The Looks of Laozi
Posted on 25. May, 2009 by James Miller in True body
|Title||The Looks of Laozi|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||1996|
|Journal||Asian Folklore Studies|
Laozi, a key deity of the Taoist religion, represents the Tao in both of its aspects: the unborn, uncreated source of the universe and the continuously changing reality of the world. The first aspect is expressed in Laozi's true body and the second aspect in his teaching body, so that he appears physically as both universal principle and ideal human. Both appearances are described in lists of seventy-two or eighty-one divine marks that are found in medieval Taoist texts. The physical characteristics of Laozi go back to three sources: traditional Chinese physiognomy, which discerns a person's character and fate on the basis of his or her looks; the Taoist doctrine of "immortals' bones," which says that all potential attainers of heavenly states have to be registered in Heaven and will show celestial marks on their bodies; and the list of thirty-two marks and eighty secondary signs that indicate the exceptional nature of the Buddha. Integrating these various background traditions into a unique mythical vision of their own, Taoists create a powerful vision of the central deity of their universe.