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Two Taiwanese women burn ghost money for the benefit of their ancestors.

Many religions are practiced in China and all the major ones have been carried over to Taiwan. A significant fact about China is that they have never engaged in religious wars. China is the home of Daoism and Confucianism, as well as very widely practiced folk religion.  Buddhism gained an early entry into China, and has since become the most widely professed belief.

1. Based on what you have read about the religions in Taiwan and China, why did religious wars never break out in China or Taiwan?

2. What are some major differences between Buddhism and Taoism?

3. What types of things are worshiped in Taiwan?

4. Who was the Buddha?

5. Where did Daoism come from?

 

Buddhism

Chinese Buddhism is often mixed with local traditions and folklore, and in many cases not practiced in a "pure" form.  However, Buddhism has a strong following in China.   There are many Buddhist temples and monasteries, as well as a very large population of lay disciples.  One of the core teachings of Buddhism is that life is a continual cycle of suffering.  The primary purpose of practicing Buddhism is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth and a release from the struggles of life.  Enlightenment concerning the nature of the universe and self is a key component in achieving the state of unchanging, unbecoming. (A Buddhist would say a state of neither changing nor not changing, of neither becoming nor not becoming.)

Smiling Buddha

Buddhism also offers a path of less resistance and pain to those on the journey towards escape.  First, since every action brings about a consequence and has direct impact on future life or lives, it is important to avoid any negative actions or vices that will bring a negative karmic effect.  Secondly, since disappointment, happiness, sadness, pleasure, pain, and every other condition a person can be in is predicated upon some want or desire, elimination of wants and desires is paramount to eliminating suffering.

Buddha was actually a person known as Siddhartha Gotama, who lived in a city in an area that is now Nepal. He was born to a wealthy royal family in 563 B.C. After 29 years of his life he left the wealth to study and meditate to find what is true happiness. After six years he was 'enlightened' and became the Buddha and spent the rest of his life teaching what he believed to be the truth also known as Dhamma.

The first of Buddha's teachings include the Eight-Fold Path, all of the teachings of Buddhism flow from these eight. Visit Buddha Net to learn more.

Daoism

Daoism was born in China.  Daoist worship the two individuals that founded Daoism; Laozi and Zhuangzi Immortals and Founders of religious Daoism. Their works are regarded as canonical scriptures of Daoism. The Book of Dao and its Virtue is recited by all Daoist priests. The concept of 'Dao' developed in Laozi and Zhuangzi has become the basic object of Daoist faith.

Laozi and Zhuangzi, founders/ developers of the Daoist religion.

Statues are worshiped by Daoist believers.

Dao is the Chinese character for a road or path, as well as that of knowledge and reason.  Perhaps this religion/philosophy's most quintessential belief is that of balance.  The concept of Yin and Yang originate from Daoism, with each side representing opposite and counterbalancing traits and qualities.  In Daoism, understanding the nature of things and acting in a moderate way to avoid the consequences of extremes is a primary key.  A lot of wise sayings and proverbs originate in the original Daoist poems and in Daoist writings.  In many cases Daoism is a common sense way of looking at life.   However, it is also very much interested in prolonging life and obtaining immortality.

 

Crowded Daoist temple on Chinese New Years Day- outside and inside.

It is considered bad luck for Taiwanese and Chinese people to not visit the temple on Chinese New Years Day to pay respect to their ancestors.

Confucianism

Confucius was a great philosopher and thinker.  Confucianism is more of a practical philosophy centered upon a few basic principles than a religion, but was often just as all-encompassing as any religion.   Confucian thought assumes that people are basically good and that given a proper understanding of what they should do they will naturally do so.  Confucianism places duty to the family as the center of morality, and all loyalties and virtues are an extension of this belief.  One of the most important things one needs to do to be a good Confucian is to know one's role.

Confucius temple in Taichung City

Chinese Folk Religion

The common Chinese person practices some folk religion, at least in some form.  Even practitioners of other religions in China generally keep their traditions, or adapt new beliefs to their old practices.  One prominent feature of the Chinese belief is idolatry.  The worship of idols is performed at home, in public, at small shrines, in temples, and in some cases at work.  Incense is burned, sacrifice offerings are made, and people literally bow down before their altars and statues.  Often, these worships are directed to a god or posaht .  There are many popular deities- such as Gun Yam , Gwan Dai , and Tin Hau .  Deities tend to differ from place to place.  These deities are besought for favors and to ward off evil.

Ancestor worship is even more wide-spread.  It is customary to burn incense and presend food offerings as "prayers" to one's ancestors.  Devoted practitioners will generally burn incense to a picture of a dead ancestor daily.  Generally, there is a small red box dedicated to the worship of different idols and almost always one or more ancestors.   Many people believe that by burning paper replicas of things (such as paper cars, paper houses, or paper 1,000,000 dollar bills), their ancestors in the next world receive the gift and will be able to make use of it.  Just as often, however, these worshiping are out of simple respect for those who have passed on, and no thought is taken to receive any sort help or return from the offerings, nor seriously considering that the dead receive the gifts.  For many it is more a matter of custom and respect than a serious religious belief.  However these folk religions also have truly devoted followers and practitioners.

Left: Two Taiwanese people burn ghost money for their ancestors

Right: Close up of ghost money

Christianity

Christianity is the up and coming religion or way of life in many Asian countries, including Taiwan. Christianity can be found in every country, but it is most common in Western societies. There are many kinds of Christians, even in Taiwan, their beliefs differ in small and large ways.

Below is a list of some things that Christians believe:

1. God created all that is seen and unseen

2. Jesus is the Son of God and is One with God

3. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary

4. Jesus suffered and was crucified

5. Jesus died and was buried

6. Jesus rose again (the Resurrection)

7. Jesus ascended into Heaven

8. Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead

9. People who repent their sins will be forgiven

10. Anyone can have salvation

For more information about Christian beliefs click here.

Taiwanese Church

 

Chinese Lunar Calendar

The Chinese Calendar is based on the phases of the moon.  The lunar year is divided into 12 months which follow the new and full moons.  Years run in cycles of 60, there being 12 animal sign years and 5 elements (the elements are sometimes also divided into yin and yang , but this does not directly affect the cycle.)  The five elements are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth.  The following chart gives the animals in their traditional order:

Animal Sign
Years
Rat
1996
1984
1972
Ox
1997
1985
1973
Tiger
1998
1986
1974
Rabbit
1999
1987
1975
Dragon
2000
1988
1976
Snake
2001
1989
1977
Horse
2002
1990
1978
Sheep
2003
1991
1979
Monkey
2004
1992
1980
Chicken
2005
1993
1981
Dog
2006
1994
1982
Pig
2007
1995
1983

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