Three Pure Ones

Last updated
Three Pure Ones
Taoist Triad.jpg
The Three Pure Ones

The Three Pure Ones, also translated as the Three Pure Pellucid Ones, the Three Pristine Ones, the Three Divine Teachers, the Three Clarities, or the Three Purities, are the three highest gods in the Taoist pantheon. They are regarded as pure manifestations of the Tao [1] and the origin of all sentient beings, along with the "lords of the Three Life Principles", or qi. [2] They were also gods who were "associated with the sky, the earth and the underworld." [1]


They were thought to be able to control and have power over time in various ways. [2] They were sometimes seen as literally the "Past, Present, and Future". [1]

In Taoism

From the Taoist classic Tao Te Ching , it was held that "The Tao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced All things." It is generally agreed by Taoist scholars that Tao produced One means Wuji produced Taiji, and One produced Two means Taiji produced Yin and Yang [or Liangyi (兩儀) in scholastic term]. However, the subject of how Two produced Three has remained a popular debate among Taoist scholars. Most scholars believe that it refers to the Interaction between Yin and Yang, with the presence of Chi, or life force. [3]

In religious Taoism, the theory of how Tao produces One, Two, and Three is also explained. In Tao produces One—Wuji produces Taiji, it represents the Great Tao, embodied by Hundun (Chinese :混沌無極元始天王; pinyin :Hùndùn Wújí Yuánshǐ Tiānwáng, "Heavenly King of the Never-ending Primordial Beginning") at a time of pre-Creation, manifesting into the first of the Taoist Trinity, Yuánshǐ Tiānzūn. Yuánshǐ Tiānzūn oversees the earliest phase of Creation of the Universe, and is henceforth known as Dàobǎo (道寶) "Treasure of the Tao". In One produces Two—Taiji produces Yin Yang, Yuanshi Tianzun manifests into Lingbao Tianzun who separated the Yang from the Yin, the clear from the murky, and classified the elements into their rightful groups. Therefore, he is also known as Jīngbǎo (經寶) "Treasure of the Law/Scripture". While Jīng in popular understanding means "scriptures", in this context it also mean "passing through" [the phase of Creation] and the Laws of Nature of how things are meant to be. In the final phase of Creation, Daode Tianzun is manifested from Língbăo Tiānzūn to bring civilization and preach the Law to all living beings. Therefore, He is also known as Shībǎo (師寶) "Treasure of the Master".

Each of the Three Pure Ones represents both a deity and a heaven. Yuanshi Tianzun rules the first heaven, Yu-Qing, which is found in the Jade Mountain. The entrance to this heaven is named the Golden Door. "He is the source of all truth, as the sun is the source of all light". Lingbao Tianzun rules over the heaven of Shang-Qing. Daode Tianzun rules over the heaven of Tai-Qing. The Three Pure Ones are often depicted as throned elders.

Schools of Taoist thought developed around each of these deities. Taoist Alchemy was a large part of these schools, as each of the Three Pure Ones represented one of the three essential fields of the body: jing, qi and shen. The congregation of all three Pure Ones resulted in the return to Tao.

The first Pure One is universal or heavenly chi. The second Pure One is human plane chi, and the third Pure One is earth chi. Heavenly chi includes the chi or energy of all the planets, stars and constellations as well as the energy of God (the force of creation and universal love). Human plane chi is the energy that exists on the surface of our planet and sustains human life, and the earth force includes all of the forces inside the planet as well as the five elemental forces.

As the Three Pure Ones are manifestations of Primordial Celestial Energy, they are formless. But to illustrate their role in Creation, they are often portrayed as elderly deities robed in the three basic colours from which all colours originated: Red, Blue and Yellow (or Green) depending on personal interpretation of colour origins by additive or subtractive means. Each of them holds onto a divine object associated with their task. Yuánshǐ Tiānzūn is usually depicted holding the Pearl of Creation, signifying his role in recreating the Universe. The Ruyi held by Lingbao Tianzun represents authority: the second phase of Creation where the Yang was separated from the Yin and the Law of Things was ordered in place. Lingbao Tianzun then took his seat on the left of Yuanshi Tianzun. Later, when all was complete, Daode Tianzun took his place on the right, with the fan symbolizing the completion of Creation, and the act of fanning representing the spreading of Tao to all Mankind.

Syncretic beliefs

Some scholars believe depictions and theology of the Three Pure Ones from the Tang dynasty and after were influenced by Church of the East conception about the Trinity because of the heavy Christian-Taoist contact and mutual influence [4] of the time. [2]

Also, some believe that another Taoist trinity of gods evolved into the Pure Ones. [5]

Beliefs in the Jade Emperor were taken from other Chinese religious traditions and he was seen as their assistant who managed all of creation. [1]

Yuanshi Tianzun

Yuanshi Tianzun YuanshiTianzun.jpg
Yuanshi Tianzun

Yuanshi Tianzun (Chinese :元始天尊; pinyin :Yuánshǐ Tiānzūn, "Lord of Primordial Beginning" or the "Primal Celestial One" [2] ) is also known as the "Jade Pure One" (Chinese :玉清; pinyin :Yùqīng) or "Honoured Lord of the Origin".

Lingbao Tianzun

Lingbao Tianzun LingbaoTianzun.jpg
Lingbao Tianzun

Lingbao Tianzun (靈寶天尊, "Lord of the Numinous Treasure") is also known as the "Supreme Pure One" (Chinese :上清; pinyin :Shàngqīng), "The Universally Honoured One of Divinities and Treasures", or the "Precious Celestial One". [2]

In terms of worldview, the emergence of the Shàngqīng revelations signifies a major expansion of Taoism. Where the celestial masters had added the pure gods of the Tao to the popular pantheon, Shàngqīng enlarged this to include an entirely new layer of existence between the original, creative force of the Tao, represented by the deity "yuan shi tian wang" (heavenly king of primordial beginning), and created world as we know it. This celestial layer consisted of several different regions, located both in the far reaches of the world and in the stars, and imagined along the lines of the ancient paradises Penglai and Kunlun. It was populated by various divine figures: pure gods of the Tao who were emanations of original cosmic qi; immortals who had attained celestial status through effort and the proper elixir... [6]

Lingbao Tianzun is associated with yin and yang and was responsible as the custodian of the sacred book. Lingbao Tianzun also calculates time and divides it into different epochs.

Daode Tianzun

Daode Tianzun (道德天尊, "Lord of the Way and its Virtue", "Honoured Lord of the Tao and the Virtue", or "[T]he Way-and-Its-Power Celestial One" [2] ), also known as the "Grand Pure One" (Chinese :太清; pinyin :Tàiqīng) or the "Highest Elder Lord" (太上老君, Taishang Laojun).

It is believed that Daode Tianzun manifested himself in the form of Laozi. Daode Tianzun is also the treasurer of spirits, known as the Lord of Man who is the founder of Taoism. He is the most eminent, aged ruler, which is why he is the only Pure One depicted with pure white hair and beard.

There seem to have been a number of stages in the process of Laozi's eventual deification. First, the legendary figure began as a teacher and writer whose image eventually blended with that of the Yellow Emperor when Laozi came to be identified as a confidant of royalty. Traditional accounts, such as the life-story summarized earlier, transformed him into a cultural hero whose mother conceived him virginally. By the mid-second century C.E., Laozi had become the deity who delivered to Zhang Daoling the revelation of a new religious faith, giving rise to the Celestial Master's school. His image was still not complete. Next, perhaps also around the second or third century CE, Laozi seems to have been identified as a creator god who also enters the world to rescue humanity from tribulation. Laozi was now capable of incarnating himself, almost like Buddhist bodhisattvas. Not long thereafter he joined the triad of the Three Pure Ones, and finally Laozi emerged as the chief divine person. We have here one of the more interesting examples of apotheosis, or deification, in the history of religion.[ citation needed ]

According to Daozang, Daode Tianzun had manifested many various incarnations to teach living beings, and Laozi is one of his incarnations.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taoism</span> Religious and philosophical tradition

Taoism or Daoism is a diverse tradition indigenous to China, variously characterized as both a philosophy and a religion. Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao—generally understood as being the impersonal, enigmatic process of transformation ultimately underlying reality. The concept originates in the Chinese word 道, which has numerous related meanings: possible English translations include 'way', 'road', and 'technique'. Taoist thought has informed the development of various practices within the Taoist tradition and beyond, including forms of meditation, astrology, qigong, feng shui, and internal alchemy. A common goal of Taoist practice is self-cultivation resulting in a deeper appreciation of the Tao, and thus a more harmonious existence. There are different formulations of Taoist ethics, but there is generally emphasis on virtues such as effortless action, naturalness or spontaneity, simplicity, and the three treasures of compassion, frugality, and humility. Many Taoist terms lack simple definitions and have been translated in several different ways.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lingbao School</span> Daoist school

The Lingbao School, also known as the School of the Sacred Jewel or the School of Numinous Treasure, was an important Daoist school that emerged in China in between the Jin dynasty and the Liu Song dynasty in the early fifth century CE. It lasted for about two hundred years until it was absorbed into the Shangqing and Zhengyi currents during the Tang dynasty. The Lingbao School is a synthesis of religious ideas based on Shangqing texts, the rituals of the Celestial Masters, and Buddhist practices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taiyi Zhenren</span>

Taiyi Zhenren is a Daoist deity in Chinese religion and Taoism. Taiyi means "primordial unity of yin and yang" and Zhenren is a Daoist term for "Perfected Person". According to the opening of the classical novel Fengshen Bang, he is the reincarnation of the first emperor of the Shang dynasty, Tang of Shang.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yuanshi Tianzun</span> Taoist deity

Yuanshi Tianzun, the Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning or the Primeval Lord of Heaven, is one of the highest deities of Taoism. He is one of the Three Pure Ones and is also known as the Jade Pure One. He resides in the Great Web or the Heaven of Jade Purity. It is believed that he came into being at the beginning of the universe as a result of the merging of pure breaths. He then created Heaven and Earth.

The Shangqing School (Chinese:上清), also known as Supreme Clarity, Highest Clarity, or Supreme Purity, is a Daoist movement that began during the aristocracy of the Western Jin dynasty. Shangqing can be translated as either 'Supreme Clarity' or 'Highest Clarity.' The first leader of the school was a woman, Wei Huacun (251-334). According to her Shangqing hagiographers, her devotion to Daoist cultivation so impressed a number of immortals that she received revelations from them 31 volumes of Daoist scriptures which would become the foundation of Shangqing Daoism. Later, Tao Hongjing, a man, (456-536) structured the theory and practice and compiled the canon. He greatly contributed to the development of the school that took place near the end of the 5th century. The mountain near Nanjing where Tao Hongjing had his retreat, Maoshan, today remains the principal seat of the school.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Guang Chengzi</span> Taoist deity and character in Fengshen Yanyi

Guang Chengzi is a Taoist deity and a character in the classic Chinese novel Fengshen Yanyi.

Hongjun Laozu lit. "Ancestor of the Great Balance" is a deity in Chinese folk religion and Taoism, teacher of the Three Pure Ones in Taoist mythology. Hongjun 鴻鈞 is a graphic variant of hungjun "primordial nature", as used in the Chinese idiom Xian you hongjun hou you tian 先有鸿钧后有天 "First there was Hongjun and then there was Heaven".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cihang Zhenren</span> Taoist figure of Guanyin

Cihang Zhenren is a Daoist deity and character in the classic Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods. He is a disciple of Yuanshi Tianzun and one of the Three Great Immortals, holding the ninth position among the Twelve Golden Immortals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Northern Celestial Masters</span> Taoist movement during Northern and Southern dynasties

The Northern Celestial Masters are an evolution of the Daoist Way of the Celestial Master in the north of China during the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The Northern Celestial Masters were a continuation of the Way as it had been practiced in Sichuan province by Zhang Lu and his followers. After the community was forced to relocate in 215 CE, a group of Celestial Masters established themselves in Northern China. Kou Qianzhi, from a family who followed the Celestial Master, brought a new version of Celestial Master Daoism to the Northern Wei. The Northern Wei government embraced his form of Daoism and established it as the state religion, thereby creating a new Daoist theocracy that lasted until 450 CE. The arrival of Buddhism had great influence on the Northern Celestial Masters, bringing monasticism and influencing the diet of practitioners. Art produced in areas dominated by the Northern Celestial Masters also began to show Buddhist influence. When the theocracy collapsed, many Daoists fled to Louguan, which quickly became an important religious center. The Northern Celestial Masters survived as a distinct school at Louguan until the late 7th century CE, when they became integrated into the wider Daoist movement.

The history ofTaoism stretches throughout Chinese history. Originating in prehistoric China, it has exerted a powerful influence over Chinese culture throughout the ages. Taoism evolved in response to changing times, with its doctrine and associated practices being revised and refined. The acceptance of Taoism by the ruling class has waxed and waned, alternately enjoying periods of favor and rejection. Most recently, Taoism has emerged from a period of suppression and is undergoing a revival in China.

Tianzun (天尊), literally the Lord of Heaven may refer to:

<i>Wuji</i> (philosophy) The primordial in Chinese philosophy

In Chinese philosophy, wuji originally referred to infinity. In Neo-Confucian cosmology, it came to mean the "primordial universe" prior to the "Supreme Ultimate" state of being..

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Daode Tianzun</span> Deification of Laozi in the Taoist pantheon

Daode Tianzun, also known as Taishang Laojun is a high Taoist god. He is the Taiqing which is one of the Three Pure Ones, the highest immortals of Taoism.

Primordial qigong is a form of qigong purportedly developed by the Taoist sage Zhang Sanfeng. Also known as Wuji gong, it is said to have been developed by Zhang before he invented tai chi.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Taoism:

Chinese theology, which comes in different interpretations according to the classic texts and the common religion, and specifically Confucian, Taoist, and other philosophical formulations, is fundamentally monistic, that is to say it sees the world and the gods of its phenomena as an organic whole, or cosmos, which continuously emerges from a simple principle. This is expressed by the concept that "all things have one and the same principle". This principle is commonly referred to as Tiān 天, a concept generally translated as "Heaven", referring to the northern culmen and starry vault of the skies and its natural laws which regulate earthly phenomena and generate beings as their progenitors. Ancestors are therefore regarded as the equivalent of Heaven within human society, and therefore as the means connecting back to Heaven which is the "utmost ancestral father". Chinese theology may be also called Tiānxué 天學, a term already in use in the 17th and 18th centuries.

[In contrast to the God of Western religions who is above the space and time] the God of Fuxi, Xuanyuan, and Wang Yangming is under in our space and time. ... To Chinese thought, ancestor is creator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Xuandu Temple</span> Taoist temple in Hengshan, China

The Xuandu Temple is a Taoist temple located on the hillside of Mount Heng, in Hengshan County, Hunan, China. It is the site of Hunan Taoist Association.

Taoist philosophy also known as Taology refers to the various philosophical currents of Taoism, a tradition of Chinese origin which emphasizes living in harmony with the Dào. The Dào is a mysterious and deep principle that is the source, pattern and substance of the entire universe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Women in Taoism</span>

The roles of women in Taoism have differed from the traditional patriarchy over women in ancient and imperial China. Chinese women had special importance in some Taoist schools that recognized their transcendental abilities to communicate with deities, who frequently granted women with revealed texts and scriptures. Women first came to prominence in the Highest Clarity School, which was founded in the 4th century by a woman, Wei Huacun. The Tang dynasty (618–907) was a highpoint for the importance of Daoist women, when one-third of the Shangqing clergy were women, including many aristocratic Taoist nuns. The number of Taoist women decreased until the 12th century when the Complete Perfection School, which ordained Sun Bu'er as the only woman among its original disciples, put women in positions of power. In the 18th and 19th centuries, women Taoists practiced and discussed nüdan, involving gender-specific practices of breath meditation and visualization. Furthermore, Taoist divinities and cults have long traditions in China, for example, the Queen Mother of the West, the patron of xian immortality, He Xiangu, one of the Eight Immortals, and Mazu, the protectress of sailors and fishermen.

Lu Xiujing, known by the courtesy name Yuande (元德) and the posthumous name Jianji (簡寂), was a Taoist compiler and ritualist who lived under the Liu Song dynasty. His education was of Confucianist leaning. Nevertheless, he chose to study Taoism. Lu was devoted to his faith to the point of abandoning his family.



  1. 1 2 3 4 Dell, Christopher (2012). Mythology: The Complete Guide to our Imagined Worlds. New York: Thames & Hudson. p. 341. ISBN   978-0-500-51615-7.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 World Religions: Eastern Traditions. Edited by Willard Gurdon Oxtoby (2nd ed.). Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press. 2002. p. 393. ISBN   0-19-541521-3. OCLC   46661540.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. Yang, Chaoping (December 1, 2007). 道德經第四十二章‧「道生一,一生二,二生三,三生萬物。」 (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 2011-08-13.
  4. Chua, Amy (2007). Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday. p. 71. ISBN   978-0-385-51284-8. OCLC   123079516.
  5. World Religions: Eastern Traditions. Edited by Willard Gurdon Oxtoby (2nd ed.). Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press. 2002. p. 392. ISBN   0-19-541521-3. OCLC   46661540.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. Kohn, Livia (2001). Daoism and Chinese Culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Three Times Press. p. 89.


  • Barrow, Terrence; Williams, Charles Alfred Speed (2006). Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing. p. 372.
  • Ching, Julie (2000). The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi. Oxford: Oxford University Press US. pp. 168–169.
  • Fowler, Jeaneane (2005). An introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism. Brighton; Portland: Sussex Academic Press. pp. 202–205.
  • Dobbins, Frank Stockton; Williams, Samuel Wells; Halls, Isaac Hollister (1883). Errors Chains. California: Standard Publishing House. p. 224.
  • "Yu Di". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Microsoft. 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-04-28.
  • "Yuan Shi". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Microsoft. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07.
  • Morgan, Harry T. (1972). Chinese Symbols and Superstitions. Detroit: Gale Research Company. p. 148.
  • Werner, E. T. C. (2003). Myths and Legends of China. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 124–126.
  • Whiting, Roger (1991). Religions for Today. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes. p. 14.
  • "The Taoist Deities". Yang Style Tai Chi. 25 May 2001. Retrieved 2019-06-27.
  • Yudelove, Eric (1997). 100 Days to Better Health, Good Sex and Long Life. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 114.