One of the best known names associated with Taoism, a Chinese tradition dating at least as far back as 476 B.C., is Lao Tzu, to whom the foundational work, the Tao-Te Ching, is attributed. Taoism, also referred to as daoism -- the two terms are used interchangeably -- may be considered a religion, a philosophy or both and is still followed by millions of people today. Sacred space is an important and pervasive concept in Taoism.
Taoist Concept of Space
In Taoism, the entire cosmos is considered a sacred space, and in Taoist cosmology, space is conceptualized as complex and lacking stability. It varies in intensity from place to place, from diluted to highly concentrated. An interconnected grid of spiritual energy, or ch'i, flows through the earth, providing life force to all things.It is most highly concentrated in rivers, mountains and caves, which are, accordingly, considered sacred places, and sacred places are the homes of the gods.
Due to their high concentration of ch'i, mountains are the most sacred of places and possess several spiritual attributes. Mountains are deities as well as meeting places of the human and the divine. Sacred healing herbs and minerals are found on mountains. The five sacred peaks referred to in Taoism are more highly revered than any others and are sometimes conceptualized as the five fingers of Lao Tzu. Of the five peaks, Sung-shan is the central peak and was the stronghold of Taoism.
The Taoist heaven is located beneath the earthly realm and is accessed through mountain caves, known as grottoes or cave heavens. Caves, illuminated by heavenly light, provide a gateway and direct connection to the afterlife. They are sacred microcosms -- worlds within themselves -- full of vitalizing energy. Shrines are built in grottoes and pilgrimages made there for the purpose of gaining restorative ch'i.
Sacred Body and Ritual Space
Not only the outer landscape is mapped but also the inner geography of the human body and ritual space created by Taoist priests. In the chiao ritual, a priest paces out the world in miniature, and the energies of the cosmos are expressed in his body. The human body is seen as a sacred and mysterious microcosm, containing gods who may be accessed through contemplation.
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