Daoism [also spelled “Taoism”], the only organized religion ever to have arisen in China, is commonly known as the “religion of immortality.” This is because the express goal of Daoism is to teach its followers to merge bodily with the Dao, the basic life- force of the universe, and thus become xian [often translated “immortals”]. But of course Daoists did die. Modern scholars of the religion, unable to locate any clear expression in Daoist texts concerning the immortality of the soul, are thus presented with a puzzle. Given that traditional Chinese civilization was in all other ways extremely practical, how could such an apparently irrational, death-denying, religion ever have arisen there? In this course, we shall examine traditional Chinese views of the body through Daoist scriptures, images, stories, and meditations in an attempt to discover what the attainment of xianhood meant in flesh and blood, as well as spiritual, terms to early Chinese Daoists.
This course fulfills College requirements for Topics and Arts and Humanities courses.