An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Bojia dao 帛家道, the Way of the Bo Lineage

Jun 18, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Bojiadao 帛家道 "Way of the Bo lineage" one of the oldest Daoist schools and traditions. Its origins are traced back to the patriarch (zushi 祖師) Bo He 帛和 (also written Bai He 白和), who lived during the late 3rd century in the northeastern region of Liaodong 遼東 (today Liaoning).

Bo He, courtesy name Zhongli 仲理, is said to have been taught the way of circulating the breath (xingqi 行氣) and living on a special diet (fushu 服術) by Master Dong Feng 董奉 (200 or 220-280). Later on he served Wang Fangping 王方平 at Mt. Xicheng 西城山 before he founded his own clause in a stone cave in the mountains, where he stared at a wall for three years. In this place he discovered three old stone cliff inscriptions representing prescriptions for immortality.

The names of these inscriptions were Taiqing zhongjing shendan fang 太清中經神丹方 "Method of the sacred pill of the middle classic of great purity", Sanhuang tianwen dazi 三皇天文大字 "Great celestial inscription of the Three Emperors" and Wuyue zhenxing tu 五嶽真形圖 "Chart of the perfect shape of the Five Peaks". In the end Bo He lived on Mt. Linlü 林慮山 (or Longlü 隆慮山), where he became an immortal living on earth (dixian 地仙). Thus is his biography according to the book Shenxianzhuan 神仙傳.

The Shuijingzhu 水經注 quotes from the inscription of his tomb stone which states that he came from Sichuan.

During the Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316), numerous Daoists in the Yellow River plain used his name to preach the belief in Daoist teachings. The main content of their beliefs were the three inscriptions that Bo He had discovered in the mountains.

The book Taipingjing 太平經 says that Bo He had been instructed by Yu Ji 于吉, a disciple of Laozi 老子. The Shangqing tradition 上清派 provides far more abstract statements about the transmission of Bo He's teachings. Such mythological narratives hold that the religious instructions originated in an immortal called Jinjue housheng dijun 金闕後聖帝君 "Divine Lord, later Saint, of the Golden Gate", to Qingtongjun 青童君 "Lord Green Lad", Xicheng wangjun 西城王君 "Royal Lord of the Western City", and finally to Bo He and Yu Ji.

The gods in Bo He's religion were "common deities" (shushing 俗神) and not the higher beings as known in other Daoist traditions. The believers sacrificed living beings and blood to the deities (sha sheng xue shi 煞生血食) and used the methods of outer alchemy and diet to obtain a longer life.

When the Jin dynasty fled to the south, a lot of believers likewise moved to the southeast and brought with them Bo He's teachings into the lower Yangtze area. Not many persons from the higher level of society believed in the teachings of Bo He because they were rated as very primitive and not appealing to the intellectuals.

Some adherents like Xu Ying 許映 (Xu Mai 許邁, 300-349) and Xu Zhi 許治, but also some friends of the famous Daoist master Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456-536), like Zhou Ziliang 周子良, later became followers of the more intellectual Shangqing tradition. Believers in Bo He's school also had intensive contacts to supporters of the Celestial Masters school (Tianshidao 天師道). Even Ge Hong 葛洪 (283-343), the famous Daoist master, had been instructed by Zheng Yin 鄭隱 (d. 302) and Bao Jing 鮑靚 who both were educated in Bo He's tradition.

At the end of the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420), the Bo He tradition disappeared, and adherents became followers of the Shangqing tradition or the Celestial Masters Tradition. This is the main reason why not much is known about the contents of Bo He's teachings.

Qing Xitai 卿希泰, ed. (1994). Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教 (Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe), Vol. 1, 95-96.