ABOUT 200 PEOPLE attended a talk titled "Love of God, Love of my Taoist Neighbour" by Father Henry Siew at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Jul 29. The talk was aided by computer visuals which included pictures of deities.
According to Father Siew, there are various sources of Taoist thoughts: philosophical writings of Taoist masters like Laozi and Zhuangzi; esoteric and mystical writings of Taoist masters; popular beliefs in spirits and ghosts which were also reflected in Confucian writings; integration of Buddhist and Confucian ideologies; collection and final composition of Taoist writings; and founding fathers.
No doubt Taoist beliefs spring from many roots, but there are some key concepts. The Taoists have a desire for divine assistance, good health, healing, and immortality, for expiation of sin and for prosperity, justice, status and feminine involvement.
Such desires can be fulfilled by inner purification, which means to be united with Dao (the way) by means of meditation, explained Father Siew. Inner actualization, which is the self cultivation of Qi, enables an individual to not only reach his inner Qi, but also to absorb the Qi from nature. Dieting, breathing exercises (like taiji), paper charms, rites, medication and artistic expressions are also spiritual methods to attaining peace and fulfilling hopes.
Among the interesting facts shared by Father Siew is the Taoist belief that ghosts (gui) are the spirits of ancestors. They also believe in karma, i.e. "You get what you deserve." The deeds of ancestors will also affect the fate of their descendents. Funeral rites help the deceased to find rest in the world of immortality and include these elements: invitation, cleansing, bridging, thanksgiving and installation.
Taoist deities rule the heavens and netherworlds and can be classified according to rank. For example, the four supreme heavenly kings who watch over heavens include the Jade Emperor. Deities also can be of the heavens, earth (such as the earth god or ‘Tu Di Gong’) or water. Deities can also be from different "departments". These "departments" are further divided into the kitchen, shrine, money and natural bodies like the stars, just to name a few. In fact, each constellation is assigned a deity.
Taoists are staunch believers in nature and how the natural environment behaves is good proof of the deities’ works and sometimes also determines the moods of the gods. Their holy places include nothing less than natural lands of tranquillity, mountains and caves of immortals like the Wu Dang Mountain and temples.
Besides supernatural beings, Taoists also have human heroes like their ancestors. Ancestral worship is an essential part of every Taoist life on earth. Warring heroes, historical personalities of Taoist virtues turned immortals and outstanding characters of novels are also deeply respected by Taoists.
During the question-and-answer segment, one Catholic participant brought up the issue of having to help his Taoist mother prepare paper money to be burnt to ancestors. "Is that right?" he asked.
Father Siew responded, "Helping your mother shows filial piety for her just like how she is showing filial piety to her ancestors." Virtues are what we learn from our Taoist neighbours. Practices may vary but the fundamental reasons for them are always just and of right stand.
- By Melissa Leong