- Daoist Perspectives on Knowing the Future: Selections from the Scripture on Great Peace (Taiping jing) by Barbara Hendrischke
To an already impressive list of publications on the Taiping jing (hereafter TPJ), spanning some 40 years of research, Barbara Hendrischke has added a sturdy and compact monograph titled Daoist Perspectives on Knowing the Future. Prognostication is seldom the sole topic of the chapters of the TPJ, yet, as the author states, "In the TPJ the topic of knowing, and thereby shaping, the future is of such overwhelming importance that it is a convenient handle for introducing the text in all its diversity" (p. 3). Preceded by an introduction (pp. 1-44) that, among other things, touches upon the origins of the TPJ, its surviving edition, and considerations about the kind of future that mattered to the TPJ authors, the bulk of the book consists of annotated translations of an extensive selection of relevant TPJ fragments.
The translated texts are arranged in five clusters. In the first, the focus is on abnormal astronomic phenomena (eclipses), and the role of human behavior in causing these messages from heaven. The second cluster deals with various methods of prognosis, involving geomancy, music, acupuncture, [End Page 364] moxibustion, and medicine derived from plants or animals. Central in the third cluster is the importance of writings as objects of study, and as sources of knowledge of the future as well as of ways to steer the future's course. A technique referred to is that of "retaining spirits" (shou shen 守神)—the very spirits whose cooperation man needs in order to produce reliable predictions. Indeed, a good deal of the book is about the relationship between human society and the spirit world. Thus, the fourth cluster repeatedly turns its attention to the spirits that inhabit the individual human body, and should be controlled through meditation, concentration, and visualization. The fifth cluster consists of texts focusing on knowledge derived from faith.
Most texts are in the typical question-and-answer form, between the Celestial Master (tianshi 天師) and a total of six Perfected (zhenren 真人). In some cases, the link between the question and the answer does not reveal itself instantly, as in the following example:
Why would a false spirit (xieshen 邪神) come as special envoy to put a man to the test?
Dao is heavy and is difficult for a man [to practice]. He must persevere firmly. Death lies within himself. Indeed, [dao] does not cut a man off from his wishes. None of the gentlemen of heaven who transcend their generation desire nobility and honor. Instead, they simply enjoy being alive. They are certainly without any miraculous teachings. Record my warnings and you will transcend your generation. For ten thousand generations my words must not be forgotten. They will let you rise up directly and completely encircle immeasurable heaven. These are all the warnings there are. They include nothing miraculous (pp. 169-170).
In the subsequent sections, reference is made to the rulers of antiquity, who loved the dao and would not "listen to the villain" (bu ting xie 不聽邪), but the Celestial Master's advice doesn't get much more specific than this.
Students of Late Han and Early Medieval Chinese religion interested in the relationship between heaven and man, as well as between fate and individual responsibility, in the role of good conduct in controlling spirits, and in religious processes of healing and eventually overcoming death, will find much of relevance in the deftly translated TPJ sections presented in Daoist Perspectives on Knowing the Future. One major question, however, remains at least partly unanswered: to what degree may the materials collected in the book that we now know as the Scripture on Great Peace, and more specifically in the sections on "knowing the future," be termed "Daoist?"
Barbara Hendrischke devotes the final pages (pp. 38-44) of her Introduction to this question, and she proposes a...