T'ien Shih Tao (The Way of the Heavenly Masters)

Doctrines This is the most important of the Taoist sects that arose at the end of the Han dynasty.
The sect taught that sickness was due to 'straying from the Way' and the sick were healed by rites of expiation, ceremonials, confession and punishments. Collective reciting of the Lao Tzu was an essential part of the liturgy. The central focus on health is as much on the health of the society as on the health of the individual. There is a great deal of similarity between this sect and the T'ai Ping sect, but there was no direct contact between the two. Chang Lu instigated a religious calendar. At the equinoxes offerings were made to earth, water and to heaven. The solstices included offerings for the 'salvation of souls of the dead'. There were communal feasts (Ch'u) in the first, seventh and tenth months. At each new moon there was also a communal 'sexual' ritual which extant texts show to be a 'highly stylised erotic dance of religious and cosmic significance."

History The founder of the Heavenly Master movement is the semi-legendary Chang Tao Ling. In 142 C.E. he is said to have received a revelation from T'ai Shang Lao Chun (the deified Lao Tzu) which gave him the title of Heavenly Master (T'ien Shih). The movement became known as The Way of the Heavenly Master (T'ien Shih Tao). Chang Tao Ling is said to have vanquished demons and prepared an elixir of immortality. He gathered together many followers in what is now Szechwan province where he launched a campaign for the reform of local religious practices. His followers were organised into an alliance based on the Doctrine of the Orthodox One which abolished the six demonic heavens of the local tradition and replaced them with the Golden Age governed by three heavens. There were to be no Gods other than those of the movement and blood sacrifices were abolished. The movement was funded by the followers donating 'five pecks of rice' each year. Thus the early movement was known as Wu-Tou-Mi-Tao (five pecks of rice). This is the first centrally funded religious movement in China. Chang Tao Ling wrote several books which are all lost, and there is no direct knowledge of his doctrines. Nevertheless he is considered to be a religious reformer and the first of the Heavenly Masters.
Chang Tao Ling was succeeded by his son Chang Heng and his grandson Chang Lu. It is under the leadership of Chang Lu that the movement consolidated its doctrines and attained great power. In 184 C.E. (the same year as the T'ai Ping revolt in the East) he led the sect in rebellion against the Han Dynasty and established an independent state - Han Chung - in the West which he governed for thirty years. In 215 C.E. he surrendered to General Ts'ao Ts'ao and was rewarded with honours and a fiefdom. The son of Ts'ao Ts'ao founded the Wei dynasty in 220 C.E. and Chang Lu lived at the court. The Heavenly Master sect is the first institutionalised Taoist movement, and its recognition by the government is due to the efforts of Chang Lu. This sect is the first to seriously challenge the power of the Confucian scholars and it proclaimed that the Wei dynasty had inherited divine authority from the Heavenly Master Chang Tao Ling and not directly from Heaven as proclaimed by the Confucians.
Heavenly Masters ruled through religious and administrative officials. The annual donations of 'five pecks of rice' provided the movement with its funding and its ability to put its doctrines into practice. This was also a Utopian movement which taught charity and benevolence to all. They built wayside inns throughout the state where food and shelter were provided free for all travellers. One of the punishments for those who transgressed the rules was to repair the roads between the inns. This can be considered a very Taoist chastisement, as to repair a road (the way) was analogous to repairing the Way itself. As the ruler of an independent state Chang Lu was able to combine the moral teachings of the sect with the laws of the state.
The sect gained, and mostly retained, imperial sanction. By the third century C.E. it had spread to North China and by the fourth century to all China. There were many important and powerful adherents of the Heavenly Master sect and this movement continues to the present day. The current Heavenly Master is considered to be a direct descendent of Chang Tao Ling.

Symbols According to tradition Chang Tao Ling invented magic talismans. The talismans used by the Heavenly Masters were regarded as healing charms that would prevent the owner from falling ill as long as s/he did not sin and protect him/her from malevolent spiritual forces. Today they are distributed by the tao-shih to sick people or women in childbirth.

Adherents It is not possible to determine the number of adherents belonging to the Heavenly Masters sect.

Main Centre
 Historically the headquarters of the sect has been located at the Mountain of the Dragon and Tiger in Kiangsi province. At the present time the heavenly master resides in Taiwan.