One of the interesting facets of modern China, especially in Hong Kong, is the presence of Taoist temples. Some of these are hundreds of years old, and many share their site with buddhist shrines.

Taoism is very much a chinese flavoured system of beliefs, ritual and practices, which are several thousand years old. In trying to understand it, it doesn’t help us too much to attach western labels such as religion or philosophy. These seem to inhibit a full appreciation of its richness, fluidity and down to earth nature.

Indeed the very attempt to ‘nail down’ what Taoism is in words and concepts is bound to fail. In part this is due to the limitations of linguistic translation and also because Taoist beliefs invite us to move beyond the restrictions of language and mental concepts.

For instance, Taoist texts advise us on the relationship between our physical body, cosmic body and social frameworks.

There is a combined air of mystery, simplicity and ordariness about Taoism, where even the most distinguished Taoist masters are lay people with no special status in society.

Historically, it has gone in and out of fashion with the ruling classes during China’s formation and development over the centuries. Its’ charismatic mysticism proving both alluring and yet impossible to control at the same time.

Its oganisation has remained rooted in diverse local structures, with masters whos roles became hereditary. It is and remains very much a way for and of the ordinary people, rather than a power structure for any ruling class.

Despite the assaults of communism, buddhism, catholicism and muslim faiths it is still here, and still practiced. And there is increasing interest in its ways of living and advise for a longer and fuller life.

More to follow ….

1. Taoist Body,
Kristofer Schipper,
1993, University of California Press, USA.

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© David R. Durham


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