The Way of Highest Clarity: Nature, Vision and Revelation in Medieval China

The Way of HIghest Clarity by James Miller

The Way of HIghest Clarity by James Miller

James Miller. The Way of Highest Clarity: Nature, Vision and Revelation in Medieval China, Magdalena, NM: Three PInes Press, 2008. US$34.95. ISBN 978-1-931483-09-4

The Way of Highest Clarity was a Daoist religious movement that flourished for a thousand years in medieval China. This book explains its chief religious ideas and practices through three key texts, translated into English for the first time.

“This is the first Western book to present the theology of the Highest Clarity (Shanqing) tradition, a Daoist lineage that originated in southern China in the fourth century c.e. and became the leading Daoist tradition in Tang times. To illustrate the fundamental tenets of Highest Clarity thought and practice, the author translates two of its earliest texts as well as Zhu Ziying’s (976-­1029) preface to its fundamental Perfect Scripture of the Great Grotto. Both the translations and the eminently concise presentation of Shangqing worldview are not only essential for the Daoist specialist but also a ‘must read’ for scholars and students of comparative religion.”

—Stephan-Peter Bumbacher, Universität Tübingen

The Esoteric Biography of Perfected Purple Yang documents the life of a Daoist saint who travels through China encountering a wealth of immortals and gods who aid him in his quest for transcendence. They transmit esoteric scriptures to him, including the Central Scripture of the Nine Perfected, also translated here. This text explains a meditation technique that involves visualizing gods descending into the organs of the body at certain times of the year. The book also translates the preface to the Perfect Scripture of the Great Grotto, a theological reflection on the practices of Highest Clarity, which connects the tradition back to the fundamental principles of the Dao.

Together with the introductory essays on the concepts of nature, vision and revelation, the book provides an overview of a unique and fascinating religious imagination, which will be of interest to anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of China’s cultural heritage.:

Table of Contents

1. The Way of Highest Clarity
2. Nature
3. Vision
4. Revelation
5.The Esoteric Biography of Perfected Purple Yang
6. The Central Scripture of the Nine Perfected
7. Preface to the Perfect Scripture of the Great Grotto

Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies

Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies edited by James Miller

Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies edited by James Miller

James Miller, ed. Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO Press, 2006Print US$85.00 1851096264; eBook US$90.00 1851096310

Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies is a comprehensive introduction to the resurgence of religion in China and Taiwan since the end of the Cultural Revolution and a wide-ranging examination of the impact of religious traditions on Euro-Americans and Chinese immigrants in present-day North America.

“Chinese Religions In Contemporary Societies by James Miller … has brought together in a single work an in-depth survey of the forces that have shaped Chinese religious practices, along with the prevalence, adaptations, and transformations of these practices in North American communities from Confucianism to Falun Gong. Also covered are such practices as self-mortification, exorcism, spirit-writing, healing, counseling, changing fate, and self-cultivation. A core addition to academic library History of Religion reference collections, Chinese Religions In Contemporary Societies also traces the adoption of Chinese religious practices by Euro-Americans and is an invaluable resource for students of Chinese history and comparative religions, as well as non-specialist general readers with an interest in contemporary Chinese culture and social issues.”–Midwest Book Review

Table of Contents

James MILLER Introduction
James MILLER 1. The historical legacy of Chinas religious traditions
James MILLER 2. The opium of the people: religion, science and modernity
TAM Wai Lun 3. Local religion in contemporary China
Ven. Jing Yin 4. Buddhism and economic reform in mainland China
KIM Sung-Hae 5. Daoist monasticism in contemporary China
Alison MARSHALL 6. Shamanism on contemporary Taiwan
David PALMER 7. Body cultivation in contemporary China
Francis YIP 8. Protestant Christianity in contemporary China
Terry WOO 9. Women in contemporary Chinese religions
Jonathan LEE 10. Contemporary Chinese-American religious life
Elijah SIEGLER 11. Chinese traditions in Euro-American society
HE Xiang and James MILLER 12. Confucian spirituality in an ecological age
About the authors



Daoism: A Beginner’s Guide

Daoism: A Beginner's Guide by James Miller

Daoism: A Beginner’s Guide by James Miller

Daoism: A Beginner’s Guide (Oxford: Oneworld Publications 2008). 192pp. ISBN-13: 978-1851685660. US$14.95

This is a republication of my earlier book, Daoism A Short Introduction(Oxford: Oneworld Publications 2003). Pp. xviii+174. ISBN 1-85168-315-1, US$17.95

Italian translation by M. Ghilardi. Daoismo: una introduzione. (Roma: Fazi editore 2005). xiv+234. ISBN 8-88112-604-4. €13

Farsi translation مقدمه ای کوتاه بر آیین دائو  (Adyan Publications, 2016).

From the Preface

Daoism is an organised religious tradition that has been continuously developing and transforming itself through China Korea and Japan for over two thousand years. Now it has spread around the globe from Sidney to Toronto and includes among its followers people from a whole range of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Day by day, Daoism is truly becoming a world religion, but as it does so, it seems to resist being pinned down in neat categories. Not many people know what Daoism is, and when people do have an understanding of it, often it is quite different from someone else’s. One reason for this is that the history of Daoism is a marvellous history of continuous change rather than a linear progress or development. Daoism has no single founder, such as Jesus or the Buddha, nor does it have a single key message, such as the gospel or the four noble truths. Rather Daoism bears witness to a history of continuous self-invention within a vast diversity of environmental contexts.

In fact the human experience of change or transformation in our bodies and in the world around us lies at the heart of the Daoist experience in much the same way that faith in an eternal, unchanging deity lies at the heart of the Jewish-Christian-Islamic religious system. Whereas Western religionists seek to place their trust in an unchanging and invisible stability that somehow transcends the fleeting experience of time, Daoists recognize and celebrate the profound and mysterious creativity within the very fabric of time and space itself.

The most influential Daoist text, Daode jing (Scripture of the Way and its Power, c. 4th century B.C.E.) names this mysterious creativity “Dao”, which can be translated quite straightforwardly as “way” or “path.” The first line of the standard version of the text enigmatically warns, however, that “Dao can be spoken of, [but it is] not the constant Dao.” No wonder, then, that Daoism has taken a vast array of forms within the East Asian cultural context. This book is a short introduction to Daoism that takes seriously the task of naming the Dao, all the while acknowledging the constant change that continues to take place within Daoism. The way I have chosen to do this is to settle on eight keywords or fundamental themes that I believe lie at the heart of Daoism in its various cultural and historical forms. In each chapter I focus on one of these themes using it as a lens or a spotlight to illuminate a key aspect of the Daoist tradition.

daoismo una introduzioneTable of Contents

  • Historical Introduction
    Proto Daoism
    Classical Daoism
    Contemporary Daoism
  1. Identity
    Daoism as Chinese religion
    Daoism as lineages of transmission
    Daoism as universal path
  2. Way
  3. Body
    Qi: The breath of life
    Correlation, synchronicity and resonance
    Longevity practices
    Transcendent bodies
  4. Power
    Daoism millenarianism
    Daoist messianism
    Daoism in contemporary China
    Negotiating with destiny
  5. Light
    The development of Shangqing Daoism
    Light practices
    Contemporary visualization practices
  6. Alchemy
    Alchemy and the quest for immortality
    Laboratory alchemy
    Internal alchemy
    The Way of Complete Perfection
  7. Text
    The religious origins and functions of Daoist texts
    Transformations of meaning in Daoist texts
  8. Nature
    Natural space as sacred space
    Marvellous nature
    Caverns and texts
    A Daoist aesthetic of spontaneity
  • Glossary of Chinese Terms
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Daoism: A Short IntroductionReviews of Daoism: A Short Introduction

“The author is consistently thoughtful about how to reach undergraduates: “To understand what Daoism means, then, it is instructive to pay attention to our own cultural milieu, the values and concepts that we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. But on the other hand we must also look for the ways in which the various Daoist traditions operate quite differently than the cultures we are familiar with” (x-xi). This approach is likely to encourage vigorous class discussion.

The book is not at all professorial in tone, and is knowledgeable about Daoism today in the Occident (with interest- ing examples from Canada). Its organization is thematic, and, I believe, serviceable. Its chapters on identity, Way, body, power (political connections of Daoist movements), light (its centrality in meditative Daoism), alchemy, text (scriptures and revelations), and nature (the role of the envi- ronment) are an excellent choice, likely to engage the inter- ests of most readers. One may read them in any order. I found the book intriguing and open-minded, generous with fresh insights.” Nathan Sivin, University of Pennsylvania, Religious Studies Review 2010, vol. 36 (1) pp. 31-50.

“As the preface explains, the book is intended largely for college students, and Miller’s presentation is clearly shaped by the author’s classroom experience regarding questions and concerns raised by students encountering Daoism for the first time. For example, Miller observes that “Daoists construct their ways of being religious in quite different ways than we might expect” (x). The work is filled with useful heuristic generalizations regarding such differences, such as the following: “the human experience of change or transformation in our bodies and in the world around us lies at the heart of the Daoist experience in much the same way that faith in an eternal, unchanging deity lies at the heart of the Jewish-Christian-Islamic religious system” (ix). Teachers and students of comparative religion will thus find here an excellent starting point for looking at Daoism as today’s scholars now understand it. … [A]s a comprehensive “short introduction,” this nuanced and well-informed book succeeds extremely well.” Russell Kirkland, University of Georgia, in Daoist Studies(Internet: December 2, 2004).

“His stated goal is not only to introduce Daoism generally, but “specifically to introduce what it means to someone, like myself, who lives in the twenty-first century Western cultural context” (p. x). Indeed, one of the strengths of this work is its discussion of the interplay between the history of Daoism and contemporary Western attempts to make use of Daoist ideas and practices. … The structure of the book makes it relatively easy to use as a classroom text. It does not have to be read in a linear fashion, and so it will work well as a supplement to primary texts and lectures regardless of the order in which various themes are discussed. It will also be a good tool for leading students away from popular one-dimensional views of Daoism.” Erin Cline, Baylor University, in Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31.4 (December 2004): 547-9.

“This book has a host of strengths, not the least being its combination of brevity and thoroughness. Writing such a book is not easy and Miller has done us all a great favor. Although he eschews an historical approach to his subject, Miller’s “Historical Introduction” (just over fourteen pages) is excellent by itself and I can easily see instructors using it when covering Daoism in “world religions” surveys…. Overall Miller’s Daoism: A Short Introduction is excellent and I am eager to try it out. Reading it has also stimulated new ideas for my own scholarly explorations – something I did not expect from an introductory text.” John M. Thompson, Christopher Newport University, inTeaching Theology and Religion 8.2: 123-4.

Daoism: A Beginner’s Guide (Oxford: Oneworld Publications 2008). 192pp. ISBN-13: 978-1851685660. US$14.95

Daoism and Ecology

Daoism and Ecology edited by N. J. Girardot, James Miller and Liu Xiaogan

Daoism and Ecology edited by N. J. Girardot, James Miller and Liu Xiaogan

Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape edited by N. J. Girardot, James Miller and Liu Xiaogan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 2001. Pp. lxxiii+476

Cloth edition: US$36.95 / £24.50 / €36.95 ISBN 0-945454-29-5
Paper edition: US$24.95 / £16.50 / €24.95 ISBN 0-945454-30-9

Chinese translation Daojiao yu shengtai. Nanjing, China: Jiangsu jiaoyu chubanshe 2008.

  • Introduction
  • Table of Contents
  • Reviews

N.B. Also check out my new book, China’s Green Religion: Daoism and the Quest for a Sustainable Future.

From the Introduction

Daoism and ecology are often invoked as natural partners in contemporary discussions of environmental issues in the West. When looking to the religious and intellectual resources provided by various “world religions,” it has therefore been a commonplace assumption that the Chinese tradition conventionally known as “Daoism/Taoism” reveals an obvious and particularly compelling affinity with global ecological concerns. For most Western commentators until recently, Daoism primarily referred to the “mystical wisdom” found in several ancient “classical” texts (especially the Daode jing and Zhuangzi) and was seen to be fundamentally in tune with heightened contemporary fears about the increasingly fractured relations between humanity and the natural world. Popular testimony would even whimsically suggest that Pooh Bear and Piglet affirmed the profound ecological sensibility of the ancient Chinese Daoists.

Unfortunately there has been very little serious discussion of this beguiling equation of Daoism and ecology. Too much has been simply, and sometimes fantastically, taken for granted about what is finally quite elusive and problematic—both concerning the wonderfully ‘mysterious’ tradition known as Daoism and, in this case, the ‘natural’ confluence of Daoism and contemporary ecological concerns. Among the shelves of Western books and articles written in the past twenty-five years about the religious, ethical, and philosophical implications of a worldwide “environmental crisis,” there have been many passing allusions to a kind of Daoist ecological wisdom (often associated with native American and other tribal-aboriginal perspectives, as well as with Poohish themes and the free-floating and universalized “Suzuki-Zen” of an earlier generation). However, there is still no single work that is grounded in a scholarly understanding of the real complexities of the Daoist tradition and is also devoted to a critical exploration of the tradition’s potential for informing current ecological issues.

Even in works generally well informed about various religions and ecological issues, a certain kind of romantic infatuation with a “classically pure” and timelessly essential Daoism (embedded within one or two ancient texts and connected with a few key themes) has tended to shape the overall discussion of how this tradition can be “applied” to the problems of the contemporary world. The question remains whether there is anything to be learned beyond various vague appeals to Laozi’s enigmatic little treatise on the “Way and Its Ecological Power,” to Zhuangzi’s playfully insightful parables about “useless” trees and gourds, or to popular visions of a Yoda-like Chinese sage wandering amidst a mist-laden cosmic landscape of craggy mountains, swaying bamboo, and lofty waterfalls. Despite these ongoing reveries, Daoism is increasingly being recognized as an exceedingly rich religious tradition with an immense textual and historical lore that defies any attempt to reduce its meaning to a few ancient texts or Forrest Gump platitudes. It is clear that many popular assumptions about Daoism say less about the real significance of the tradition for ecological concerns than they say about the desire and dominion of Western regimes of both scholarly and popular understanding which, in the words of the Daode jing, tend to “see only that which they yearn for and seek” The difficult truth is that there is much that has not been named or known either about Daoism itself or about its possible contribution to recent environmental problems.

Daoists may not always be the first to act in times of crisis, nor are they likely to work out elaborate theories of engaged social action, but they have always known that it is imperative to take up a way of life that responds in a timely and imaginative fashion to the dangers of neglect, imbalance, distortion, and degradation that inevitably affect human relations with the natural and cosmic worlds. What is needed is a bodily and spiritual resurrection of what Tuan Yi-fu calls a “topophilia”—that is, an aesthetic respect and a practical love for one’s particular life-scape, a love that has general ecological import because of its rootedness in the specific topography of a lived body and local environment. Coming to the end of our journey within the confusing realms of Daoism and ecology is, then, only to be in a position to begin the work of knowing and healing again. In time and because of time, all things—including the natural world itself—require attentive cultivation and responsive care. This, after all, is the “natural” way of things. It is one of the ways—which might be called a “Daoist” or transformative way—to live gracefully, reciprocally, and responsibly within the cosmic landscape of life.

Table of Contents

daijiao yu shengtaiIntroduction: Daoism and Ecology. Ways Within a Cosmic Landscape, N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan

Prologue: The Calabash Scrolls, Stephen Field

Section I: Framing the Issues

  • “Daoism” and “Deep Ecology”: Fantasy and Potentiality, Jordan Paper
  • Ecological Questions for Daoist Thought: Contemporary Issues and Ancient Texts, Anne D. Birdwhistell .
  • “Nature” as Part of Human Culture in Daoism, Michael LaFargue .
  • Daoism and the Quest for Order, Terry F. Kleeman .
  • Sectional Discussion: What Can Daoism Contribute to Ecology?, James Miller .

Section II: Ecological Readings of Daoist Texts

  • Daoist Ecology: The Inner Transformation. A Study of the Precepts of the Early Daoist Ecclesia, Kristofer Schipper .
  • The Daoist Concept of Central Harmony (zhonghe) in the Scripture of Great Peace (Taiping jing): Human
  • Responsibility for the Maladies of Nature, Lai Chi-tim
  • The Concept of “Mutual Stealing Among the Three Numinous Powers” in the Scripture on Unconscious Unification (Yinfu jing), Zhang Jiyu and Li Yuanguo .
  • Ingesting the Marvelous: The Daoist’s Relationship to Nature According to Ge Hong, Robert Ford Campany
  • Sectional Discussion: What Ecological Themes are Found in Daoist Texts?, James Miller, Richard G. Wang, and Ned Davis .

Section III: Daoism and Ecology in a Cultural Context

  • The Flowering Apricot: Environmental Practice, Folk Religion, and Daoism, E. N. Anderson .
  • In Search of Dragons: The Folk Ecology of Fengshui, Stephen Field
  • On Daoist Notions of Wilderness, Thomas H. Hahn .
  • Salvation in the Garden: Daoism and Ecology, Jeffrey F. Meyer .
  • Sectional Discussion: How Successfully Can We Apply the Concepts of Ecology to Daoist Cultural Contexts?, John Patterson and James Miller .

Section IV: Toward a Daoist Environmental Philosophy

  • From Reference to Deference: Daoism and the Natural World, David L. Hall .
  • The Local and the Focal in Realizing a Daoist World Roger T. Ames .
  • “Responsible Non-Action” in a Natural World: Perspectives from the NeiyeZhuangzi, andDaode jingRussell Kirkland .
  • Another View of “Responsible Non-Action”, Lisa Raphals
  • Non-Action (Wuwei) and the Environment Today: A Conceptual and Applied Study of Laozi’s Philosophy, Liu Xiaogan .
  • Sectional Discussion: What Are the Speculative Implications of Early Daoist Texts for an Ecological Ethics? James Miller and Russell B. Goodman .

Section V: Practical Ecological Concerns in Contemporary Daoism

  • Respecting the Environment. Visualizing Highest Clarity, James Miller .
  • A Declaration of the Chinese Daoist Association on Global Ecology, Zhang Jiyu .
  • Change Starts Small: Daoist Practice and the Ecology of Individual Lives, Livia Kohn(compiler) with Liu Ming, Rene Navarro, Linda Varone, Vincent Chu, Daniel Seitz, and Weidong Lu .
  • Daoist Environmentalism in the West: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Reception and Transmission of Daoism, Jonathan R. Herman .
  • Sectional Discussion: How is Daoism a Vital Tradition for a Contemporary Ecological Consciousness?, James Miller .

Epilogue:Dao Song, Ursula K. Le Guin .

  • Bibliography on Daoism and Ecology, James MillerJorge Highland, and Liu Xiaogan with Zhong Hongzhi and Belle B.L. Tan
  • Index and Glossary of Chinese Characters


“Certainly the greatest accomplishment of this volume is that it initiates public dialogue involving writers of Daoism in at least three ways: They have had ot address the issue of any possible Daoist contribution to the question of environmental crisis and ecological responsibility, their eessays are directly accountable to scholars in the wider field of religious studies, and the juxtaposition of scholarly and popular writings has served to partly bridge the long-lasting impasse in which scholars degrade the popular writers and the popular writers ignore the scholars

Reading these essays was something like witnessing a hibernating bear awaken to a new horizon of spring; the challenges posed to scholars of Daoism to take account of wider themes and issues in the field of contemporary studies of religion will continue to be painful but in the end will open new vistas of cogent engagement with the academy at large; the standards of excellence set by this volume will be the measure ot assess all future contributions from the field of Daoist studies.”

Thomas Michael, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Closing the Gap between Daoist Studies and Religious Theory; Two Recent Publications.” The Journal of Religion 82.3 (July 2002), 424-426.

“The editors of this extraordinary collection of Daoist materials wisely chose to operate with a broad and inclusive understanding of Daoism, one that honors the philosophical, sociological, and religious distinctiveness of the various Daoist sectarian traditions. While some may feel that this approach begs the definitional problem of “Daoism,” the overwhelming advantage of this decision is to avoid the common reductionism of Daoism to the Lao-Zhuang tradition narrowly defined.

This work makes numerous contributions to our understanding of Daoist environmental philosophy, but there is also much offered to the reader in terms of methodology for studying and applying Daoism in general. The text makes a very important contribution to both the practitioner and academician. Strongly recommended for scholars of Daoism, individuals interested in religion and ecology, and general readers. All libraries should have this book.”

Ronnie Littlejohn, Belmont College. “Review of Daoism and Ecology.” Daoist Studies (Internet:, March 15, 2003.