The Three Purities of Taoism

Introduction to the Jade, Supreme and Grand "Pure Ones"

Green Pine Taoist Temple
Green Pine Taoist Temple (青松觀) in Deagon, Brisbane, Australia. It is a temple belonging to the Evergreen Taoist Church. Inner altar showing the Three Pure Ones and Doumu (little statue in front of the central deity), as well as other deities. By bertknot @ Flickr [ CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Three Purities, or the Three Pure Ones, are the highest deities in the Taoist pantheon. They function, for Taoism, in a similar way to the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) of Christianity, or the Trikaya (Dharmakaya, Samboghakaya, and Nirmanakaya) of Buddhism. They represent three aspects of the divinity inherent in all living beings.

The Jade Pure One

The first of the Three Purities is the Jade Pure One (Yuqing), also known as "The Universally Honored One of Origin", or "The Celestial Worthy of the Primordial Beginning" (Yuanshi Tianzun).

The Jade Pure one, who is the central deity of the Three Purities, is said to have spontaneously manifested at the beginning of time. This Pure One created the first writing system by observing the various flows of universal life-force energy, and recording these patterns of sound, movement, and vibration on jade tablets. For this reason, the Jade Pure One is honored as the source of learning and the primordial author of the first of the Taoist scriptures.

The Supreme Pure One

The second of the Three Purities is the Supreme Pure One (Shangqing), also known as "The Universally Honoured One of Divinities and Treasures", or "The Celestial Worthy of the Numinous Treasure" (Lingbao Tianzun).

The Supreme Pure One is the attendant of the Jade Pure One and is given the task of revealing Taoist scriptures to the lesser gods and humans. This deity is often shown holding a mushroom-shaped scepter and is associated in particular with the Lingbao scriptures.​

The Grand Pure One

The third of the Three Purities is the Grand Pure One (Taiqing), also known as "The Universally Honored One of Tao and Virtues," "The Celestial Worthy of the Way and its Power" (Daode Tianzun), or the "Grand Supreme Elder Lord" (Taishang Laozun).

The Grand Pure One is believed to have emanated in numerous forms, one of which was as Laozi, author of the Daode Jing. He is often shown holding a fan with a fly-whisk and, of the Three Purities, is the one known for his active participation in the human realm.

The Three Treasures

We can consider the Taoist Three Purities also as external or symbolic representations of the Taoist Three Treasures: Jing (creative energy), Qi (life-force energy) and Shen (spiritual energy). While the Taoist Three Treasures are the central concern of Taoist qigong and inner alchemy practice, the Three Purities are the central concern of ceremonial Taoism. These two forms of Taoist practice often intersect in the context of visualization practices: for instance when a qigong practitioner visualizes one of the Three Purities, as a means of activating the Dantians, or harmonizing the flow of Qi through the meridians. 

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