UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The nature and origin of the Taoist underworld of the Han and Six dynasties periods Johnson, John D.


Throughout the history of Taoism the underworld remained central to its beliefs and practices. In its earliest manifestations, even those predating the emergence of the Taoist tradition itself, it was intrinsically linked to practices related to exorcisms and the Chinese ancestral cult. In this context, it functioned as an abode for the dead and a place to segregate the spirits of the dead from the living, traits later adopted by Taoism. The arrival of Buddhism, however, brought about changes in the Chinese and Taoist underworld. Whereas previously the underworld functioned primarily as a place for segregation, it took on broader connotations, becoming a place also concerned with postmortem punishment. Scholars, at least until recently, have maintained that the Chinese underworld bore similarities with the Western notions of the underworld, meaning "Hades," "Sheol," " H e l l , " and "Purgatory," and consistently interpreted the Chinese underworld according to these paradigms. It is held here that these terms are often misleading, and they thereby distorted the function and nature of the Taoist infernal regions. This thesis, instead of using these Western models, interprets the underworld according to the presence and emphasis of postmortem punishment. This will thereby establish the nature of the Taoist infernal regions as manifest during the periods between the Han and Six Dynasties Periods, a period between the second century B C E and the sixth century CE. This exploration is based on the translation of relevant texts dating from these periods. In addition, the antecedents of the Taoist underworld, meaning those of China's indigenous religious matrix and of Buddhism, are examined and interpreted.

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