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The Quanzhen School is a branch of Taoism that originated in Northern China under the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). One of its founders was the Taoist Wang Chongyang, who lived in the early Jin. When the Mongols invaded the Song dynasty (960–1279) in 1254, the Quanzhen Taoists exerted great effort in keeping the peace, thus saving thousands of lives, particularly among those of Han Chinese descent.
The meaning of Quanzhen can be translated literally to "All True" and for this reason, it is often called the "All Truth Religion" or the "Way of Completeness and Truth." In some texts, it is also referred to as the "Way of Complete Perfection." Kunyu mountain in Shandong province Weihai city is the birthplace of Quan Zhen Taoism. With strong Taoist roots, the Quanzhen School specializes in the process of "alchemy within the body" or Neidan (internal alchemy), as opposed to Waidan (external alchemy which experiments with the ingestion of herbs and minerals, etc.). The Waidan tradition has been largely replaced by Neidan, as Waidan was a sometimes dangerous and lethal pursuit. Quanzhen focuses on internal cultivation of the person which is consistent with the pervading Taoist desire for attaining Wu Wei, which is essentially unconscious action.
Like most Taoists, Quanzhen priests were particularly concerned with longevity and immortality through alchemy, harmonising oneself with the Tao, studying the Five Elements, and ideas on balance consistent with Yin and Yang theory. The school is also known for using Buddhist and Confucian ideas.
According to traditional legend, Wang Chongyang met two Taoist immortals in the summer of 1159 CE. The immortals, Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin taught him Taoist beliefs and trained him in secret rituals. The meeting proved deeply influential, and roughly a year later, in 1160, Wang met one of these men again. In this second encounter, he was provided with a set of five written instructions which led to his decision of living by himself in a grave he created for himself in Zhongnan Mountain for three years.
After seven years of living in the Mountain (three inside the grave and another four in a hut he later called "Complete Perfection Hut"), Wang met two of his seven future disciples, Tan Chuduan and Qiu Chuji. In 1167, Wang traveled to Shandong Province and met Ma Yu and Ma's wife Sun Bu'er who became his students. These and others would become part of the seven Quanzhen disciples, who were later known as the Seven Masters of Quanzhen.
After Wang's departure, it was left to his disciples to continue expounding the Quanzhen beliefs. Ma Yu succeeded Wang as head of the school, while Sun Bu'er went on to establish the Purity and Tranquility School, one of the foremost branches of Quanzhen.
Another notable disciple of Wang was Qiu Chuji who founded the famous White Cloud Monastery in Beijing. Qiu Chuji was the founder of the school called Dragon Gate Taoism. Qiu was on good terms with the Mongol monarch Genghis Khan who put him in charge of religious affairs in Mongol-controlled China. As a result, the Quanzhen School of Taoism continued to flourish long after Wang's death, right through to the present.
Branches and sects
The seven disciples of Wang Chongyang continue expounding the Quanzhen beliefs. The seven Masters of Quanzhen established the following seven branches.
- Ma Yu (馬鈺): Yuxian lineage (Meeting the Immortals, 遇仙派)
- Tan Chuduan (譚處端): Nanwu lineage (Southern Void, 南無派)
- Liu Chuxuan (劉處玄): Suishan lineage (Mount Sui, 隨山派)
- Qiu Chuji (丘處機): Longmen lineage (Dragon Gate Taoism, 龍門派)
- Wang Chuyi (王處一): Yushan lineage (Mount Yu, 崳山派)
- Hao Datong (郝大通): Huashan lineage (Mount Hua, 華山派)
- Sun Bu'er (孫不二): Qingjing lineage (Purity and Tranquility Sect, 清靜派)
- 王喆生平事迹考述 (Chinese)
- Eskildsen, Stephen. The Teachings and Practice of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.