|Zhongnan-shan's Daoist Temple
In the Qinling Mountains, Sacred Daoist Range, south of Xian
my brief visit in August 2014
The Louguan-tai-si 楼观台寺 [Watchtower-Platform Temple, Lugwandae-sa in Korean] is located on
the northern foot of the western sector of the Zhongnan-shan Mountains, in Tayu village (塔峪村) of
Zhouzhi County of Xian City, Shaanxi Province (about 70 km SW of Xian). The Daqing Pagoda is close-by.
It has been a primary site of Chinese Daoism (Taoism) since the middle of the seminal Eastern Zhou
東周 Dynasty (771-256 BCE). According to the traditional legend, the best-known early Daoist sage
Laozi [老子, Senior Master; Lao Tze, Lao-tzu, Noja] lived on this site, developing and practicing his
wisdom. However, he declined to teach it to others, keeping it concealed. When he recognized that
the Zhou Dynasty was in terminal decline, he decided to leave China and retreat to the Mountains of
Heaven [Tian-shan] in the far northwest. However, when he arrived at the western gateway of the
kingdom (on the Hangu Pass 函谷关), Watchtower Commander Yin Xi 尹喜 successfully entreated (or
forced?) him to explain his philosophy of the Dao. Xi wrote down key points of what Laozi taught, and
later (retiring from the military) moved to this site, built a shrine for the Old Sage that he named the
Louguan 楼观 out of Laozi's former simple house, and composed his transcript into the Dao De Jing
[道德經, Tao Te Ching, Dodeok-gyeong; Classic of the Way & Virtue, or Scripture of the Effective-Virtrue of the Way],
transmitted to us as around 5,000 characters in 81 chapters.
|western part of Zhongnan-shan Mountains
|Location of Zhongnan-shan Louguan-tai Temple, in the central region of the Qinling Mountain
However, after the devastating An Lushan Rebellion of 755-63 and the consequent decline of the Tang
government, this temple and its school gradually declined in importance among the various Daoist sects
until the 10th century. In 988 Emperor Taizong 太宗 of the Northern Song 北宋 Dynasty (960–1127)
refurbished the Louguan / Zongsheng Temple and renamed it as as Shuntian Xingguo 顺天兴国 in 988.
Later In that dynasty, Daoist Master Wang Chong-yang practiced austerities while living in a tomb-
like shrine within or nearby this temple. After his complete enlightenment here he gathered disciples
in Shandong Province and founded the Quanzhen-dao [全眞道, "All Truth Way" or "Complete
Perfection Way"; Jeonjin-do in Korean] Sect, and that has remained one of the largest and most
important types or branches of Daoism for almost a thousand years. This Quanzhen School took
over this temple and made it one of their primary teaching and practice centers.
Laozi is regarded as the founder of all Chinese Daoism (at least the first probably-historical figure known),
and Yin Xi [Yun Hui in Korean] is regarded as his sole known first-generation disciple, therefore the First
Patriarch 祖师 of the Louguan-dao 樓觀道 or "Way of the Watchtower" original school of Daoism. The
old legend says that Yin Xi was appointed as a high official a under Zhou King Kang 周康王, and later
Zhou King Mu 穆王 had the first Daoist temple built from the shrine. Many people came there to learn
the teachings, becoming Daoist practitioners and disciples. Supposedly, this school burgeoned during
the Han Dynasty under a line of subsequent Patriarchs, and this site became a great temple. It is said
to have survived the ensuing 250 years of chaos, and again flourished during the grand Sui and Tang
period, becoming expanded into a vast Daoist monastery-complex -- revered as the site of Laozi's
enlightenment and the writing-down of the Daode-jing.
|Monument-pillars for the 8th-Cen Korean Daoist Sage Kim Ga-gi, at Louguan-tai's entranceway
|Main Front Gate of Louguan-tai Temple
In actuality, the earliest reliable record we have of this Louguan-tai Temple is in the 3rd century CE,
when it's master is said to have been Zheng Lüdao 郑履道. His disciple Liang Chen 梁谌 was active
during the Western Jin period, and other masters are recorded to have taught here in the Eastern Jin
Dynasty. It does not seem to have been very well-known in that era, however; only under Emperor
Taiwu of the Northern Zhou 北魏太武帝 did it become influential in the imperial court, and by the end
of the 6th century Emperor Sui Wen-di reconstructed it on a grand scale and it is reputed to have had
some 40 masters and "innumerable" disciples and laymen. It certainly flourished as the major Daoist
center in the early Tang Dynasty, as Laozi was venerated as the dynastic spiritual-patron. Founding
Emperor Tang Taizu claimed Laozi as his actual ancestor, and granted this temple large tracts of land
and bestowed upon it the honorary names Zongsheng-gong 宗圣观 [Ancestral Sage Palace] and
Shoujing-tai [Revealed Scripture Platform] when he visited and performed sacrifices to Laozi in 624.
With such direct imperial support, it attracted many elite supporters and followers of its teachings.
|Various Chinese icons of Laozi or Lao Tzu
Also see my Mao-shan page.
|Our group, led by Korean Daoist Grandmaster Choi Byeong-ju, meets with the current
Grandmaster of all Chinese Daoism, Ren Fa-rong (Im Beop-yung in Korean pronunciation),
the resident teacher at this temple.
|Grandmaster Ren does some calligraphy for us, and Grandmaster Choi gives a Korean box to the Abbot Im of
|Myself with Grandmaster Ren Fa-rong -- he gave & signed copies of his new commentary on the
"The earliest Daoist monastery was roughly contemporaneous with the Mount Mao community [c. 500
CE]. After the Toba-Wei Buddhist theocracy ended, [Louguan-tai] Monastery rose to become the major
Daoist Center in northern China and, in the early sixth century, also served as a refuge for southern
Daoists who were persecuted under Emperor Wu (r. 464-549) of the Liang dynasty. Located in the
foothills of the Zhongnan mountains and still a flourishing Complete Perfection Daoist monastery
today, [Louguan-tai] was identified by Daoists as the place where Laozi transmitted the [Daode-jing]
to Yin Xi, the Guardian of the Pass. This version of the transmission legend arose in the mid-fifth
century through Yin Tong (398-499?), a self-identified descendant of Yin Xi and owner of the estate.
During the early sixth century, a group of Daoists, primarily members of the Northern Celestial
Masters, apparently lived within a monastic framework, specifically according to ethical guidelines,
communal celibate living, and standardized daily schedule. Members of the early [Louguan-tai] prac-
ticed longevity techniques, observed the Five Precepts adopted from Buddhism, venerated Laozi and
[Daode-jing], and honored Yin Xi as their first patriarch. They also composed and compiled various
texts, such as the influential Taishang Laojun Jiejing (Precept Scripture of the High Lord Lao).
Regardless of the degree to which this community was fully monastic, the sacred site became one of
the most important Daoist monasteries from the Northern Zhou dynasty and Tang dynasty to today."
(from "Daoism for the Perplexed" by Louis Komjathy, 2014; page 55.
Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, London and New York. ISBN: 978-1--44115-795-9)
"Lookout Tower Monastery and other early Daoist temples prepared the way for the later fully
developed monastic systems such as those of the late-Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.
While the actual social organization of the early Louguan-tai community remains unclear, we have
detailed information on its later monastic life. Medieval Daoist monasticism was characterized by
distinctive ordination rites, training regimens, and distinctive vestments, ritual implements, buildings,
artworks and compounds. During the Tang, there arose a nationwide monastic system, with large
and small monasteries inhabited by celibate monks and nuns adhering to ethical codes and following
a standardized daily schedule ... including hygiene practices, abstinence, meal-regulations,
ceremonial meals and associated foods, eating procedures, ritual performances, obeisances,
and audiences with senior monastics, especially one's own spiritual director."
(from "Daoism for the Perplexed" by Louis Komjathy, 2014; page 56.
Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, London and New York. ISBN: 978-1--44115-795-9)
This entire compound was unfortunately destroyed in a great fire in 1234 during the Mongol War,
and was rebuilt under the auspices of the revived Quanzhen School during the Yuan Dynasty. It
flourished throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, suffered great damages in the multiple turmoils
of the 20th century, and has been nicely refurbished on a smaller scale in recent decades under
its original name Louguan-tai Temple.