To become a Daoist in China today, in continuation of Wang Kunyang’s codification, the adept first finds a local master, often living in a small temple. After some basic training and with family approval, he or she is officially adopted into a lineage. This involves an initiation ceremony with the transmission of sacred texts—including the Daode jing with its major commentaries—a vow to continue the tradition, the acceptance of ten basic precepts, and the bestowal of a religious name.
All schools and lineages follow this system, monastic practitioners typically joining a celibate institution, while lay priests continue to have families and work within their communities. Depending on the lineage chosen, each specializes in certain kinds of texts, rituals, and practices. Encouraged to look further afield, many decide to study with various teachers and some become holders of multiple lineages.
Beyond this, monastic adepts can move to an advanced level, traditionally divided into two steps of 180 and 300 precepts respectively but today merged into one rank. Selected upon recommendation of their home temples and after passing an extensive central examination, they train at the Chinese Daoist Academy (Zhongguo daojiao xueyuan 中國道教學院). Sponsored and run by the Chinese Daoist Association, it was first established in 1990 at the White Cloud Temple in Beijing as a seminary for monks. A second center, also for males, was foundedin 2010 on Mount Qingcheng 青城山in Sichuan. Since 2005, nuns have been able to undergo advanced training at a facility located at the foot of Nanyue 南岳 (Hunan), the sacred mountain of the south near Changsha.
At either place, the course lasts two years, with classes of 50-100 students. The curriculum closely matches traditional Chinese education, being broadly oriented toward cultivating the whole person, not only conveying knowledge but also mental, spiritual, and physical discipline. Students are taught many subjects, including Chinese culture, foreign languages, and temple administration, as well as Daoist history, ritual, music, literature, thought, taiji quan, internal cultivation, and more.
While including things like computer skills and business management, the training remains strongly focused on traditional values and methods. In this respect it stands in stark contrast to the narrow focus of lay Chinese education, which is almost entirely modeled on Western systems and sees success only in achieving good test results. The strong emphasis on the official doctrine of the Party, however, which still teaches that religion is an opiate for the people and will eventually be overcome by the ultimate communist society, creates a detachment in graduates toward their own tradition, often making them into apparatchiks rather than spiritual representatives.
After passing the relevant examinations, graduates undergo advanced ordination to receive further texts and extensive precepts, often a major central ceremony held at the White Cloud Temple. They then typically return to their home institutions and take on the responsibilities of managing them in a modern way. Some also remain in the capital and work for the Chinese Daoist Association or in government agencies. Usually aged between 21 and 35, the newly trained elite is set to become a vigorous force promoting the Party-approved development of Daoism in future decades.
Read: Kohn, Livia. 2004. Cosmos and Community: The Ethical Dimension of Daoism. Cambridge, Mass.: Three Pines Press.