Dao Fu (II)
August 8, 2008
The Rise of the Dao Fu or Daoist Talismans
From the study of ancient documents, we can see the worship of the Fu can be classified into 3 main periods, with the turning point taking place during the middle of the Western Han period.
The first period was very long, from the Yellow Emperor’s time to Western Han. In this period, the Fu was one of many sacred objects for worship and it was not suppose to have been done by human hands. After Western Han, and for a much shorter period from Western Han to Eastern Han, the Fu became a symbol of Heaven’s Mandate, and since then, thousands of different types of Fu made their appearance and this was connected to the rise of Daoism as a religion.
Daoism did not become a religion until Eastern Han, the founders of Daoist religion, because of the rising statues of the Fu, took on the writing of the Fu as a sacred act and a privilege reserved for the priesthood. With the spread of the Daoist religion, the Dao Fu also became very popular amongst the ancient Chinese, especially the Daoist followers.
In the beginning, there were at least 6 types of layout in the writing of the Dao Fu, but gradually over time, it became standardized into the long vertical form we saw since the Tang to the late Qing period and also into our modern time. With its popularity and religious overtone, the writing of the Dao Fu also expanded into a ritual combined with sacred chanting, sacred walking and sacred hand signs. When the wood block printing was invented, the Dao Fu can be distributed widely and cheaply amongst its believers.
Also the practice spread into China’s neighbouring countries like Japan and Korea and this became the third main stage of the development of the Fu.
According to its believers, the Dao Fu can be used to call on the Ghosts and Spirits for protection by getting rid of evil spirits, for healing and for fulfilling all sorts of personal wishes like getting a son, seeking love, becoming attractive, and keeping one’s husband faithful, etc. It can be stick onto a surface, burnt, swollen, carry in one’s pocket, put under a pillow, and even into a pair of shoes.
By studying the development of the Dao Fu over time – from a device to communicate and to seek inspiration from the unknown, to a device for selfish gains, one can see how a sacred act can become corrupted over time because of human greed. Like Feng Shui and other forms of Chinese Metaphysics, there is a need to study and research into these various kinds of Chinese cultural phenomenon, so we can benefit from their correct principles and practices and hopefully, to arrest their further decline.
In hindsight, it was a good idea to teach the introduction to Daoist Talismans after two sessions of Chinese calligraphy in the Polish summer camp. The students, through doing the writing with the brush and ink, understood and experienced that the intense concentration of the body and mind onto a simple act, can lead us to a transcendental experience and the practice of Chinese calligraphy, do allow us to have a better understanding of the mystery of the Dao Fu.