The Yu Qing Huang Lao Pai is a denomination of the Shang Qing tradition that emerged during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) when the Shang Qing lineage divided into the Mao Shan and the Yu Qing school. Stemming from Shang Qing Daoism that can be traced to Lady Wei Huacun (251-334 CE) of the Western Jin Dynasty, the tradition evolves around the practice of visualization, alchemy, and mysticism.
Much of its earliest writings come from revelations bestowed upon Yang Xi (330-386 CE) by Lady Wei that were later compiled by 9th Generation Tao Hongjing (456-536 CE) at Mt. Mao (Mao Shan, near Nanjing) and later gathered in the DaoZang/Daoist Canons as the Shang Qing scriptures. Their most notable and considered foundational texts include Huang Ting Jing (Yellow Inner Court Canon) and Da Tong Jing (Great Grotto Canon), with the Huang Ting Jing influencing other Daoist schools.
Due to the emphasis on the use of visualization techniques, the tradition is often referred to as an internal meditation school, where some scholars believed the practices integrated elements of Buddhism, which was flourishing during the time of Tao Hongjing. To provide tools and props of visualization, the practices can use colors, internal landscapes, acupuncture points, circulating orbits, and other creative devices to “entertain” and discipline the adepts.
Prior to Tao Hongjing, another lineage holder of the tradition, 7th Generation Lu Xiujing (406-477 CE) organized Daoist texts at Mt. Lu (Lushan in Jiangsu Province) and later Mt. Mao, integrating the Daoist teachings that were migrating from the North (i.e., Tian Shi Daoism/Celestial Masters) and the regional Ling Bao Daoism/Numinous Treasure (associated with Ge Hong (283-364 CE) from the Eastern Jin Dynasty), along with Shang Qing Daoism as a depiction of the progression of cultivation from the shen-spirit to the xuan-mysterious to the zhen-authentic – each “stage” represented as a “cavern” filled with instructions toward realization.
Shang Qing tradition describes different realms of “consciousness” that the adept can transcend to gain clarity (shang – ascend, qing – clarity). Thus its practices are often traced back to shamanism by which the wu-shaman enters into a trance state, induced by fasting, dancing, singing, and/or meditating — where shamanism can arguably be considered the early roots of Daoism. Access to these altered dimensions by which the “mind” is perceiving and sensing differently can lead to realizations of relativity, impermanence, non-judgment, and attunement – providing the early precepts associated with early “Daoist” philosophy, as conveyed by such popular texts like the Lao Zi (Dao De Jing), Zhuang Zi, Lie Zi, and Huai Nan Jing. In addition, as shamans were healers, much of their revelations also began to be incorporated into Chinese medical treatises, such as the medical corpus Huang Di Nei Jing.
Following the principles of Daoism, early Chinese medicine conceived of the shen-body as the materialization of the intangible shen-spirit, which could be influenced by external naturalistic forces, as well as internal psychosocial factors, and how these etiologies could impact the health of the individual. Crucial to this belief was the kong-emptiness/space that lies between substantiated reality and unsubstantiated mystery, with the impetus for the clinician (in the earliest forms, a shaman) to meditate and mediate into that “space” of all possibilities.
Acupuncture evolved as a dowsing needle, like a compass needle, to provide “direction” or move the “wind” for the afflicted to discover the course of “healing.” Herbal medicine substantiated the tangible/physical avenues that serve as the “boundaries” of that space. In addition, general regimens that sustain the shen-body and shen-spirit – such as diet, exercise, and sleep — began to be understood beyond their nutritive value, and now developed into healing modalities, such as nutrition, daoyin (today referred to as qigong), anqiao (today referred to as tuina/massage therapy) and meditation. In addition, healers recognized the importance of the use of non-tangible modalities to impact the shen-spirit through the sensory portals (eyes – color therapy; ears – sound/music/chanting; nose – incense/aromatherapy; tongue – taste therapy; throat – voice/chanting). Depending on the individual’s issues, the clinician was able to select from this vast repertoire of tools/methods to invoke or provoke healing.
Shang Qing Daoism dominated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) as a major spiritual and healing tradition, including some of its most famous physicians at that time – 10th Generation Sun Simiao (581-682 CE) and 11th Generation Sima Chengzhen (647-735 CE) – both of whom served as physicians to the imperial families. During this dynasty, the order was decreed by the imperial court to supervise the activities of the five sacred mountains of China. By the Song Dynasty, the school began to decline as a new Daoist tradition that had integrated Chan Buddhism was gaining relevance – Quan Zhen/Complete Reality Daoism.
Along with internal strife occurring within the Shang Qing order where some in the tradition broke from its historical practices and began to emphasize more on Thunder Magic (Lei Fa), the school fractured into two denominations (Mao Shan and Yu Qing (with the Yu Qing sect moving westward to Mt. Hua/Hua Shan). (Yu Qing refers to yu-jade and qing-clarity/purity, indicating the alchemical process of purification that can lead to tai-grand clarity as the shen-spirit shang-ascends into the “crystal” transparency and refinement associated with yu-jade – often personified as San Qing/Three Pure Ones) Huang Lao is a reference back to one of the earliest historical terms given to Daoist adepts, where different traditions were not differentiated, and simply understood as teachings passed down from Huang Di/Yellow Emperor and Lao Zi).
Today, as Quan Zhen Daoism has dominated China, there are only fragments of the Shang Qing school still found in China, with most of its remaining lineage scattered outside of China in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and overseas.
Master Jeffrey Yuen (Daoist name, Xuan Xu) continues the Shang Qing tradition in the United States and has worked to preserve all traditions of Daoism.