External Researchers, Researchers

Darcy Littler 達西

Darcy Littler

Darcy lived and studied in China between 2010-17, during which time he visited numerous Buddhist and Daoist communities. His academic interests include Daoism and Chinese Buddhism.

Darcy recently started his Ph.D at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK. His MA and PhD research focuses on Huang Shang 黃裳 (aka. Huang Yuanji 黃元吉 [fl. 1850]), a Daoist alchemist and scholar who taught in Sichuan during the late Qing period.

 Leyu Tang Yulu:  A Daoist Approach to Syncretizing the Three Teachings in Sichuan during the Late Qing  (MA dissertation, SOAS University of London; 2021)

My MA research focuses on the late-Qing internal alchemist and scholar called Huang Shang 黃裳 (aka. Huang Yuanji 黃元吉 [fl. 1850]). Huang taught a community of practitioners in Fushun 富順, Sichuan during the 19th century which came to be referred to as Leyu Tang 樂育堂 (lit. Hall of Joyous Teachings). His sayings were compiled by his disciples and later published in a text called Leyu Tang Yulu 樂育堂語錄 (Recorded sayings from the hall of joyous teachings).

In my dissertation I conducted an analysis of the Leyu Tang Yulu text to establish the syncretic strategies Huang adopts to blend the Three Teachings of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism into a coherent system of internal alchemy. I set out to: identify the host and outside traditions and the extent to which borrowing takes place from these traditions; determine the elements that have been absorbed from Confucianism and Buddhism: look at possible reasons for selection; and explore the strategies and narratives the Leyu Tang Yulu text adopts to unify these elements and justify this process.

From an analysis of the text I discovered that the elements incorporated from all three traditions largely consist of a few elements:

  • The ontological fabric of the Dao (dao 道) of the Laozi as the fundamental basis of reality.
  • The concept of the dual cultivation of vital force and inner nature (xingming shuangxiu 性命雙修) from Daoist internal alchemy. Focusing predominantly on the cultivation of essence (jing 精), breath (qi 氣) and spirit (shen 神) as the corporeal and incorporeal aspects of a human being, not sexual practices.
  • The one opening of the mysterious pass (xuanguan yiqiao 玄關一竅), which expands on earlier internal alchemy literature.
  • The Confucian concept of remaining in society (rushi 入世).
  • The flood-like qi of Mencius and the ethical dimensions of qi cultivation in internal alchemy.
  • Buddhist śamatha and vipaśyanā practices that become reinterpreted.
  • Chan Buddhist practices and the doctrine of Buddha-nature (foxing 佛性).

I contextualized this process of selection against the political, cultural and religious backdrop of Sichuan province, China during the late Qing period to ascertain possible influences that shaped the work. It was also interesting to compare some of the syncretic strategies adopted in the text with those of Huang’s contemporaries, be them either Daoist or Confucian. Such an analysis not only shed light on the development of internal alchemy itself, but also provided insights into the development of syncretic narratives within the Daoist tradition.

To advance on the present study it would be useful to locate Huang among his contemporaries, touched on by Elena Valussi and Volker Olles and to examine the idiosyncrasies and shared similarities of each of their syncretistic systems. More work also needs to be done to locate Huang and his community within the geographical and religious networks of Sichuan province to look at possible exchanges of doctrine and practice. Especially alchemists like Li Xiyue 李西月 and the Buddhist communities of Sichuan during this period.

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