Taoism has two sects: Zhengyi and Quenzhen. For the Zhengyi, the priests are always married and marriage is required to become a priest of the highest rank. Priests may be either male or female and of any social class. On the other hand, the Quenzhen typically live in monasteries, and are much less likely to be engaged with the community, unlike the Zhengyi priests. Zhengyi is more predominant in Taiwan, whereas Quenzhen is more common in mainland China. There are also Shangqing and Lingbao sects. Shangqing was originally a practice where individuals acted as their own priests. The emphasis of tradition remained on the individual. Lingbao, which incorporates many different aspects of Buddhism, is a more traditional view. For the Zhengyi, achieving the rank of Grand Master, which is the highest rank, is very rare. There is never more than one in a community, and there are a lot of requirements for virtues and morals. The Grand Master is elected by elders, and then undergoes a long ordination process, and a 20-year apprenticeship. After all of this, the Grand Master receives a Certificate of Immortality, and is regarded as a member of the celestial hierarchy.
The first Taoist organization was the Way of the Celestial Masters. The state of Sichuan was divided into 24 districts, with 24 officials that were assigned to each district. Members were ranked according to a hierarchy. The demon soldiers were the beginners, and the second level was called the demon clerks. The higher-level priests were known as libationers, and the highest was known as head libationers. Libationers acted not only as religious officials but also as civil officials. Both Chinese and non-Chinese people, and both men and women, had equal opportunity to advance in the hierarchy. All births, deaths, and marriages were recorded in the tenth month of each year under the organization. Each household was expected to contribute five bushels of rice, which were used to finance the operations of the organization. Children were taught morals at age 7, and received their first register at age 8. By 20, they would receive a register of ten celestial generals to call upon for help. The Way of the Celestial Masters took a political role but did not advocate rebellion. They were, for most of its history, controlled by the Chinese state.
Principals of Moral Thought and Action
The Zhuangzi was not interested in promoting specfic virtues, instead advocating emulating nature by "doing without doing," or wei-wu-wei. The early Way of the Celestial Masters did not reject Confucian values, but emphasized the outward signs of moral behavior was incorrect. They advocated for "secret virtue," which were good deeds seen only by the gods. Over time, a set of moral precepts was developed based on the text. In the 4th century, a text appeared that designated 180 moral precepts, which were clearly inspired by the Buddhist community. The precepts prohibited killing, theft, adultery, abortion, intoxication, and waste. They encouraged polite and mature behavior and provided regulations for behavior inside and outside of the community. The Lingbao scriptures appeared in the late 4th century. They included a more developed moral component than that of the Way of the Celestial Masters. They also included more elements of Buddhism, such as the ten precepts.
Vision for Society
The Taode jing proposed a Utopian vision of society base on the notion of a wise and noble ruler whose strength of moral character inspired moral behavior throughout the country. In one of the final chapters of the Taode jing, they describe the ideal country as one which was small, with a small population that avoided technological advances in preference for simple living.Throughout its history, Taoism has retained a Utopian vision of an ordered and harmonious society.
Gender and Sexuality
Since the beginning of Taoism, there has always been a positive attitude toward women or feminine qualities. Several chapters of the Taode jing refer to Tao as "The Mother of All Things," To play the feminine part," as a constant theme. The idea of balancing male and female energies is fundamental to Taoism, and applies to women as well as to men. In marriage, strict guidelines are used with a goal of union of yin yang energies. The feminine role is made very evident in Taoism with chapters of the Taode jing stating, " The feminine always conquers the masculine by her quietness, by lowering herself through her quietness." In some cases, the men even follow some of the feminine characteristics.