue listings is long. The term daozang originates in the Daoist repository of the imperial library, as mentioned in Wang Chong's 王充 (27-97 CE) Lunheng 論衡 (Schipper 2004: 8). The earliest catalogue of Daoist writings is found in Ge Hong's 葛洪 (283-343 or 363) Baopuzi neipian 抱樸子內篇 (ch. 19 Xialan 遐覽). It includes more than 300 writings and collections of talismans. The flourishing of the oldest Daoist "ecclesia", the "Way of the Celestial Masters" (Tianshi Dao 天師道) instigated the compilation of precepts of outer alchemy, liturgical and ceremonial instructions, cosmic diagrams and symbols, registers of deities and spirits, "petitions to deities" or orations. The oldest collection (lost) was called Zhengyi fawen 正一法文 "Statutory texts of the Orthodox Unity" and was compiled around 500 CE.

With the spread of Daoism among the eminent families of southeast China many new scriptures were "revealed", belonging to the Shangqing 上清 or Lingbao 靈寶 traditions. A third tradition was called Sanmei 三昧 or Dongyuan 洞淵. The emergence of countless Daoist writings coincides with the flourishing translation work of Buddhist writings from Sanskrit into Chinese. Yet the concept of "three caverns" (sandong 三洞) as used for the Daoist canon was not derived from the tripiṭaka "three baskets"-arrangement in the Buddhist Canon, but from Daoist concepts of cosmological trinities, i.e. the Three Pure Ones (sanqing 三清), the highest deities in the Daoist pantheon. The three caverns were believed to be part of the primordial chaos in which the dao 道 was still integrative.

Figure 1. The Three Pures (sanqing 三清)
The highest deities of the Daoist pantheon, surrounded by countless "immortals" or transcendental persons (xian 仙). Frontispiece of the (Zhengtong) Daozang.

In 437, Lu Xiujing 陸修靜 (406-477) presented to the throne a catalogue of Daoist writings, Sandong jingshu mulu 三洞經書目錄. His catalogue was deemed as canonical. Lu classified all writings as belonging to one of the Three Caverns which corresponded, apart from the Shangqing and the Lingbao revelations, also that of a third tradition called Sanhuang 三皇 "[Writs of] the Three Sovereigns".

Table 1. The Three Caverns (sandong 三洞)
I 洞真 Dongzhen "Truth [penetrating] the Cavern" Shangqing 上清 revelations
II 洞玄 Dongxuan "Mystery [penetrating] the Cavern" Lingbao 靈寶 revelations
III 洞神 Dongshen "Divinity [penetrating] the Cavern" Sanhuang 三皇 revelations

Only fragments of Lu's catalogue have survived, but it can be guessed that the Shangqing section included mostly texts on tending life, meditation, visualization, and spiritual alchemy, all aiming at gaining individual immortality. The Lingbao section focused on liturgy, for instance, retreats and offering rituals (zhai jiao 齋醮). The Sanhuang texts were apparently evocations of and prayers to deities, saints, spirits and ancestors, often in the form of talismans. The catalogue was not a complete register of all Daoist books, but focused on writings not included in earlier lists and which had been compiled in recent times.

The next mark stone was Wang Yan's 王延 (fl. 537) 7-juan-long catalogue Sandong zhunang 三洞珠囊 which allegedly listed all Daoist books known at the time and thus integrated all schools and traditions of Daoism. The Maoshan 茅山 patriarch Pan Shizheng 潘師正 (585-682) mentions an organisation of scriptures and writs in seven categories, namely the Three Caverns, and four auxiliary compartments (sifu 四輔) "assisting" the other scriptures.

Table 2. The Four Auxiliaries (sifu 四輔)
I 太玄部 Taixuan The Great Mystery assists Dongzhen
II 太平部 Taiping The Great Peace assists Dongxuan
III 太清部 Taiqing The Great Purity assists Dongshen
IV 正一(正乙)部 Zhengyi The Orthodox Oneness assists the whole canon

The first three of them were individual "auxiliaries" to one of the Three Caverns, while the last one, the Zhengyi Auxiliary, was "pertinent" to all writings and included the texts of the old Zhengyi fawen, and the Tianshi Dao texts. The Taixuan 太玄 part includes the "philosophical" writings, the Taiping 太平 section recently revealed scriptures, the Taiqing 太清 division books on alchemy, physical exercises and techniques for nourishing life.

These seven parts of Three Caverns and Four Auxiliaries became standard for the traditional arrangement of Daoist writings. A more elaborate system of categories was applied to the Three Caverns, resulting in 36 sub-categories, actually consisting of three sets of 12 sub-categories under each of the Caves. These sub-categories consisted of different types of writing. They were first defined in the handbook Daojiao yishu 道教義樞 compiled by Meng Anpai 孟安排 around 700 CE.

Table 3. The twelve categories (shi'er bu 十二部) of Daoist writings
1 本文 Benwen Fundamental scriptures
2 神符 Shenfu Sacred symbols
3 玉訣 Yujue Jade exegeses
4 靈圖 Lingtu Numinous diagrams
5 譜錄 Pulu Annals
6 戒律 Jielü Fasting precepts
7 威儀 Weiyi Solemn rites
8 方法 Fangfa Techniques
9 衆術 (像術) Zhongshu (Xiangshu) Miscellaneous arts
10 記傳 Jizhuan Hagiography
11 讚頌 Zansong Hymns
12 表奏 Biaozou Memorials

The standardization of the Daoist canon proceeded under Emperor Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755) of the Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907) who was a protégé of Daoism. In 748, he ordained the distribution of the latest standard catalogue Sandong qionggang 三洞瓊綱. The contemporary canon was known as (Kaiyuan) Daozang (開元)道藏. It was an expression of ideological fight against Buddhism, for instance, by incorporation of the forged text Laozi huahu jing 老子化胡經. The brief Zhouyi cantong qi 周易參同契 also found entrance into the canon. The Tang-period canon did not survive the political turmoils of the 9th century, but the master Du Guangting 杜光庭 (850-933) did his best to reconstruct as much as possible.

In 1017, Wang Qinruo 王欽若 (962-1025) presented to Emperor Zhenzong 宋真宗 (r. 997-1022) of the Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) a new Daoist canon of 4,350 fascicles of writings (Schipper 2004: 27), Baowen tonglu 寶文統錄. The canon was hand-copied and distributed - unlike the Buddhist Tripitaka, the printed propagation of which was financed by government. Wang's canon was revised by Feng Dezhi 馮德之 and published under the title Yunji qiqian 雲笈七籤 (not to be confounded with Zhang Junfang's 張君房 (fl. 1001) anthology Yunji qiqian). These two Song-period canons followed the sevenfold categorization of the Tang period. A first printing project of the Daoist canon was begun in 1119 under the patronage of Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-1125), but the (Zhenghe wanshou) Daozang (政和萬壽)道藏 was never finished completely. It included 5,387 juan of books (Schipper 2004: 28). The Jurchen-Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234), fostering the emergence of the Quanzhen School 全真宗 in north China, continued the project and published the canon Da-Jin xuandu baozang 大金玄都寶藏 with a volume of 6,455 fascicles (Schipper 2004: 29). Only one copy of this canon survived the onslaught of the Mongol invasion and was reedited by Qin Zhi'an 秦志安 (1189-1244).

Qubilai Qaɣan (Yuan Shizu 元世祖, r. 1260-1294), tending to Buddhism rather than Daoism, decided in 1281 to prohibit and annihilate not just a few anti-Buddhist texts in the Daoist canon, but ordered the complete public destruction of the whole collection - barring the Daodejing 道德經. As much as 800 books were entirely lost, at least according to the list of the catalogue Daozang quejing mulu 道藏闕經目錄. Yet single or fragmentary copies were still available in the early 15th century.

The destruction of the ancient Canon allowed to re-arrange the whole concept of the series by considering the economic and social changes that had taken place since the Tang period, but much more the change of rituals and ceremonies and the structure of Daoist lineages. The ancient Tianshi Dao lineage, for instance, had ceased to exist and was replaced by that of Mt. Longhu 龍虎山.

The project of the new Daozang was initiated by Emperor Chengzu 明成祖 (r. 1402-1424) who ordered in 1406 the Heavenly Master Zhang Yuchu 張宇初 (1361-1410) to supervise the compilation of the new canon. Yet Zhang died a few years later, and with the passing away of the sovereign the project came to a halt. It was resumed by Emperor Yingzong 明英宗 (r. 1435-1449, reign-period Zhengtong 正統) in 1436. The final revision was carried out by Shao Yizheng 邵以正 (c. 1368-1463) in 1444. Shao included the collected writingy of Zhang Yuchu, Xuanquan ji 峴泉集, as well as a series of Song-period writings of the Shangqing tradition. The outcome of the project is disappointing. The compilers ignored a surviving copy of the Zhenghe wanshao daozang owned by Xuanmiao Temple 玄妙觀 in Zhangzhou 漳州, Fujian. According to estimations, about 2,000 juan of Daoist writings were still available (Schipper 2004: 33), particularly texts earlier than the Song period.

The (Zhengtong) Daozang includes texts with a total length of 4,551 juan (Schipper 2004: 3, 40). The compiler Zhang seems to have preferred to establish a "modern" canon of Daoism shaped by his own perception of how the Daoism of the time should be rather than taken into account the complex history of the creed's sects, traditions, methods and rituals. Even the order of texts was made entirely new. The canon began with the Lingbao yuanshi wuliang duren shangpin miaojing 靈寶元始无量度人上品妙經 "Most excellent and mysterious book of the marvelous jewel that saves innumerable human beings" (or Durenjing 度[=渡]人經 "Book of salvation" for short) that was believed to have been revealed by the Yuanshi Tianzun 元始天尊 "Heavenly Worthy of Primordial Beginning", the personification of the Dao. Zhang also changed attributions of texts to the seven categories. The Daodejing, for instance, was shifted from the Dongxuan section to the Dongshen part. xxxx

The twelve categories of texts established in the Tang period did likewise not reflect the varieties of Daoist writings of the Ming period. There were, for instance, novel texts of inner alchemy (neidan 內丹), logia (yulu 語錄) and local gazetteers of temples and sacred mountains. It can be demonstrated that texts were ignored because they alleged to have been written by "descent into the brush" (jiangbi 降筆), a belief which Zhang rejected, or were included in the canon because the related institutions had political influence. The Ming Canon even received writings of Neo-Confucian scholars like Shao Yong 邵雍 (1011-1077) or Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200). These alternations and inconsistencies make the arrangement of the (Zhengtong) Daozang very opaque for users, or to speak more directly, "resulted in total disorder" (Schipper 2004: 35).

Figure 2. Beginning of the (Zhengtong) Daozang
First two pages of the scripture Durenjing 度人經 "Book of salvation".

A supplement to the early Ming-period canon was begun in 1585, during the Wanli reign-period, on imperial order under the supervision of Heavenly Master Zhang Guoxiang 張國祥 (d. 1611). The supplement called (Wanli) Xu daozang includes 56 books with a total length of 180 juan. The selection is characterized by an inclusion of writers originating in Confucian scholarship but who interpreted Daoist scriptures.

The Qing dynasty 張國祥 was again critical towards Daoism and did not sponsor the revision or enlargement of Daoist collections. The dynasty even banished the Heavenly Master from the imperial palace after 1740, and from Beijing in 1821. The imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, pretending to be a "complete collection" of writings, reduced the Daoist part practically to commentaries on the Daodejing, Zhuangzi 莊子 (Nanhua zhenjing 南華真經) or Liezi 列子 (Chongxu zhide zhenjing 沖虛至德真經) and shifted the Daoist section to the very end of the Masters category. These writings are usually rather deemed "philosophical texts" then "religious ones" - even if a distinction between philosophy and religion is artificial.

The original printing plates of the Ming Canon stored in the Da Guangming Hall 大光明殿 (once standing close to Xi'an Gate 西安門) in Beijing were destroyed in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. President Xu Shichang 徐世昌 (1855-1939) decided to reproduce the (Zhengtong) Daozang. The project was carried out by the Shanghai Shangwu Yinshuguan 上海商務印書館 in cooperation with the bibliophile association of the Hanfenlou Studio 涵芬樓. The facsimile, reduced in printing size, was published in 1926 in 1,120 fascicles.

The most important studies on the Daozang are Chen Guofu's 陳國符 (1914-2000) Daozang yuanliu kao 道藏源流考 (with a supplement), Fukui Kōjun's 福井康順 (1898-1991) Dōkyō no kisoteki kenkyū 道教の基礎的研究, Yoshioka Yoshitoyo's 吉岡義豐 (1916-1979) Dōkyō kyōten shiron 道教経典史論, and Schipper & Verellen (2004).

Figure 3. Talismanic banners
Four "true talismanic symbols" (zhenfu 真符) to be applied on banners as shown in the Lingbao yuanshi wuliang duren shangpin miaojing. Each of them expressed the divine power of one of four protective deities ruling over one of the four cardinal directions.

The following list is not complete, but just lists texts of general interest beyond the field of religious studies.

Table 1. Structure of the (Zhengtong) Daozang (正統)道藏
I 洞真部 Dongzhen The Truth from the Cavern (1-316)
I 1. 本文類 Benwen (1-78)
1 靈寶無量度人上品妙經 Lingbao wuliang duren shangpin miaojing (Durenjing 度人經)
6 上清大洞真經 Taishang dadong zhenjing
31 黃帝陰符經 Huangdi yinfu jing (Yinfujing 陰符經)
I 2. 神符類 Shenfu (79-86)
I 3. 玉訣類 Yujue (87-146)
135 崔公入藥鏡 Cui Gong ruyao jing
145 悟真篇 Wuzhenpian
I 4. 靈圖類 Lingtu (147-163)
I 5. 譜錄類 Pulu (164-176)
166 元始上真眾仙記 Yuanshi shengzhen zhongxian ji (Zhenzhongshu 枕中書) by (Jin) 葛洪 Ge Hong
171 清微仙譜 Qingwei xianpu
173 金蓮正宗記 Jinlian zhengzong ji
I 6. 戒律類 Jielü (177-188)
I 7. 威儀類 Weiyi (189-218)
I 8. 方法類 Fangfa (219-269)
249 中和集 Zhongheji
263 修真十書 Xiuzhen shishu
I 9. 衆術類 Zhongshu (270-289)
282 黃帝宅經 Huangdi zhaijing
I 10. 記傳類 Jizhuan Biographies (290-308)
291 穆天子傳 Mu Tianzi zhuan, comm. by (Jin) 郭璞 Guo Pu
292 漢武帝內傳 Han Wudi neizhuan by (Han) 東方朔 Dongfang Shuo
294 漢武帝外傳 Han Wudi waizhuan by (Han) 東方朔 Dongfang Shuo
294 列仙傳 Liexianzhuan by (Han) 劉向 Liu Xiang
295 續仙傳 Xuxianzhuan by (Southern Tang) 沈汾 Shen Fen
296 歷世真仙體道通鑑 Lishi zhenxian tidao tongjian
299 疑仙傳 Yixianzhuan by (Song) 王簡 Wang Jian
304 茅山志 Maoshanzhi
I 11. 讚頌類 Zansong (309-314)
I 12. 表奏類 Biaozou (315-316)
II 洞玄部 Dongxuan The Mystery from the Cavern (317-619)
II 1. 本文類 (317-387)
331 黃庭內景玉經 Huangting neijing yujing (Huangtingjing 黃庭經)
335 太上洞淵神咒經 Taishang dongyuan shenzhou jing (Shenzhoujing 神咒經)
II 2. 神符類 (388-395)
II 3. 玉訣類 (396-428)
II 4. 靈圖類 (429-441)
II 5. 譜錄類 (442-453)
II 6. 戒律類 (454-464)
II 7. 威儀類 (465-545)
II 8. 方法類 (546-569)
547 靈寶玉鑑 Lingbao yujian
II 9. 衆術類 (570-589)
II 10. 記傳類 (590-606)
599 洞天福地嶽瀆名山記 Dongtian fudi yudu mingshan ji
II 11. 讚頌類 (607-617)
II 12. 表奏類 (615-619)
III 洞神部 Dongshen The Numinous from the Cavern (620-981)
III 1. 本文類 (620-670)
620 清靜妙經 Qingjing miaojing (Qingjingjing 清靜經)
622 太上玄靈北斗本命延生真經 Taishang xuanling beidou benming yansheng zhenjing
664 道德真經 Daode zhenjiing (Daodejing 道德經, Laozi 老子)
666 西昇經 Xishengjing
667 無上妙道文始真經 Wushang miaodao wenshi zhenjing (Guanyinzi 關尹子)
668 沖虛至德真經 Chongxu zhide zhenjing (Liezi 列子)
670 南華真經 Nanhua zhenjing (Zhuangzi 莊子)
III 2. 神符類 (671-675)
III 3. 玉訣類 (676-762)
682 道德真經註 Daode zhenjing zhu
699 道德會元 Daode huiyuan
702 道德玄經原旨 Daode xuanjing yuanzhi
714 道德真經藏室纂微篇 Daode zhenjing zangshi zuanwei pian
746 通玄真經 Tongxuan zhenjing (Wenzi 文子)
747 洞靈真經 Dongling zhenjing (Kangcangzi 亢倉子)
III 4. 靈圖類 (763-768)
III 5. 譜錄類 (769-782)
769 混元聖紀 Hunyuan shengji
782 墉城集仙錄 Yongcheng jixian lu
III 6. 戒律類 (783-789)
784 老君音誦誡經 Laojun yinsong jiejing
III 7. 威儀類 (790-815)
III 8. 方法類 (816-878)
836 枕中記 Zhenzhongji by (Tang) 孫思邈 Sun Simao
837 養性延命錄 Yangxing yanming lu
III 9. 衆術類 (879-952)
918 鉛汞甲庚至寶集成 Qiangong jiageng zhibao jicheng
952 庚道集 Gengdaoji
III 10. 記傳類 (953-971)
960 武當福地總真集 Wudang fudi zongzhen ji
971 甘水仙源錄 Ganshui xianyuan lu
III 11. 讚頌類 (972-978)
III 12. 表奏類 (979-981)
四輔 Sifu The Four Auxiliaries (982-1421)
I 太玄部 Taixuan The Great Mystery (982-1092)
994 古文龍虎經 Guwen longhu jing
996 周易參同契 Zhouyi cantong qi by (Han) 魏伯陽 Wei Boyang
1008 易圖通變 Yitu tongbian
1010 真誥 Zhengao by (Liang) 陶弘景 Tao Hongjing
1011 道樞 Daoshu by (Song) 曾慥 Zeng Zao
1019 鬼谷子 Guiguzi
1020 天隱子 Tianyinzi
1021 素履子 Sulüzi
1022 無能子 Wunengzi
1023 玄真子 Xuanzhenzi by (Tang) 張志和 Zhang Zhihe
1024 劉子 Liuzi
1025 山海經 Shanhaijing
1026 雲笈七籤 Yunji qiqian by (Song) 張君房 Zhang Junfang
1030 坐忘論 Wangzuolun
1040 皇極經世 Huangji jingshi by (Song) 邵雍 Shao Yong
1038 化書 Huashu (Qiqiuzi 齊丘子) by (Nantang) 譚峭 Tan Xiao
1042 玄珠錄 Xuanzhulu
1046 宗玄先生玄綱論 Zongxuan xiansheng xuanwang lu
1059 上陽子金丹大要 Shangyangzi jindan dayao
II 太平部 Taiping The Great Peace (1093-1158)
1993b 太平經 Taipingjing
1102 淨明忠孝全書 Jingming zhongxiao quanshu
1121 道教義樞 Daojiao yishu
1130 無上祕要 Wushang biyao
1131 三洞珠囊 Sandong zhunang
1154 重陽全真集 Chongyang quanzhen ji
1151 長春子磻溪集 Changchunzi panxi ji (Panxiji 磻溪集)
1155 孫真人備急千金要方 Sun zhenren beiji qianjin yaofang
III 太清部 Taiqing The Great Purity (1159-1182)
1159 太上感應篇 Taishang ganying pian (Ganyingpian 感應篇)
1163 鬻子 Yuzi
1164 公孫龍子 Gongsun Longzi
1165 尹文子 Yinwenzi
1166 子華子 Zihuazi
1167 鴞冠子 Heguanzi
1168 墨子 Mozi
1169 韓非子 Hanfeizi
1170 黃石公素書 Huangshi Gong sushu
1172 孫子註解 Sunzi zhujie
1175 太玄經集註 Taixuanjing jizhu
1176 淮南鴻烈解 Huainan honglie jie (Huainanzi 淮南子)
1177 抱朴子內篇 Baopuzi neipian
1179 抱朴子外篇 Baopuzi waipian
1182 祕傳正陽真人靈寶畢法 Bichuan zhengyang zhenren lingbao bifa
IV 正一部 Zhengyi The Orthodox Oneness (1183-1421)
1210 道法會元 Daofa huiyuan
1215 道門科範大全集 Daomen kefan daquanji
1223 重陽立教十五論 Chongyang lijiao shiwu lun
1238 三洞群仙錄 Sandong qunxian lu
1252 意林 Yilin
1295 葛仙翁肘後備急方 Ge Xianweng zhouhou beiji fang
1296 海瓊白真人語錄 Hai Qiongbai zhenren yulu
1418 長春真人西遊記 Changchun zhenren xiyou ji
大明續道藏經 Daming xu Daozangjing (1422-1476)
1451 漢天師世家 Han Tianshi shijia
1466 搜神記 Soushenji
1468 譚子化書 Tanzi huashu
1475 老子翼 Laozi yi
1476 莊子翼 Zhuangzi yi
道藏輯要新增經道目錄(附錄)Daozang jiyao xinzeng jingdao (1-114)
70 張三丰先生全集 Zhang Sanfeng xiansheng quanji
Numbers according to the Harvard Yenching index

Not included in the Daozang:

老子化胡經 Laozi huahu jing
老子想爾注 Laozi Xiang Er zhu
老子義疏 Laozi yishu
正易心法注 Zhengyi xinfa zhu
周易集說 Zhouyi jishuo
文昌帝君陰騭文 Wenchang dijun yinzhi wen
方壺外史 Fangfu waishi
道書十二種 Daoshu shier zhong
古書隱樓藏書 Gushu yinlou cangshu
道書十七種 Daoshu shiqi zhong
神仙傳 Shenxianzhuan by (Jin) 葛洪 Ge Hong
三教搜神大全 Sanjiao soushen daquan
黃帝四經 Huangdi sijing

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