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The Taoist Pantheon

  Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginnings (Detail)
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Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning (detail)
Ming dynasty, 16th century
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk
140 x 80 cm
White Cloud Monastery (Baiyun Guan), Beijing
cat. no. 65


Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning

This and the following two paintings (Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure and Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power) come not from a museum or private collection, but rather from an active Taoist temple: the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing, head temple of the Complete Realization sect. Although this painting comes from a different original set than the other two, it would have originally been part of a triptych depicting the Three Purities, the highest gods of religious Taoism.

This is the central deity of the Three Purities, the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning. As his name implies, he is believed to have spontaneously formed from pure energy at the beginning of the world. According to legend, he observed the shifting patterns of energy and created the first writing system from them by casting the patterns in gold onto jade tablets. Consequently, he is seen as both the source of all learning and the first author of Taoist scriptures. The first and loftiest section of the Taoist Canon is dedicated to him. Here, he is shown seated on an elaborate throne that hovers in the cloudlike energy of his celestial realm. He is dressed in the manner of a Taoist priest, with his hands in a magical gesture that imitates a Buddhist mudra. His spiritual energy radiates outward in a mandorla of swirling colors.

The Three Purities are still worshiped in China today; the most important hall in the White Cloud Monastery is devoted to them.




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