The Quanzhen – “Complete Reality” or “Complete Perfection” – lineage of Taoism was founded by Wang Che, who later adopted the spiritual name of Wang Chung-yang. The Complete Reality school is today the principle monastic form of Taoist practice, and the most highly-organized and officially-sanctioned lineage of mainland China.
The origins of the Quanzhen lineage can be traced to the Five Dynasties & Ten Kingdoms Period (906-960 CE) of Chinese history. The political chaos of this period produced a group of Confucian-scholars-become-Taoist-hermits: government officials trained in Confucian ethics, who renounced their ties to the government, in favor of a life of relative seclusion – cultivating their minds and bodies with a combination of Taoist and Chan Buddhist techniques. This set the stage for the Buddhist- and Confucian-influenced form of practice that would come to be known as the Complete Reality lineage of Taoism.
It was in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) that the Confucian-trained layman Wang Che gave up his government post, and entered a path of Taoist training under the guidance of Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan. Subsequently, as the Taoist adept now known as Wang Chung-yang, he founded the Complete Reality lineage. In this form of practice, Taoist techniques for cultivating health, longevity and inner quietude were integrated with the ethics of Confucianism, and a Chan Buddhist understanding of original mind and emptiness (the Heart Sutra was incorporated into the lineage’s scriptural canon). This fusion, according to Wang Chung-yang, laid a foundation for a complete understanding of reality – hence the name Quanzhen: “Complete Reality” or “Complete Perfection.”
The principle characteristics of the Quanzhen lineage are (1) its emphasis on the dual cultivation of body & mind, and (2) its reliance upon Inner Alchemy practice. The haiku-version of the philosophical/cosmological view of the Complete Reality school is as follows:
The underlying reality of all of existence is Tao. Longevity is accomplished as we learn to merge with this reality, and be nourished by its energy. Inner Alchemy practices are used to support this process. A complete merging with the Tao, and the capacity to clearly express its energy, is called Immortality – a state experienced by what Chan Buddhism calls “original mind,” which is the equivalent to Taoism’s yuan-shen (original spirit or immortal fetus).
Since its inception, the Quanzhen lineage has split into a Northern Branch and a Southern Branch. The Southern Branch was led by Inner Alchemy adept Chang Po-Tuan – whose Understanding Reality has been one of the most influential of Inner Alchemy texts. The Southern Branch of the Complete Perfection lineage favors the cultivation of the body before the mind; and includes sexual practices as means for replenishing energy, at certain stages in the process.
The Northern Branch of the Complete Perfection lineage was led by Chiu Chang-chun, who was Wang Chung-yang’s principle student. The Northern Branch favors the cultivation of the mind before the body; and does not use sexual techniques for gathering energy. It is this Northern Branch of the Complete Reality school that has become the highly-organized and state-sanctioned religion that exists on mainland China (and elsewhere) today. Their main seat is the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing.