The following article is submitted by our guest writer, Dod Grile. It is very good and since we do not want to edit out one single word of it, it will be posted on 3 parts. Happy reading!
Daoism (or “Taoism” as it is more traditionally spelled) is Chinese folk religion. It is community-based and features an emphasis on the pursuit of longevity. Therefore, Daoism is impossible to fully separate from the traditional calendar of folk festivals, theories of physical exercise that are the foundation of the martial arts, or the herb lore that has developed into Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Daoism is polytheistic, with a wide variety of patron deities for different aspects or endeavors of life, in a way quite similar to the patron saints of Catholicism. Many Daoist gods or goddesses began as historical people or legendary figures of human status, and over the course of time their worshipers came to impute divine powers upon them.
The pantheons in many Daoist temples also include Buddhist bodhisattvas, and indeed, Buddhist temples may have Daoist idols too. At the level of community practice, the dividing line between the two religions can sometimes blur.
Another element of Daoism that is perhaps better known in the West is philosophical Daoism, as expressed in the works of Laozi and Zhuangzi. This is a very naturalistic philosophy that distrusts ideas that can be expressed in words, and pursues wisdom in the natural workings of the universe.
One important part of Chinese folk belief is a strong faith in ancestral spirits and ghosts. In fact, Chinese society is largely secular, but the vast majority of Chinese people (at least in pre-Cultural Revolution Chinese society, or those ethnic Chinese communities that did not experience the Cultural Revolution) retain an abiding belief in ghosts. It is the most singularly defining element of Chinese spiritual belief.
As a long-time resident of Taiwan, I have never met a Taiwanese person who disbelieves in ghosts. However, I have met many, many Taiwanese who unreservedly believe not only that ghosts exist, but also that they exist in large numbers and frequently intersect with the mundane world.
In this regard, one of the most ancient, if not the very most ancient, aspects of Daoism is the practice of shamanism, involving communication and intercession with spirits. Spiritual mediums do fortune-telling, dispense advice akin to psychological counseling, and create talismans (usually of paper with magical writing on them) that provide good luck. They are also known to become possessed by spirits and let the spirits speak through them – often uttering philosophical pronouncements that are rich in poetic imagery.
More on that on my next post.
Cheers from China,