Xiuzhen is a knowledge containing alternative biology, ontology and teleology from the perspective of Taoism, and within it complex relations were established among the precepts of yin and yang, wu xing, bagua, I ching, Jing Qi Shen, Jing mai, Shen Xin Yi and karma or causality.
''Xiu'' literally means to practice or to better, ''Zhen'' the truth or the ultimate reality. Taken together someone partaking in ''Xiuzhen'' is to practice and learn the way of the truth. The term was sometimes synonymous with ''Xiudao'' meaning to practice the ways of Tao, or towards understanding the ''Truth''.
Xiuzhen must be practiced in tandem with Xiushen, which is a betterment of one’s conduct based on the principal teachings in Taoism and Confucianism including .
Historical contexts and myths
One of the earliest recorded emperor was Qin Shi Huang who with the wrong counsel, sought eternal youth by reputedly sending fleets of virgins off to Japan for this knowledge. Admittedly there had been many unscrupulous daoshi , con-men whom for profit or power either had no understanding of the nature of Xiuzhen or intentionally distorted the method to render it exclusive and mythical.
Since the days of the Yellow Emperor, the Taoist's orthodox method prescribed the practice of Xiuzhen, in harmonizing with dao and purification of the Jing Qi Shen. And Taoist practitioners do not claim exclusivity to this quest, in that they believe the meditation from Buddhism and other schools would produce the same result, with souls eventually ending up as purified or as one of enlightened Sheng Fok Xian Zhen.
Also mythologized with this immortalization technique were those associated with ''waidan'', deeds and practices of ''Fangshi'' who were able to summon and command the realms with fulu talisman and skills called the Tiangang 36 methods or the thirty-six methods to manipulate the Heaven and the environment , the Disha 72 ways or the seventy-two ways to manipulate the Earth and surroundings, and which were different superhuman skills decreed by heaven onto the specific fangshi. A Taoist guidance book called Tiantang Yiuji explained some of these extraordinary skills in details which included the western alchemy of turning stone to gold, and superhuman feats that no longer exist. Fangshi could be Taoist practitioners and it was their superhuman abilities that scholars generally confuse with the core teaching of Taoism as something akin to superstition or regard as shamanism.
Another prevalent phenomenon was the flourishing of a myriad of branches such as those recorded in Daozang, all claiming legitimacy. This is still happening today. True to the Tao Te Ching , historically authentic practitioners or temples would not stake orthodoxy to flush out these offshoots for power or numbers in the context of ''organized religion''- clarification was just not an agenda, as Xiuzhen is ultimately a self realization. And a potential adherent would need to decide that.
Mainstream ''Taoism'' scholars apply to their writings on Taoism with a filter, one that is methodical and analytical, with nomenclature pinned to many Taoist terms when none were called for. One went as far as to divide Taoism into categories like ''contemplative'', ''purposive'', and even ''Hsien'' . Many specific terms in Taoist teachings take on multiple expressions, like the term Tao can be , ''Hunyuan Yiqi'', mother of all beings etc; Jing Qi Shen can be ''Sanqing, Sanyuan, Sanbao'' and so forth.
Early twentieth century scholars have frequently split Taoism into ''Philosophical'' or ''Folk-religions'', that is ''Daojiao'' and ''Daojia''. This is but a taxonomy-filter to reference and group practitioners in order to better understand their thoughts in a scientific methodology. Suffice to say the word ''Jiao'' or ''religion'' did not appear in any classical Chinese literature or Daozang for the concept is foreign. In Tao Te Ching, Taoism was described by Laozi as the ''Door to Dao'', or ''Daomen'' , sometimes as ''Daozhong'' . Taoism is the school of Dao, Daojia in brevity. It is not a religion, and Taoist adherents historically never viewed themselves as belonging to one.
And scholars have not treated the subject of Xiuzhen as a serious treatise although many have given lip service to it, like calling it as ''Hsien-Taoism'', or a search for immortality or longevity, in the main regarding it as superstitious for obvious reasons- Xiuzhen can not yet fit into any current scientifically acceptable or biologically sound model, for scholars to deem it as the principal objective of Taoism.
Core Tenets of Taoism
Daodejing has been interpreted in many ways in the past two millenia , as were classical scriptures like Xishen Jing and Qingjing Jing with applications as wide afield as imperial governance and psychology. Again Xiuzhen or the quest for immortality rarely appeared as the central tenet to Taoism, and possibly it might have alluded scholars that many ''mystical'' or cryptic vocabulary or passages in the TTC and the other classics will become intelligible if the immortality template is used.
Xiuzhen and immortality
The nature of Taoist immortality is at the one level a spiritual immortality, where after attainment the purified souls would return to the original state as ''Yuanling'' , one of the original 9.6 Billion original beings from the ''Mu Gong'' and ''Jing Mu'' in the Chinese creation myth.
The second level is the mythical eternal youth or extended lifespan for the living. In the Taoist fable Laozi himself lived upwards of nine hundred and ninety-six years in his last of thirteen incarnates as Laozi the author of Tao Te Ching, likewise the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors all lived to biologically improbable ages.
In Taoism a parallel objective during the lifespan of a mortal is to attain a state of Xiu Qi Zhi Ping from ''Xiushen Qijia Zhiguo Pingtianxia'' , which is a set of progressive nobler tasks to better one’s being, one’s family to enable one to reign a country eventually contributing to ''world peace''. This is expected as the ultimate humanly goal for all Taoist adherents, in parallel with Xiuzhen striving for spiritual immortality. This set of objectives was explained in Confucius' Lichi.
Xiuzhen and values
Taoists believe that lives do not end at death. Depending on the deeds and de mortals have accrued in their life times, the soul would be subject to a system of rewards and punishment , which is applied at death or in Souyuan, the Chinese equivalent of Judgment Day. Within the system the realms are wide ranging, there is a thirty-three layers of heaven for the enlightened or transcended, ten-prisons and 153 wards or jails in hell for the incarcerated, reincarnation in different forms for those neither pure enough to ascend nor too sinful to damnation. The spiritual remains of mortals had and would reside in one of these realms despite of death.
This is also the reason why the Ancestor worship or veneration was widely practiced by the Chinese throughout history from the Taoist’s perspective. The deceased are not seen as dead, but merely passed on from a physical reality to a spiritual realm. Veneration of parents and elders thus continue well after their departure, as part of the filial piety one accords to them.
Other Xiushen conducts like those in and Deeds, have been passed down and became part of the Chinese culture and Chinese thought.
Divine and Secular Purposes
Taoist look at Xiuzhen from the creator's perspective, that as Yuanling were originally created from Dao, or , that is Xuanxuan Shangren and then the Five Supremes, these primordial souls or original men belong to heaven. All of these Yuanling should therefore seek and attempt to return to the original realm, to Taiji and to Dao. Many latter day Sift Text dictations revealed this as ''Attaining One'' or ''Attaining Unity'' , or as ''Preserving Unity'' as everything in existence in all three realms change and are subject to change, save for the this ''One'' or ''Unity'' , which is the spiritual oneness of ''ling'' .
This transcendental concept can also be understood in some of the writings of Rene Guenon, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Titus Burckhardt in the Traditionalist School on perennial philosophy and the ''Primordial Tradition''. The differences are, the Traditionalist scholars believed much of that knowledge was lost in the Abrahamic Religions and in Hinduism and induced a cosmology similar to that in Taoism; Taoists believe Xiuzhen is still a current, viable vehicle to achieve spiritual transcendence, and within a cosmology that is still active and alive today.
Taoists' Xiuzhen is, at a secular level, an attempt to learn to be a Sheng Fok Xian Zhen, or to be a saint. It is also an attempt to conserve and coalesce one's energy in Jing Qi Shen to the level of pre-birth, an embryonic state, to ''reverse life'' as it were. Life in this regard is only a vehicle or a temporal state for any given yuanling, and one which continues to muddy its purity, until the mortal shell realizes the need to reverse the process. And the consequences otherwise, that is to follow the progress of life and death, a mortal would be subject to cycles of reincarnation without hope of returning to the oneness, or the admission to heaven. Xiuzhen to the Taoists is a process to prolong the physical lifespans on earth and which will eventually contribute to a spiritual immortality.
For this admission an adherent or the candidate needs to be a ''rounded'' person, one who has the prerequisite of living their life by attaining the minimum benchmark Gongde, or Deeds and with ''Three Thousand Deeds and Eight Hundred De'' , according to the part of the heavenly merit system loosely called the Jade Principles Golden Script .
Both the Xiuzhen Tu and the Neijing Tu were attempts to visualize crucial aspects of the Jing Qi Shen in the human anatomy identifying the Jing mai, the pressure points, various stages of Neidan attainment. Neijing Tu is more picturesque in that the human anatomy is not depicted where as the Xiuzhen Tu is anatomical.
*Three Roles and Five Humanities 三綱五常 where the Three Roles means a King would be the role-model for his Minister, a Father be a role-model for his Son and a Husband be a role-model for his Wife 君為臣綱，父為子綱，夫為妻綱; Five Humanities refers to Benevolence 仁, Honour 義,Code/Courtesy 禮, Wisdom 智 and Trust 信, confer , together establish the cornerstones of human relationships.
*Five Tenets and Eight De 五倫八德, ''Five Tenets'' refers to that between Father and son, King and minister, husband and wife, among sibling in a family and between friends . ''Eight De'' 八德 are Filial Piety 孝, Sibling Piety 悌, Loyalty 忠, Trust 信, Conduct 禮, Honour 義, Integrity 廉 and Humility 恥.