Daoist Scriptures

Relax, and read the Dao De Jing and Zhuang Zi.

Introduction to Daoist Scriptures

Philosophical Daoism's main scriptures are the Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching], the Zhuang Zi [Chuang Tzu], and sometimes the Huahu jing [Hua Hu Ching], Lie Zi [Lieh Tzu], and Wen Zi [Wen Tzu].

Religious Daoism and some other branches use the Daoist Canon (Daozang), which is made up of Three Grottoes and Four Supplements.

Philosophical Daoism: Main Scriptures

  • Dao De Jing : Written supposedly by Lao Zi (81 chapters often divided into two parts)
    1. Book of Dao : Chapter 1-37
    2. Book of De : Chapter 38-81
  • Zhuang Zi : Written supposedly by Zhuang Zi (inner chapters) and others (misc and outer chapters)
    • Inner Chapters
    • Outer Chapters
    • Miscellaneous Chapters
  • Hua Hu Jing: Unknown author (81 chapters)
  • Lie Zi: Written supposedly by Lie Zi (111 chapters)

History: Dao De Jing

The Chinese version of the Dao De Jing itself has seen dozens of editions containing anywhere from five to six thousand characters, the result of adding certain grammatical particles for clarity or omitting them for brevity. The greatest difference among editions centers not on the number of characters but on the rendering of certain phrases and the presence or absence of certain lines.

In late 1973, two copies of the text was discovered in a tomb that was sealed in 168 BC in a suburb of the provincial capital of Changsha known as Mawangtui. The Mawangtui texts contain numerous omissions and errors and need to be used with great care, however.

Another text dates from the same period at another tomb sealed shortly after 200 BC. This tomb was located near the Grand Canal town of Hsuchou and was opened in 574 AD. Not long afterward, the court astrologer Fu Yi published an edition of the copy of the Dao De Jing that was found inside.

In addition to the Mawangtui and Fuyi texts, there are also more than sixty copies of the text that were found shortly after 1900 in the Silk Road oasis of Tunhuang. One of them was written by a man named Suo Tan in 270 AD, providing yet another early hand-written edition.

Another copy is from the great fourth-century calligrapher Wang Hsi-chih

Finally, the text appears in early commentaries of Yen Tsun, Ho-shang Kung, and Wang Pi (not to mention numerous passages quoted in the ancient works of Mo-tzu, Wen-tzu, Chuang-tzu, Lieh-tzu Han Fei, Huai-nan-tzu, and others).

Adapted from Red Pine's Tao Te Ching

guodian tao te ching

Note that at the time the Tao Te Ching was written, the predominant type of Chinese characters in use was the Zhuan Shu style. You can see chapter 1 of the modern Dao De Jing in this Seal Style in the scroll at the left. Read more about: Daoist Chinese Character calligraphy styles

Guodian Tao Te Ching

In 1993, an astonishing discovery was made at a tomb in Guodian in Hubei province (east central China). Written on strips of bamboo that have miraculously survived intact since 300 B.C., the "Guodian Laozi, " is by far the earliest version of the "Tao Te Ching" ever unearthed. There were three bundles of bamboo strips (71 strips total), and they contained only chapters 1 to 67 of the modern Dao De Jing.

guodian tao te ching

Religious Daoism: Daoist Canon (Daozang)

  • Three Grottoes (sandong) A.D. 400
    1. Authenticity Grotto (Dongzhen): Texts of Supreme Purity (Shangqing) tradition
      • Emphasized meditation
      • Highest phase for initiation of Daoist master
    2. Mystery Grotto (Dongxuan): Texts of Sacred Treasure (Lingbao) tradition
      • Emphasized ritual
      • Middle phase for initiation of Daoist master
    3. Spirit Grotto (Dongshen): Texts of Three Sovereigns (Sanhuang) tradition.
      • Emphasized exorcism
      • Lowest phase for initiation of Daoist master

    • Note: Each of the above Grottoes is divided into the following 12 sections.
      1. Main texts (Benwen)
      2. Talismans (Shenfu)
      3. Commentaries (Yujue)
      4. Diagrams and illustrations (Lingtu)
      5. Histories and genealogies (Pulu)
      6. Precepts (Jielu)
      7. Ceremonies (Weiyi)
      8. Rituals (Fangfa)
      9. Practices (Zhongshu)
      10. Biographies (Jizhuan)
      11. Hymns (Zansong)
      12. Memorials (Biaozou)

  • Four Supplements (sifu) A.D. 500
    1. Great Mystery (Taixuan): Based on the Dao De Jing
    2. Great Peace (Taiping): Based on the Taiping jing
    3. Great Purity (Taiqing): Based on the Taiqing jing and other alchemical texts
    4. Orthodox One (Zhengyi): Based on texts from Way of the Heavenly Masters (Tianshi dao) tradition.

History: Daoist Canon (Dao Zang)

In 471 A.D. Daoist monks brought together the first Daoist Canon (Dao Zang) consisting of 1200 scrolls, which drew from all the main traditions of Daoism. All the sects recognize the Dao De Jing. The Dao Zang consisted mainly of Daoist masters' interpretations of this text and included writings on alchemy and immortality, the lives of immortals and heroes, and good works and longevity. It also contained philosophical essays and folktales, magic words and meditation, ritual and liturgy, and many other aspects of Daoist thought.

In 748 A.D. the Tang emperor Tang Xuan-cong, who traces his ancestry to Lao Zi, sent scholars all over China to collect Daoist works. Not wishing to disappoint the emperor, the scholars reputedly returned with 7300 scrolls. These scrolls became the second Dao Zang.

Around 1016 A.D. of the Song dynasty, with printing already established in China, the Dao Zang was revised and many works collected during the Tang dynasty were cast out. This third Dao Zang consisted of only 4,565 scrolls.

In 1444 A.D. of the Ming dynasty, a final version was produced consisting of 5318 scrolls.

OnLine Daoist Scriptures

The following are online Daoist scriptures. Please click on a link to read a selection.

Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching]

Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in Chinese
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in PinYin Romanization
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in German Translated by R. Bachofen Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by S. Mitchel
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by C. Hansen Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by P. Merel
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by S. Rosenthal Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by J. Legge
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by A. Crowley Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by T. Byrn
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by C. Ganson Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by T. McCarroll
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by J. McDonald Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] in English Translated by J. Garon (20 chapters)

Zhuang Zi [Chuang Tzu]

Zhuang Zi [Chuang Tzu] Translated By Yutang Lin
Zhuang Zi [Chuang Tzu] Translated By Burton Watson
Zhuang Zi [Chuang Tzu] Translated By Patricia Ebrey

Lie Zi

Lie Zi [Lieh Tzu] in English

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