The below information courtesy of Wikipedia:
Taoism (/ˈdaʊɪzəm/ or /ˈtaʊɪzəm/), also known as Daoism, is a religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (道, literally “Way”, also romanized as Dao). The Tao is a fundamental idea in most Chinese philosophical schools; in Taoism, however, it denotes the principle that is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Taoism differs from Confucianism by not emphasizing rigid rituals and social order. Taoist ethics vary depending on the particular school, but in general tend to emphasize wu wei (effortless action), “naturalness”, simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: 慈 “compassion”, 儉 “frugality”, and 不敢為天下先 “humility”.
The roots of Taoism go back at least to the 4th century BCE. Early Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the School of Yinyang (Naturalists), and was deeply influenced by one of the oldest texts of Chinese culture, the Yijing, which expounds a philosophical system about how to keep human behavior in accordance with the alternating cycles of nature. The “Legalist” Shen Buhai may also have been a major influence, expounding a realpolitik of wu wei. The Tao Te Ching, a compact book containing teachings attributed to Laozi (Chinese: 老子; pinyin: Lǎozǐ; Wade–Giles: Lao Tzu), is widely considered the keystone work of the Taoist tradition, together with the later writings of Zhuangzi.
By the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the various sources of Taoism had coalesced into a coherent tradition of religious organizations and orders of ritualists in the state of Shu (modern Sichuan). In earlier ancient China, Taoists were thought of as hermits or recluses who did not participate in political life. Zhuangzi was the best known of these, and it is significant that he lived in the south, where he was part of local Chinese shamanic traditions.
Women shamans played an important role in this tradition, which was particularly strong in the southern state of Chu. Early Taoist movements developed their own institution in contrast to shamanism, but absorbed basic shamanic elements. Shamans revealed basic texts of Taoism from early times down to at least the 20th century. Institutional orders of Taoism evolved in various strains that in more recent times are conventionally grouped into two main branches: Quanzhen Taoism and Zhengyi Taoism. After Laozi and Zhuangzi, the literature of Taoism grew steadily and was compiled in form of a canon—the Daozang—which was published at the behest of the emperor. Throughout Chinese history, Taoism was nominated several times as a state religion. After the 17th century, however, it fell from favor.
Taoism has had a profound influence on Chinese culture in the course of the centuries, and Taoists (Chinese: 道士; pinyin: dàoshi, “masters of the Tao”), a title traditionally attributed only to the clergy and not to their lay followers, usually take care to note distinction between their ritual tradition and the practices of Chinese folk religion and non-Taoist vernacular ritual orders, which are often mistakenly identified as pertaining to Taoism. Chinese alchemy (especially neidan), Chinese astrology, Chan (Zen) Buddhism, several martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui, and many styles of qigong have been intertwined with Taoism throughout history. Beyond China, Taoism also had influence on surrounding societies in Asia.
Today, the Taoist tradition is one of the five religious doctrines officially recognized in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well as Taiwan and although it does not travel readily from its East Asian roots, it claims adherents in a number of societies. It particularly has a presence in Hong Kong, Macau, and in Southeast Asia.
Taoist orders are conventionally categorised into two main branches: Quanzhen and Zhengyi.
Quanzhen Taoism, which is present almost exclusively in the north of China, includes all Taoist orders which have a monastic institution. Their lifestyle is comparable to that of the Buddhist monks in that they are celibate, vegetarian, and live in monasteries. The White Cloud Temple in Beijing is the main monastery of the Longmen school of Quanzhen, and is also the main headquarters of mainland China’s official Taoist Church.
The meaning of Quanzhen can be translated literally to “All True” and for this reason, it is often called the “All Truth Religion” or the “Way of Completeness and Truth.” In some texts, it is also referred to as the “Way of Complete Perfection.” Kunyu mountain in Shandong province Weihai city is the birthplace of Taoism (Quan Zhen Religion). With strong Taoist roots, the Quanzhen School specializes in the process of “alchemy within the body” or Neidan (internal alchemy), as opposed to Waidan (external alchemy which experiments with the ingestion of herbs and minerals, etc.). The Waidan tradition has been largely replaced by Neidan, as Waidan was a sometimes dangerous and lethal pursuit. Quanzhen focuses on internal cultivation of the person which is consistent with the pervading Taoist desire for attaining Wu Wei, which is essentially unconscious action.
Like most Taoists, Quanzhen priests were particularly concerned with longevity and immortality through alchemy, harmonising oneself with the Tao, studying the Five Elements, and ideas on balance consistent with Yin and Yang theory. The school is also known for using Buddhist and Confucian ideas.
The other main priesthood is Zhengyi Taoism, in which the priests can marry, eat meat, live in their own homes, and found and manage their own temples or serve in folk religious temples. They are mostly priests part-time and can hold other jobs. Their lineages are transmitted through training and ordination by another priest, although historically they received a formal confirmation in their role by the Celestial Master, the highest priest. Fragmentation of the lineage of the Celestial Masters has made Zhengyi priests more independent. In mainland China the Taoist Church has in theory taken over the power to regulate them (although only a minority of them are registered with the Church). Zhengyi orders are present all over China, although with different names according to the local lineages. For example, in northern China there are the yinyang masters of the Lingbao sub-tradition.
Neidan, or internal alchemy (simplified Chinese: 內丹术; traditional Chinese: 內丹術; pinyin: nèidān shù), is an array of esoteric doctrines and physical, mental, and spiritual practices that Taoist initiates use to prolong life and create an immortal spiritual body that would survive after death (Skar and Pregadio 2000, 464). Also known as Jindan (金丹 “golden elixir”), inner alchemy combines theories derived from external alchemy (waidan 外丹), correlative cosmology (including the Five Phases), the emblems of the Yijing, and medical theory, with techniques of Daoist meditation, daoyin gymnastics, and sexual hygiene (Baldrian-Hussein 2008, 762).
In Neidan the human body becomes a cauldron (or “ding”) in which the Three Treasures of Jing (“Essence”), Qi (“Breath”) and Shen (“Spirit”) are cultivated for the purpose of improving physical, emotional and mental health, and ultimately returning to the primordial unity of the Tao, i.e., becoming an Immortal. It is believed the Xiuzhen Tu is such a cultivation map. In China, it is an important form of practice for most schools of Taoism.
The Three Treasures
Main article: Three Treasures (traditional Chinese medicine)
Internal alchemy focuses upon transforming the bodily sanbao “three treasures”, which are the essential energies sustaining human life:
According to the 13th-century Book of Balance and Harmony:
Making one’s essence complete, one can preserve the body. To do so, first keep the body at ease, and make sure there are no desires. Thereby energy can be made complete.
Making one’s energy complete, one can nurture the mind. To do so, first keep the mind pure, and make sure there are no thoughts. Thereby spirit can be made complete.
Making one’s spirit complete, one can recover emptiness. To do so, first keep the will sincere, and make sure body and mind are united. Thereby spirit can be returned to emptiness. … To attain immortality, there is nothing else but the refinement of these three treasures: essence, energy, spirit.” (tr. Kohn 1956, 146).
When the “three treasures” are internally maintained, along with a balance of yin and yang, it is possible to achieve a healthy body and longevity, which are the main goals of internal alchemy (Ching 1996, 395).
Jing “essence” referring to the energies of the physical body. Based upon the idea that death was caused by depleting one’s jing, Daoist internal alchemy claimed that preserving jing allowed one to achieve longevity, if not immortality. (Schipper 1993, 154).
Qi or ch’i is defined as the “natural energy of the universe” and manifests in everyone and everything (Carroll 2008). By means of internal alchemy, Taoists strive to obtain a positive flow of qi through the body in paths moving to each individual organ (Smith 1986, 201).
Healing practices such as acupuncture, massage, cupping and herbal medicines are believed to open up the qi meridians throughout the body so that the qi can flow freely. Keeping qi in balance and flowing throughout the body promotes health; imbalance can lead to sickness.
Shen is the original spirit of the body. Taoists try to become conscious of shen through meditation (Smith 1986, 202).
Present day training:
Some of the various Sects (branches) of Taoism that are presently used for healing training: