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The Taoist Search for Immortality
Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
10th-century immortal Liu Hai carrying a three-legged toad across the water (Shijiazhuang Culture Museum)
Defining and achieving an eternal life after death is an intrinsic component of all religions. However, the way to reach that goal differs vastly among religions, with a particular contrast between the ideals of Western and Eastern religions such as Taoism.
While many Westerners are familiar with Taoism as a set of teachings that center on following nature and nurturing the spirit in this life, far fewer know that the search for immortality has been a major component of Taoist thought and practice for millennia. To achieve this state, the religion’s followers practice specific guidelines.
Each of these categories includes special breathing techniques, strict dieting, adherence to moral precepts, specific sexual practices, and meditation. Despite that some of these seem to be common-sense measures (such as diet and exercise), the rationale behind them differs greatly from Western outlooks. For example, the much-touted Taoist sexual yoga, which far from enhancing loving relationships as many Western books present it, is instead based on an understanding of reproductive physiology significantly different from current scientific views.
Charles B. Jones, associate professor of religion and culture at Catholic University, examines the Taoist search for immortality as a world view with a fascinating blend of spiritual and physical goals that offer a unique perspective from which to consider what happens after death.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)