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Notes on Taoism and Chinese Folk Religions
Since earliest times, Chinese thought has been characterized by an awareness of man's close relationship with nature and the universe, a cyclical view of time and the universe, veneration or worship of ancestors, the idea of Heaven, and belief in the divinity of the sovereign.
Both Confucianism and Taoism operate within this worldview and incorporate many of its concepts. These two organized belief systems are best viewed as complementary rather than competitive. While Confucianism concerns itself with the social and moral side of life, Taoism focuses on the individual, spiritual life.
The founder of Taoism is believed by many to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius. (Alternative spellings: Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, Laozi, Laotze, etc.). He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching (a.k.a. Daodejing). Others believe that he is a mythical character.
Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religious faith in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became one of the three great religions of China. With the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next period of warlordism. After the Communist victory in 1949, religious freedom was severely restricted.
There are three main categories of Taoism:
(1) Philosophical Taoism- a school based on Tao de-Ching (Dao De Jing) and Chunag-tzu
(2) Religious Taoism- a family of religious movement that dated back to the Celestial masters during the late Han dynasty period.
(3) Folk Taoism – Chinese Folk religions
Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility.
The Yin Yang symbol:
This is a well known Taoist symbol. "It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray." One source explains that it was derived from astronomical observations which recorded the shadow of the sun throughout a full year. The two swirling shapes inside the symbol give the impression of change -- the only constant factor in the universe. One tradition states that Yin (or Ying; the dark side) represents the breath that formed the earth. Yang (the light side) symbolizes the breath that formed the heavens.
One source states: "The most traditional view is that 'yin' represents aspects of the feminine: being soft, cool, calm, introspective, and healing... and "yang" the masculine: being hard, hot, energetic, moving, and sometimes aggressive. Another view has the 'yin' representing night and 'yang' day.
Another source offers a different definition: A common misconception in the west is that "...yin is soft and passive and yang is hard and energetic. Really it is yang that is soft and yin that is hard, this is because yang is energetic and yin is passive. Yin is like a rock and yang is like water or air, rock is heavy and hard and air is soft and energetic."
Allan Watts, describes the yin and yang as negative and positive energy poles: "The ideograms indicate the sunny and shady sides of a hill....They are associated with the masculine and the feminine, the firm and the yielding, the strong and the weak, the light and the dark, the rising and the falling, heaven and earth, and they are even recognized in such everyday matters as cooking as the spicy and the bland."
However, since nothing in nature is purely black or purely white, the symbol includes a small black spot in the white swirl, and a corresponding white spot in the black swirl.
Ultimately, the 'yin' and 'yang' can symbolize any two polarized forces in nature. Taosts believe that humans often intervene in nature and upset the balance of Yin and Yang.
Ch'i (also spelled Chi or Qi) is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture. Found in Chinese traditional religion but especially Taoism, Ch'i literally means "air" or "breath," but as a concept it refers to the energy flow or life force that is said to pervade all things.
The nature of ch'i has always been a matter of debate in Chinese thinking. Some believe ch'i is a separate force from the physical world, while others think ch'i comes from physical matter. Still others, especially Chinese Buddhists and Taoists, hold that matter arises from ch'i.
The quality, quantity and balance of Ch'i is believed to be essential to maintaining health and achieving a long life. One author explains it this way:
"Qi is the basic material of all that exists. It animates life and furnishes functional power of events. Qi is the root of the human body; its quality and movement determine human health. There is a normal or healthy amount of qi in every person, and health manifests in its balance and harmony, its moderation and smoothness of flow." -- Livia Kohn, Health and Long Life: The Chinese Way
In addition to living a healthy life (both physically and psychologically), Ch'i can be regulated through practices like breath control, Ta'i Chi, massage and acupuncture. Nearly all techniques in traditional Chinese medicine are based on the concept of Ch'i.
Breath control is considered especially fundamental to balancing the levels of Ch'i in one's body. Controlled and meditative breathing, called hsing-ch'i, allows ch'i to permeate the entire body by imagining the breath as a visible current moving through the body. Another type of breathing exercise, t'ai-hsi, attempts to revert one's breathing to that of an fetus in the womb. This is considered especially powerful for longevity and immortality (especially in Taoism).
The traditional Chinese art of placement and arrangement of space called Feng Shui is also based on the flow of ch'i, as well as the five elements, yin and yang and other factors. The retention or dissipation of ch'i is believed to affect the health, wealth, energy level, luck and many other aspects of the occupants of the space. Color, shape and the physical location of each item in a space affects the flow of ch'i by slowing it down, redirecting it or accelerating it, which directly affects the ch'i of the occupants.
(2) Death and the Afterlife
In Taoism, life and death are merely two aspects of reality, the unchanging Tao. Death is simply a transformation from being to non-being; from yang to yin.
Taoism teaches that humans ought to accept life and death as complementary aspects of the Tao. Death should be neither feared nor desired.
"Since life and death are each other's companions, why worry about them? All beings are one." (Chuang-Tzu)
The spiritual beings of primary importance in religious Taoism are the Immortals (Xian in Chinese). First introduced in the Chuang-Tzu and perhaps intended by the author to be allegorical, these super-humans or "perfected persons" (chen jen) came to be worshipped and emulated by Taoists. Some even seek to locate them, in the hope of asking them their secret of immortality.
In the Chuang-Tzu, these perfect beings dwell far away in an untroubled place, where they experience an effortless existence of physical freedom. They are ageless, eat nothing but air, drink nothing but dew, and enjoy the power of flight. They exemplify the Taoist virtue of spontaneity - they are nothing other than their essential nature.
The Eight Immortals
These powerful beings are especially known and revered in the group of Eight Immortals, who are said to have been born in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) or Song Dynasty (960-1279).
The Eight Immortals frequently appear in Chinese literature, mythology and art and they each have a symbol and special power. As a group, they are associated symbolically with good fortune as well as the "eight conditions of life" (youth, age, poverty, wealth, high rank, common people, feminine and masculine).
(4) The Purpose of Life
The ideal person in philosophical Taoism is the sage who understands and lives in accordance with the Tao. Knowing that all opposites are relative and interdependent, and that the best way to live is in harmony with the natural course of things (the Tao), a Taoist does not struggle, oppose, or strive.
Instead, the sage practices wu-wei, or "non-action." In the Tao Te Ching, this is the central virtue of the wise ruler. Wu-wei does not mean doing nothing or doing things only in moderation. To practice wu-wei is to so orient oneself with the Tao that one's actions go unnoticed. "Perfect activity leaves no track behind it; perfect speech is like a jade worker whose tool leaves no mark." In yet another paradox, wu-wei "never acts, yet there is nothing it does not do."
The focus of most religious Taoism is attaining immortality. This can have various meanings: eternal life, longevity of life, or attainment of superhuman physical abilities. Taoists have sought longevity by a variety of methods, such as:
(5) The Tao
The ultimate reality in Taoism is the Tao, or Way. Broadly defined, the Tao is the mysterious natural order of the universe. But paradoxically, what the sages have most often said about the Tao is that nothing can be said about it. As the Tao Te Ching puts it:
The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant Way;
The name that can be named
Is not the constant Name.
The nameless was at the beginning of heaven and earth;
The named was the mother of myriad creatures.
Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.
These two are the same
But diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery -
The gateway of the manifold secrets.
The Tao-Te Ching goes on to say the Tao is
something formlessly fashioned, that existed before Heaven and Earth....Its name we do not know; Tao is the byname we give it. Were I forced to say to what class of things it belongs I should call it Immense.
In Chinese thinking, to give something a name (ming) is to assign it a place in the universe. This cannot be done with the Tao, as it pervades and encompasses all.
The Tao has no characteristics, yet it is not nothingness. In fact, it is better understood as "everythingness," as it contains within itself all potential characteristics. It encompasses both Being (yu) and Non-Being (wu). "In its mode of being Unseen, we will see its mysteries; in the mode of the Seen, we will see its boundaries."
The Tao encompasses all opposite and complementary forces, which are collectively referred to as yin and yang. As represented in the familiar Great Polarity symbol, yin and yang are interdependent and contain within themselves the seed of the other. Yin is associated with darkness, femininity, passivity and water, while yang is light, masculinity, activity and air. Yin and yang are always in perfect balance within the Tao. The goal of the Taoist, therefore, is to keep these opposites in balance within his or her own life.
The Tao is further characterized by tzu-jan, which is difficult to translate directly but is usually rendered "spontaneity" or "self-so." The self-so is unconditioned and uninfluenced; it is nothing other than itself.
This, in turn, is the ideal of the sage-ruler in the Tao Te Ching. He does not strives, he does not intervene, but acts in such a way that "everyone throughout the country says, 'It happened of its own accord' (tzu-jan)."
Taoist Sacred Texts
Important Taoist texts include the Tao-te Ching, the Chuang-tzu and several other less famous works of Taoist philosophy.
(1) The Tao-te Ching
The Tao-te Ching (or Dao De Jing) is the central text of both philosophical and religious Taoism. In English, its name is usually translated as Classic of the Way of Power. It is also known as Lao Tzu's Five Thousand Words, as it is attributed to the sage Lao Tzu ("Master Lao," c. 5th century BCE) and is 5,000 Chinese characters in length.
The authorship, or at least sole authorship, of Lao-tzu has been questioned by some scholars, most of whom believe the text was compiled over a period of centuries. The existence of Lao-tzu himself has even been doubted, especially during the 19 th century, but most scholars now believe he was likely a historical figure.
Dating the Tao-te Ching is difficult, as it makes no reference to external events, people, or places. Scholarly opinions on its date of composition vary between the 8th century and 3rd century BCE. The oldest existing manuscript dates to about 200 BCE.
The Tao-te Ching's 81 short sections are poetic, paradoxical, and at once mystical and practical. It is intended as a handbook for the ideal ruler, a sage who rules by passivity and gentleness, acting in such a way that his actions go unnoticed.
So long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go straight.
So long as I act only by inactivity, the people will of themselves become prosperous.
Since its composition, a great many commentaries have been written on the Tao Te Ching: over 350 in Chinese and 250 in Japanese.
The Chuang-Tzu, named for its primary author, "Master Chuang" (c. 369-286 BCE), is also known as Nan-hua chenching (“The Pure Classic of Nan-hua”). Composed in the 4th or 3rd century BCE, the Chuang-tzu focuses a great deal on the person of Lao-tzu, who is presented as one of Chuang-Tzu's own teachers. It contains several discourses attributed to Lao Tzu, most of which are presented as responses to a disciple's questions, and records interactions between Lao Tzu and Confucius in which the former is the clear superior of the two. The remainder of the work consists of colorful fables, parables, and anecdotes that teach lessons about life and the Tao.
The Chuang-tzu has 33 chapters, although it may have had as many as 53 chapters in the 4th century CE. Numerous editions of the work, with many variant readings, have appeared since then, making it very difficult to discern its original content. It is generally agreed that Chapters 1-7 are the genuine writings of Chuang-tzu, but Chapters 8-23 are primarily written by others, though Chuang-tzu may have had a hand in them.
The Chuang-tzu is second in importance in Taoism only to the Tao-te Ching and is regarded as more comprehensive than the Tao-te Ching. The Chuang-tzu has also been influential in the development of Chinese Buddhism and on Chinese landscape painting and poetry.
In contrast to the Tao-te Ching, which is addressed to the sage-ruler, the Chuang-tzu's primary concern is an individual's private life. Servants of the state, participants in state ritual, and logicians are ridiculed and rejected, while the free, humble, mindful life is exalted. The author "compares the servant of state to the well-fed decorated ox being led to sacrifice in the temple and himself to the untended piglet blissfully frolicking in the mire."
The Chuang-tzu also touches on the topics of death and the Immortals. Death is equated with life, and the wise are depicted as welcoming the transformation as fusion with the Tao. The Immortals, as they came to be called, are "perfect men" or "supreme men" who have no anxiety, have the faces of children, and effortlessly fly upward with a fluttering (hsien) motion. They exemplify the Taoist ideals of effortlessness and spontaneity, and are praised throughout the Chuang-tzu. Probably intended as allegorical or literary figures by the author, the Immortals (hsien) came to occupy central interest in religious Taoists, who classified these heavenly beings in a detailed way, attempted to emulate their characteristics, and even to locate them geographically in order to learn their secrets.
But probably the most well-known part of the Chuang-tzu is the story of Chuang-tzu and the butterfly:
Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly, fluttering about, not knowing that it was Chuang Chou. He woke with a start, and was Chuang Chou again. But he did not know whether he was Chuang Chou who had dreamed that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and the butterfly there must be some distinction: this is what is called "the transformation of things."
(3) Other Taoist Texts
In addition to the chief texts of the Tao-te Ching and Chuang-tzu, several other significant texts in the Taoist tradition have been produced and used by Taoists over the centuries.
The Lieh-tzu (book of "Master Lieh"), of unknown date, teaches that nature and human actions are entirely mechanical in their operation – neither divine destiny nor human free will has the power to change the course of events.
The date of the Kuan-tzu (book of "Master Kuan") is also unknown. This text emphasizes that the "heart" (meaning the mind) governs the body as a ruler governs the state, and that if the body submits to the heart, the heart can achieve a desirelessness that makes it a pure receptacle for the indwelling Tao.
The Ling pao Ching ("Classic of the Sacred Jewel") was composed by Ko Ch'ao-fu around 397 CE. The author claimed its teachings derived from revelations given to his ancestor Ko Hsuan in the early 3 rd century. In the Ling pao Ching, the Tao is personified in its uncreated manifestations, the "celestial worthies" (t'ien-tsun), which were worshipped through a group of liturgies. Each of the worthies represented a different aspect of the Tao, and its worship was designed accordingly. This mode of worship became central to Taoist practice in the 5th century CE.
The T'ai-p'ing Ching, "Classic of the Great Peace" and the Pao P'u Tzu, "Master Embracing Simplicity," were composed in the third and fourth centuries CE. These texts enumerate methods for attaining immortality, such as alchemy, special diets, and sexual activity.
There are 36 levels of heaven.
Yu-huang is the great High God of the Taoists -- the Jade Emperor. He rules Heaven as the Emperor doe Earth. All other gods must report to him. His chief function is to distribute justice, which he does through the court system of Hell where evil deeds and thoughts are punished. Yu-huang is the Lord of the living and the dead and of all the Buddhas, all the gods, all the spectres and all the demons.
According to legend he was the son of an emperor Ch'ing-te and his wife Pao Yueh-kuang who from his birth exhibited great compassion. When he had been a few years on the throne he abdicated and retired as a hermit spending his time dispensing medicine and knowledge of the Taoist texts. Some scholars see in this a myth of the sacred union of the sun and the moon, their son being the ruler of all Nature.
"The good who fulfill the doctrine of love, and who nourish Yu-huang with incense, flowers, candles and fruit; who praise his holy name with respect and propriety -- such people will receive thirty kinds of very wonderful rewards."
--Folkways in China L Holdus.
Although Yu-huang is the High God, there are other abstract deities above him. He rules; they simply exist and instruct. First and foremost is Yuan-shih T'ien-tsun - the First Principal.
He has no beginning and no end. He existed "before the void and the silence, before primordial chaos." He is self-existing, changeless, limitless, invisible, contains all virtues, is present in all places and is the source of all truth.
These are the so-called Three Pure Ones. They are Yu-ch'ing (Jade Pure), Shang-ch'ing (Upper Pure) and T'ai-ch'ing (Great Pure). They are believed to be different manifestations of Lao Tzu. They are not rulers, but rather seek to save mankind by teaching and benevolence.
In a place with Yu-ch'ing lives Yuan-shih T'ien-tsun and the Holy Men (sheng-jen). With Shang-ch'ing lives Ling-pao T'ien-tsun (Spiritual Treasure Honoured by Heaven) and the Heroes. T'ai-ch'ing is the direct manifestation of Lao Tzu. He holds a fan, symbol of his powers, on which are written the yin-yang symbol and the Big Dipper.
(4) San-kuan -- Three Officials
The San-kuan rule over all things in the three regions of the universe, keep a register of good and evil deeds and award good or bad fortune accordingly. T'ien-kuan, the Ruler of Heaven, grants happiness. Ti-kuan, Ruler of Earth, grants remissions of sins, and Shui-kuan, Ruler of Water, averts all evil. Their compassion for all people is unbounded. The San-kuan originated in a rite from the time of the Yellow-Turban Taoists.
"You, poor miserable people, ill-clad and destitute of worldly comforts, weighted down beneath the burden of labour and affliction, keep abstinence, and having taken a purifying bath, recite a thousand times the prayer in honour of the Ruler of Heaven." --Recherches sue les superstitions en Chine, Henri Dore.
(5) San-yuan -- Three Epochs (or Principals)
The San-yuan originate from a time in the Eastern Chin Dynasty (317-420 A.D.) when the year was divided into three unequal periods. Shang- yuan ruled the first six moons (winter and spring); Hsia-yuan ruled the 7th and 8th moons (summer); and Chung-yuan ruled the 9th to 11th moons (fall). It was believed that they dwelled in the North Star (tzu-wei).
T'ien-shih was the title awarded to Chang Tao-ling (157-178 A.D.), the founder of the Yellow Turban Taoists (he is also claimed as founder by the Cheng-I and Five Bushels of Rice sects). It is believed that he received the Ling-pao (spiritual Treasure) Scripture written on golden tablets, from the Gods. He succeeded in finding the elixir of immortality, swallowed it, and ascended to Heaven, leaving his secrets, including his seals and demon-dispelling sword, with his son.
Since then the title T'ien-shih has passed through the family for generations. The current (63rd) Chang T'ien-shih lives in Taiwan and heads the Five Bushels of Rice Taoist sect. He continues to retain the sword and seals of Chang Tao-ling.
(7) Pa-hsien -- Eight Immortals
These are popular deities modeled on historical figures. They were believed to live in grottos in Heaven.
(The First Principal)
San-ching (The Three Pure One)
Yu-ching (Jade Pure)
Shang-ching (Upper Pure)
Tai-ching (great Pure)
Yu-huang (Jade Emperor)
San-kuan (Three officials)
Tienkuan (ruler of heaven)
Ti-kuan (ruler of earth)
Shi-kuan (ruler of water)
San-yuan (Three Epochs)
Shang-yuan (ruler of winter and spring)
a. Ching Ming
b. Festival of Hungry Ghost
c. Taoist Purification Ritual
Nine Emperor Gods Festival
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival (Chinese: 九皇爺; pinyin: jiǔhuángyé; Hokkien: Kow Ong Yah; Cantonese: Kow Wong Yeh) is a Chinese-Malaysian influenced festival to celebrate the return from heaven to earth of the spirits of nine Emperors who are worshiped as one deity known as Mazu (Chinese: 妈祖/天后), the Taoist goddess of the sea and queen of heaven who represents health, wealth and prosperity. The festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth moon in the Chinese lunar calendar. Devotees flock to temples throughout the country for the festival
The Nine Emperor Gods are part of a spirit-medium cult known locally as Jieu Hwang Yeh. These nine deities are believed to dwell in the stars in heaven under the reign of Mazu.
On the eve of the ninth moon, temples of the deities hold a ceremony to invoke and welcome the nine emperors. Since the arrival of the gods are believed to be through the waterways, processions are held from temples to the sea-shore or river to symbolize this belief. Devotees dressed in traditional white, carrying incense and candles, await the arrival of their excellencies.
A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, eat vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. It is believed that there will be rain throughout the nine days of celebration.
The ninth day of the festival is its climax. A procession which draws scores of devotees send the deities back home (a waterway such as river or sea).
Luck maintaining or luck opening ritual
5th day street procession
Sounding of gongs and cymbals
Entrance spirit medium
6th day Nine Emperor Gods celebration
7th day Nine Emperor Gods celebration
(2) Martial Arts
Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism
Song painting in the Litang style illustrating the theme "confucianism, taoism and buddhism are one". Depicts taoist Lu Xiujing (left), official Tao Hongjing (right) and buddhist monk Huiyuan (center, founder of Pure Land) by the Tiger stream. The stream borders a zone infested by tigers that they just crossed without fear, engrossed as they were in their discussion. Realising what they just did, they laugh together, hence the name of the picture, Three laughing men by the Tiger stream.
Source: from www.npm.gov.tw
Taoism and the Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan
Taoism: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Taoism: Virtual Library
Internet Sacred text Archives
|posted 29 March 2009|
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