Southern Celestial Masters

Doctrines In addition to its emphasis on ritual, the attainment of immortality and its complex pantheon with the deified Lao Tzu at the centre, the Southern Celestial Masters are to be understood through their particular hostility to popular religion. At the same time, however, the Celestial Masters recognised the need to adapt themselves to their new environment, particularly through the adoption of Buddhist techniques. This was done by emphasising the importance of meditation so that the Tao could enter the mind.

History At the beginning of the 4th century CE, various nomadic tribes invaded northern China from Manchuria, Mongolia and Tibet. The fall of the capital of the northern kingdom , Chang'an, in 316 encouraged many of the Celestial Masters to migrate south of the Yangzi river.
Taoism had already arrived in southern China before this time. The most important of these early transmitters was Ko Hung (283-343 CE). He was famous for having written the book Baopuzi (He Who Holds to Simplicity). This work is important for an understanding of Taoism because it details the methods used by early Taoists to attain immortality.
In the south Taoists sought to establish themselves by drawing people away from folk religions. This led to the gradual growth of Taoism outside of the war-torn north.
Under the T'ang dynasty (618-907) Taoism flourished because it received the support of the imperial family. The founder of the T'ang dynasty Li Yuan (566-635) in fact claimed to be a descendant of Lao Tzu. Imperial authorities financed training and ordination centres for Taoist priests as well as sponsoring Taoist ceremonies. The twelfth century saw the development of new sects: specifically, Supreme Unity (Tai-I), Orthodox Unity (Cheng-I), Complete Perfection (Chuan-Chen), and Perfect and Great Tao (Chen-Ta Tao).

Symbols An important symbol for Celestial Masters is the image of the apotheosised Lord Lao Tzu. He is frequently depicted holding the yin and yang symbol which is surrounded by eight trigrams. Accompanying him are attendants carrying a palm leaf fan and a copy of the I-Ching.

Adherents There are no specific Southern Celestial Masters adherents today but its doctrines and practices survive in the school of Cheng-I (Orthodox Unity).

Main Centre
 Various local cults.