By Volker Olles
In general, I will focus on the interaction between the Liumen 劉門 (Liu School) tradition and regional Daoist institutions and lineages (Longmen 龍門 monasteries, “householder” Daoist priests).
The evolution of modern Daoism in Sichuan cannot be comprehensively discussed without taking the Liumen tradition into account. Although being Confucian by self-definition and recently, in the course of China’s quest for the renaissance of “national learning” 國學, reinvented as philosophical school and folk culture, Liumen made ample use of Daoist ritual and self-cultivation, and its influence on modern Daoism in Sichuan was profound. Liumen has been labeled as “popular religion” and “reactionary secret society”, which served political needs in certain times.
As to Daoist ritual and self-cultivation, Liumen could be credited with a “transmission outside canonical teachings” 教外別傳. Therefore, the focus of my studies will be on the Liumen tradition and Daoist institutions of regional Longmen lineages.
There will be three key areas of research:
1.) In late Qing and Republican times, numerous temples in Sichuan were supported by the Liumen community. Many of these institutions were largely dependent on the Liumen tradition or even managed by the latter. Evidence can be found in stele inscriptions as well as accounts of “oral history” and other sources. I will focus on the Qingyang Gong 青羊宮, the most important Daoist institution in the provincial capital Chengdu, as well as the adjacent Erxian An 二仙菴, and other Daoist temples in the Sichuan region. The ‘spaces‘ of Sichuan Daoism were thus contested by various networks.
2.) Fayan tan 法言壇 is a ritual tradition of ‘householder‘ (i.e., non-monastic) Daoism, which is still active today. However, Fayan tan evolved under the auspices of the early Liumen patriarchs and functioned in “division of labor” with the Liumen community, until the latter stopped their activities after 1949. After publishing a book-length study of the Fayan tan tradition, I will conduct more fieldwork on the spread of this ritual tradition in present-day Sichuan and its different lineages to get an insight into the present state of Fayan tan and its interaction with other Daoist groups (e.g., Daoists of the Guangcheng 廣成 tradition). The Guangcheng tradition is reportedly the most wide-spread form of Daoist liturgy in today’s Sichuan, and it is performed by Longmen clerics as well as “householder” priests.
3.) Wang Fuyang 王伏陽, former abbot of the Erxian An, run a Daoist publishing house named Bidong shanfang 碧洞山房, which was very active during the Republican era. My preliminary study of the publishing activities of the Bidong shanfang will reveal Wang’s involvement in local spirit-writing networks as well as his connections with the Liumen tradition. It may also be possible to find further evidence for the involvement of Liumen and similar traditions in Daoist publishing projects in late Qing and Republican times.
In the proposed case studies, the Liumen tradition will not be researched as an isolated phenomenon, but as part of the intellectual and spiritual culture of Sichuan and against the background of its interaction with Daoism. Overlapping networks and traditions, represented by institutions and persons, informed the religious reality of modern Sichuan. Mapping these networks and traditions will contest many conclusions of traditional religious studies.