Highest Clarity Tradition (Shangqing)
The development of the Highest Clarity sect was largely a fruit of the efforts of Tao Hongjing, a famous Daoist. Although the Highest Clarity sect´s basic framework, as well as some of its scriptures, had previously existed, the sect had not been very influential prior to Tao Hongjing. It was Tao Hongjing who systematized the history of the sect´s origin and development. He summarized and developed the scriptures of the Highest Clarity tradition passed on him. On that basis, he declared the foundation of the the Highest Clarity sect.
Tao Hongjing also raised Daoist religious theories to a higher level. Born in a gentleman´s family with a good cultural tradition, he was fascinated with Daoist books such as the Biographies of the Immortals. Because his career prospects were not very promising, he went to Mt. Mao to practise Daoism at the age of 36. He was interested in writing. His wide-ranging knowledge included Yin-Yang, the Five Agents, calculation, astrology, geography, and traditional medicine. As a scholar with various talents, he made several contributions to traditional pharmacology. He wrote many books including the Declarations of the Perfected, The Secret of Attainment to Immortality, the Illustrated Ranking of the Immortals, the Commentary to Shen Nong´s Materia Medica, and Methods for the Concoction of Elixirs.
Though a hermit, Tao Hongjing remained interested in politics. Different from ealier Daoists, he intended to help the rulers stabilize their thrones. His Illustrated Ranking of the Immortals, in which all Immortals were classified by different ranks, legitimized feudalism in the secular society.
The Highest Clarity sect, which came into being through Tao Hongjing´s personal activities, never engaged itself in large-scale collective religious activities. Instead, it focused on exclusively personal practices. Consequently, most of its followers were intellectuals. Though absorbing other methods of practise, the Highest Clarity sect began to form its own characteristics. It stressed that attainment of longevity depended on spiritual cultivation, and integrated Buddhist theories on spiritual cultivation into Daoism. The Highest Clarity sect thus attached great importance to spiritual cultivation, which, in addition to Breathing Arts, was regarded as the most highly valued method for attaining longevity.
Just as the Numinous Treasure sect had integrated elements of Buddhism, the Highest Clarity sect went even further in this direction. In fact, it was also characterized by its teaching of the Harmony of the Three Doctrines, as well as its inclination to improve itself by absorbing Buddhist theories. As a result, in terms of religious teachings, the Highest Clarity sect was more systematic and logical than the Numinous Treasure sect.