The Three Pure Ones or Sanqing (三清) are the Trinity of Daoism. They are the pure manifestation of the Dao and the origin of all conscious beings. Their Chinese name has also been translated as the Three Pure Pellucid Ones, the Three Pristine Ones, the Three Divine Teachers, the Three Clarities, or the Three Purities.
Each of the Three Pure Ones represent one of the three essential fields of the body: jing (essence, the source of life), qi (energy or the force that allows us to move our bodies) and shen (spirit, the vitality behind jing and qi).
The Three Pure Ones are also manifestations of Primordial Celestial Energy. The first Pure One is universal or heavenly qi (all the planets, stars and constellations as well as the force of creation and universal love).
The second Pure One is human plane qi (energy that exists on the surface of our planet and sustains human life).
The third Pure One is earth chi (all of the forces inside the planet as well as the five elemental forces).
As they are manifestations of energy, the Three Pure Ones are formless. However, to illustrate their role in Creation, they are often depicted as humans, sometimes dressed in robes of different colours that represent the kind of qi they manifest: Heaven (blue); human (red); and earth (green or yellow).
Out of Tao, One is born;
Out of One, Two;
Out of Two, Three;
Out of Three, the created universe.
The created universe carries the yin at its back
and the yang in front;
Through the union of the pervading principles it
To be “orphaned,” “lonely” and “unworthy” is what men hate most.
Yet the princes and dukes call themselves by such names.
For sometimes things are benefited by being taken away from,
And suffer by being added to.
Others have taught this maxim,
Which I shall teach also:
“The violent man shall die a violent death.”
This I shall regard as my spiritual teacher.
~ ‘Chapter 42’, Daode Jing, translated by Lin Yutang
The Jade Pure One
In the beginning the cosmos was in chaos and the universe a void, but there was the Dao and out of the Dao was born the Jade Pure One (Yuqing 玉清), also known as The Celestial Worthy of the Primordial Beginning (Yuanshi Tianzun 元始天尊).
Yuanshi Tianzun rules the first heaven, which is found in the Jade Mountain. The entrance to this heaven is named the Golden Door. He is the most supreme being, the source of all truth and all things arise from him.
It is said that Yuanshi TIanzun created the first writing system by observing the flow of universal qi. Thus, he is acknowledged as the source of all learning and the first author of Daoist scriptures.
Some view Yuanshi Tianzun and the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang 玉帝) as one and the same, while others see the Jade Emperor as a subordinate who is tasked by Yuanshi Tianzun with the administration of Heaven and Earth.
Yuanshi Tianzun is often portrayed holding the Pearl of Creation. This signifies his role as the creator of the Universe.
The Supreme Pure One
The second of the Three Pure Ones is The Universally Honoured One of Divinities and Treasures or The Universal Lord of the Numinous Treasure (Lingbao Tianzun 靈寶天尊), also known as the Supreme Pure One (Shangqing 上清).
Lingbao Tianzun separated the Yang from the Yin, classified the elements and is considered the source of Daoist knowledge and scripture. Often described as the right-hand man of the Jade Pure One, Lingbao Tianzun is tasked with preaching Daoist law to all living creatures.
He is usually shown holding an ornamental scepter, which represents authority and his action of separating the Yin and Yang, thus bringing the Law of Things into place.
The Grand Pure One
The third Pure One is Daode Tianzun (道德天尊), Lord of the Way and Its Virtue or Honoured Lord of the Tao and the Virtue. He is also known as the Grand Pure One (Taiqing 太清).
Laozi, the founder of Daoism and the author of the Daode jing is said to be one manifestation of Daode Tianzun. Unlike the first and second Pure Ones, Daode Tianzun, as Laozi as well as other teachers, spent many years living among humankind and played an active role in the development of Chinese civilisation.
Daode Tianzun is depicted holding a fan, which symbolises the completion of Creation, while the act of fanning signifies the dissemination of Tao to all Mankind. He is usually shown as an elderly man with white hair and a beard.
This blog is supposed to help me learn about and understand Daoism and Daoist lore. As I have next to no knowledge of the Chinese language, I find the names of Daoist personages rather confusing. I’m hoping that writing about them will help me stop mixing them up. And also fix the details of the stories in my mind.
I wanted to write about The Three Supreme Ones in particular because not only does the Daoist universe begin with them, but because I was confusing them with The Three Stars (after whom I named this blog).
Apart from the name, you can see that they look (superficially) similar to the Three Pure Ones. My next post will be about these three Very Important People.