The Lingbao tradition 靈寳派 "School of the Numinous Treasure" is one of the oldest Daoist schools. It was based on a corpus of writings first compiled by the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) Daoist master Ge Chaofu 葛巢甫, the so-called Lingbaojing 靈寳經 "Classic(s) of the Numinous Treasure". Ge Chaofu was a grandson of the famous Daoist master Ge Hong 葛洪. There had existed some Lingbao scriptures before him, like the Lingbao wufu 靈寳五符 "Five Talismans of the Numinous Treasure" mentioned in the book Yuejueshu 越絕書. This collection of talismans is said to have been presented to Emperor Yu the Great 大禹 by an immortal. He hid these writings in a cave of Mt. Dongting 洞庭山. Much later, a certain Longwei zhangren 龍威丈人 presented these writings to King Helü of Wu 吳王闔閭. Nobody knew what kind of books these were, and only Confucius 孔子 was able to answer this question. Ge Hong presents a similar story in his book Baopuzi 抱朴子, where it is said the the Lingbaojing contained three chapters on magical arts, namely Zhengjijing 正機經, Pinghengjing 平衡經 and Feigui shouzhi 飛龜授袟 (also called Feigui zhenjing 飛龜振經). Ge Hong's teacher Zheng Yin 鄭隱 was already in possession of those writings. The book Taishang lingbao wufu xu 太上靈寳五符序 in the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏 narrates a simliar story. Liu Shipei's 劉師培 remarks to the Daoist Canon (Du Daozang ji 續道藏記) say that the text of the essay Xiaodaolun 笑道論 of the Northern Zhou period 北周 (557-581) scholar Zheng Luan 甄鸞, as well as in the encyclopedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽, these statements are identically reported, which proves that the version of the Lingbao wufu in the Daoist Canon can be said to be an original, unaltered text. The term xu 序 "preface" is somewhat misleading because the book contains all three chapters.

The paragraph Wudi guanjiang hao 五帝官將號 elucidates the names of the mythical Five Emperors 五帝, their oficials and generals, and the corresponding colours. The paragraph Taiqing wushi fa 太清五始法 speaks of the Five Storehouses (wuzang 五藏), the Five Constancies (wuchang> 五常) and their relation to the Five Processes (wuxing 五行), which proves that the Lingbaojing was a writing compiled at the end of the Later Han period, when correlative thingking was à la mode. The text was for a long time kept secret and only became more widespread after Yang Xi 楊羲 and Xu Mi 許謐 had compiled the corpus of the Shangqing School 上清派, the Shangqingjing 上清經. Ge Chaofu thereupon started expanding the old Lingbao texts. Daoist studying these writings were accordingly called adherents of the Lingbao School 靈寳派.

The Lingbaojing was handed down to Ge Chaofu's disciples Ren Yanqing 任延慶 and Xu Lingqi 徐灵期, which must have happened during the Long’an era 隆安 (397-401) of Emperor An 晉安帝 (r. 396-418) of the Jin dynasty. The Lingbao writings soon became very popular. According to the Japanese scholar Kobayashi Masayoshi 小林正美, Ge Chaofu's own compilations were the Lingbao chishu wupian zhenwen 靈寳赤書五篇真文 and Lingbao chishu yujue miaojing 靈寳赤書玉訣妙經. The story of the transmission of the Lingbao writings says they were handed down from the deity Yuanshi tianzun 元始天尊 down to Ge Xuan 葛玄 and his descendants. The Daoist encyclopedia Yunji qiqian 雲笈七籤 tells the story that the Yellow Emperor 黃帝 instructed the Tianzhen huangren 天真皇人 on Mt. Emei 峨眉山, and the latter Emperor Di Ku 帝嚳 on the Mude Terrace 牧德之臺, Yu the Great was instructed on Mt. Zhongshan 鍾山, and King Helü on Mt. Gouqu 句曲. The Lingbao lüeji 靈寳略紀 says that reading劫 the scriputre one million times will open Heaven, and pronouncing the "Red Bright" (chiming 赤明) will evoke the apperance of the Great Saint 大聖 on earth. This is the Yuanshi tianzun who will teach the Lingbao, and his instructions will be very clear. And the Taishang dadao jun 太上大道君 will appear, the Yuanshi tianzun will descend from Heaven and will teach the law of the Great Vehicle (dasheng 大乘) of the Lingbao. It is also said that King Helü was not able to perceive the meaning oft he scripture, so that the book flow away, and only when his son Fucha 夫差 climbed Mt. Laoshan 嶗山, he was able to recover it.

During the reign of Sun Quan 孫權 (r. 222-252), Emperor of Wu 吳 (222-280), Ge Xuan climbed Mt. Tiantai 天臺山, where he was visited by three deities instructing him. He is said to have obtain a 23 juan "scrolls" long book, was well as 10 juan volumes including the books Yubing 語禀 and Qingwen 請問. Ge Xuan explained these writings to Zheng Siyuan 鄭思远 and to his own brother, the grand-father of Ge Hong, and so the book was transmitted to Ge Chaofu.

Lu Xiujing's 陸修靜 Lingbaojing muxu 靈寳經目序 and the Daojiao yishu 道教義樞 report similar stories of transmission from the Yuanshi tianzun to the Taishang dadao jun, the Santian zhenhuang 三天真皇, Emperor Di Ku, Yu the Great and King Helü. The Baopuzi and Ge Xuan's biographiy in the Shenxianzhuan 神仙傳 only mention the books Taiqing danjing 太清丹經 and Sanhuangwen 三皇文. Tan Sixian's 譚嗣先 Taiji Ge Xiangong zhuan 太极葛仙公傳 from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) also does only mention the text of Tao Hongjing's 陶弘景 text on tomb stele, the Wu Taiji zuo xian tong Ge gong zhi bei 吳太極左仙公葛公之碑.

The historical facts were probably that Ge Xuan was in possession of a Lingbaojing text that was later expanded by Ge Chaofu and his disciples. The highest deitiy of Lingbao Daoism is the Yuanshi tianzun, and the oldest patriarch is Ge Xuan. Texts like Dongxuan lingbao benxing suyuan jing 洞玄靈寳本行宿緣經 (old name Taiji zuoxiangong qingwen 太極左仙公請問經) or Dongxuan lingbao benxing yinxuan jing 洞玄靈寳本行因緣經 (old name Xianren qingwen zhongsheng nanjing 仙人請問衆聖難經), corresponding to the Yubing and Qingwen of the Lingbao lüeji, were later additions.

The most important early Lingbao scriptures are the Lingbao wufu xu (jing) 靈寳五符序(經), the Lingbao chishu wupian zhenwen 靈寳赤書五篇真文 and the Lingbao wuliang duren shangpin miaojing 靈寳無量度人上品妙經 (shortly called Durenjing 度人經). The Durenjing is very important and constitutes a kind of moral center of the Lingbao philosophy that adhorts all adherents to become morally better persons. It is the first of the Lingbao writings in the Daoist Canon and has often been commented. The greatest difference to other Daoist writings, especially those of the contemporarian Shangqing school is that while the latter stressed the individual cultivation (xiulian 修煉) to become an immortal, the Durenjing rather stresses the social context of an individual person. Each adherent of Lingbao Daoism had to act as a bridge-builder for th others and so resembles the Buddhist Bodhisattva who first supports others before entering Nirvana. While the other Daoist Masters were only able to become "terrestrial immortals" (dixian 地仙), the Lingbao master, who possessed the clemency to support others (nian du ren 念度人), was able to become a celestial immortal (tianshen 天仙. One of the original ZIEL of Lingbao belief was to prolong one's life and become an immortal. Yet during the Southern dynasties period the Lingbao religion was deeply influenced by the Buddhist belief in the retribution of sins and virtues (baoying 報應). The theory of immortality was therefore adapted to the postulation that evildoing and good deeds would be inherited to future generations. Someone attempting to become an immortal would therefore to free himself from his body by recognizing that the physical body is vain (kong 空) and meaningless. All aspirations were to be directed towards the inherent Way (dao) instead of the outer shape of things, and only when the body (niwan 泥丸 "pill of mud") was forgotten (wang shen 忘身) and left behind, the basic nature of the Dao, namely, kindheartedness to others, was found (wei dao shi ai 唯道是愛), and immortality could be attained. This method was quite the contrary to that of earlier Daoist schools who laid stress on the physical body, its nourishment and the prolongation of life. Immortality so was newly defined as the state in which the mind was no longer longing for the physical continuation of the body. The accumulation of positive merits by benevolent doings (dexing 德行) would furthermore lead to immortality after death or in a future incarnation. For a Daoist adept it was therefore virtually imbossible to attain immortality in the present life, but he had to undergo a moral purification for several incarnations (lunhui 轮回) before he was able to annihilate a further transgression (miedu 灭度) to a new life. As an immortal, one could ascend to Heaven (tiantang 天堂) as a deity and was able to trespass the limits of time and space.

Talismans (fulu 符箓) and incantations (zhushu 咒术) were, as a remnant of the Celestial Masters School 天師道, nevertheless also used to call spirits and dispell demons, to prevent disaster and to heal from illness. Communication with the gods was also possible by the help of talismans and supported supplicants in being registered in the ledgers of immortals (xianji 仙籍). Rituals and liturgies (zhaijiao keyi 齋醮科儀) were an important means of accumulating virtue and could be seen as the fundament in the search for the Dao. The Lingbao School made use of traditional methods too, in order to purify the body from accumulated evils from the past, like visualization of spirit (cunshen 存神), ingestion of breath (fuqi 服氣), chattering with the teeth (kouchi 叩齒) or swallowing saliva (yanjin 咽津).

Ge Chaofu transmitted his Lingbao instructions to Ren Yanqing and Xu Lingqi who founded their own schools. The identity of Ren Yanqing is not clear, but there is some information to be found about Xu Lingqi who became an immortal, i.e. died in 473 or 474. More important the these two Daoist masters is Lu Xiujing (406-477) who made the Lingbao school ripe for members of the aristocracy. He is the most important person for the popularisation of the Lingbao School and is the most eminent teacher who brought the various sources of the Lingbao school into one coherent concept.

Lu Xiujing's teachings are founded in the Celestial Masters School, the Shangqing School and the proper Lingbao School. Lu Xiujing is not a direct student of any master of these schools yet he was instructed in the wide range of Daoist writings by a certain Xi Zhang 郗张 who transmitted to him the teachings of the Three Zhangs 三张 (the Heavenly Masters Zhang Ling 张陵, Zhang Heng 张衡 and Zhang Lu 张鲁) and the two Ges 二葛 (Ge Xuan 葛玄 and Ge Hong 葛洪).

Firstly, Lu Xiujing screened all Lingbao writings and rearranged them in the shape of a canon. This was done because a lot of people had confused Ge Chaofu's teachings of the Lingbao canon with that of the Shangqing canon. Some Daoist masters had therefore produced Lingbao writings by simply altering, rearranging or abbreviating Shangqing scriptures or by assembling various scattered informations from different writings, or by composing commentaries or talismans for Shangqing writings. Lu Xiujing carefully sorted out false writings or useless duplicates from the 55 juan long Lingbao Canon and compiled an index to his orthodox version of 35 juan that he presented to Emperor Wen of the Song dynasty in 437. Unfortunately it is not possible to reconstruct which transmitted writings belonged to this orthodox Lingbao Canon.

Lu Xiujing also commented some of the Lingbao writings, like the Zhenwen chishu 真文赤書 or Renniao wufu 人鳥五符. The first is quite probably a writing by Ge Chaofu and is also known with the names of Wupian zhenwen 五篇真文 or Yuanshi wulao chishu yujue 元始五老赤書玉訣. The latter is today known with the name of Taishang lingbao wufu jing 太上靈寳五符經 (short Wufujing 五符經), but the original Lingbao text seems to have been lost.

Lu Xiujing also systematically brought into a canonical form the rituals and liturgies of the Lingbao school. There had been some fasting rituals already during the time of the Three Masters Zhang and the Five Pecks of Grain school, like the mud-and-soot retreat (tuhuizhai 涂炭齋) or the retreat for mandating the teachings (zhijiaozhai 旨教齋). Kou Qianzhi 寇謙之 and Ge Chaofu were the first to reform the protean rituals of the Celestial Masters School and shaped the rituals of the Lingbao school. Any respective writings from their hand have not survived, but it seems that the rituals were still quite simple. Lu Xiujing standardized and expanded these rituals 齋儀 to a higher and more sophisticated form. According to his book Dongxuan lingbao wugan wen 洞玄靈寳五感文 he extended the ritual context so far that the fasting rituals could be used by the Heavenly Masters school, the Shangqing and the Lingbao schools as the nine observations and twelve rules (jiu zhai shi fa 九齋十二法). The last two originated in the Shangqing service, the former from the Lingbao service. The nine observations were 金箓斋、黄箓斋、明真斋、三元斋、八节斋、自然斋、三皇斋、太一斋、指教斋. The huituzhai from the Dongshen service 洞神斋 was also incorporated into the zhaiyi oft he Lingbao school. According to the book Maoshanzhi 茅山志, Lu Xiujing assembled more than 100 juan of zhaiyi, among them older chants like Shengxuan buxu zhang 升玄步虚章, Lingbao buxu ci 灵宝步虚词, or Buxu dong zhang 步虚洞章. It can be said that Lu Xiujing assembled all existing Daoist rituals of his time. His collection was the fundament of later compilations, as Zhang Wanfu 张万福 or Du Guangting 杜光庭 from the Tang period 唐 (618-907). Rituals and liturgies were a very important instrument of Daoist religion and the main channel between the masters and the believers.

Although the Lingbao School had been founded by Ge Chaofu, it must be said that Lu Xiujing was the first real teacher, master and missionary of this branch of Daoism. The Daoist master Tao Hongjing reports in his book Zhengao 真诰 how adherents of Lu Xiujing assembled at the foot of Mt. Maoshan 大茅山 and erected a prayer hall, the Chongyuanguan 崇元观. Thousand of persons gathered for the rituals on the 18th day of the 3rd month and climbed the sacred mountain, chanting prayers and hymns. This had only been possible because Lu Xiujing had systematically collected and arranged the writings of the Lingbao religion that before had only consisted of a few 修灵宝斋“ and 章符. The result was that the Lingbao School with its 斋醮法事 had far more adherents than the Shangqing 上清法.

Although Lu Xiujing's merits for the development of the Lingbao school are very great, he did not transmit his teachings directly to any disciple, so that the fate of the Lingbao school after him is not very clear. There is no famous Lingbao master during the Tang period. Only at the beginning of the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), the Lingbao school appears again the in the shape of the Daoist practicioners of Mt. Gezao 阁皂山 in Qingjiang 清江, Jiangxi, a school that is also called the Gezao Church 阁皂宗.


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