Religious Affairs

Preaching Taoism

Folk beliefs are based on the people and are observed in general social activities and daily life, such as when people worship the shrines of deities and their ancestors at home, burn incense in temples when necessary, etc. The subject of worship is a wide range of people and objects, including natural phenomena, historical figures who performed meritorious deeds, legendary gods and immortals, etc. Moreover, people’s moral standards and taboos against the gods and ghosts have constructed a clear duality of gods as opposed to demons, ghosts, and monsters.

Tracing ancient legends, myths, and history to their source, one will find that figures such as Tin Hau, Che Kung, Kwan Tai, and Master Wong Tai Sin are transcendent and sanctified, symbolizing power and moral order. For this reason, various religious rituals are carried out as folk beliefs to encourage people to establish kinship with gods and pray to the gods to grant them blessings or the power to resist evil spirits. The people can communicate with the gods through simple prayers, sacrificial methods passed down their clans, etc., but at certain times and places they also need certain religious figures from Taoism, Buddhism, or Confucianism to participate and provide support. In fact, people are keen to worship gods and participate in religious ceremonies as they wish the gods to solve their everyday problems and seek spiritual assistance. Therefore, other than being very practical, folk beliefs are inevitably linked with supernatural powers, which only make the people more eager to worship gods.

In terms of ideology, folk beliefs are an unofficial culture. In terms of cultural appearance, folk beliefs stress practical application and are passed down via local dialects. In terms of social strength, folk beliefs are supported by the public and are inseparable from the lives of the people.

People believe that everything in nature, mountains, rivers, the sun, the moon, stars, etc., have divine energy (lingqi), and that they have a special and mysterious power that can determine the fate of humans. Subsequently, various forms of worshipping nature have developed from this belief.

As the movement of celestial bodies and stars have a great influence on the human world, the ancients associated mankind's states of poverty, wealth, and high or low social status with how bright or dark stars were, as well as the trajectory of their rise and fall, etc. They believed that the brightness or darkness of stars, as well as their disappearance or changes, were related to the birth, aging, sickness, and death of human beings. By observing the changes of stars in the night sky, they ascertained different ways to respond to life.

Because they believed stars had mysterious powers, the ancients worshipped the stars and gave sacrifices to the stars. The Great Dipper was observed to tell the difference in four seasons and give one a sense of direction. Therefore, humans believed the Great Dipper was a hub of the good fortune of Heaven and Earth with governance over the fate of the four seasons. This developed into the belief that the Southern Dipper determined one's life and death, as well as one’s prosperity and status, while the Great Dipper could increase one's longevity. This birthed the “belief and culture of the Southern Dipper and Great Dipper”.

Taoism has continued to be passed down through the generations. The ceremonies that are held at Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple nowadays are mainly to invoke blessings and longevity for the general public, pray for peace, protection against disasters and solutions to problems, carry forward Master Wong Tai Sin's teaching of “to act benevolently and to teach benevolence”, and pray for peace, good fortune and good health in Hong Kong, as well as social mutual understanding and a harmonious and beautiful life.

Taoism is a religion that values rituals. Unique and diverse rituals are important elements of Taoism. Taoist rituals are sacrificial and worship rituals that conform to Taoist doctrines. Therefore, Taoist rituals are also known as Taoism rites.

1. The meaning of Taoist rituals

Taoist rituals follow a set procedure. During ceremonies, the scriptures must be read out exactly, and the rituals must be performed according to certain procedures. There are also established etiquette and formalities that make use of certain actions and Taoist instruments to communicate the respect of worshippers and the sanctity of the ceremonies. Through the ceremonies, Taoist priests and worshippers are able to communicate with the deities of the ceremony to purify their bodies and minds, achieve spiritual satisfaction, accept enlightenment from the deities, and reflect on themselves.

2. The connotations of Taoism rites

Taoism rites were originally divided into two parts: “Zhai” and “Jiao”. The ancients believed that the first part “Zhai” was the act of cleansing and meditation before performing the sacrificial ritual. This manifested in the following forms: bathing, abstaining from alcohol, abstaining from meat, abstaining from sexual acts, etc. Later, this concept was also applied to mental aspects to become spiritually pure, free from desires, and otherworldly. The second part “Jiao” referred to the sacrifices and etiquette involved when worshipping the gods. All rituals performed by the ancient Taoists to pray for blessings and avert disasters referred to this second part.

3. Development of Taoist rituals

The “Three Repentance Scripture Writing” ritual was used by Zhang Daoling, who founded and was the leader of a Taoist sect in the Eastern Han Dynasty, to pray for worshippers and sick people through repentance. At the time, civilian communities had a ritual custom of regularly purifying a place to pray for blessings and avert disasters for the people. Taoism finally received attention from the government in the Tang Dynasty, and worship rituals were often held for the emperor to pray for the country. In the Ming Dynasty, books such as the “Chronological Register of the Gracious Ordinances of the Illustrious Ming” and the “Hereditary House of the Celestial Master Descended from the Han” recorded 84 Taoist rituals that Zhang Daoling performed for the country. It is apparent that Taoist rituals have had a significant impact on individuals, society, and the country since ancient times.

4. Sik Sik Yuen’s Puyi Altar Taoist rituals

The Taoist rituals of Sik Sik Yuen were mainly passed down from Puyi Altar to the present day. Dr. Lee Yiu-fai (Yee Kok), Abbot of Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple has also revised the rituals with reference to the text of the “Guang Cheng Yi Zhi” of the Qing Dynasty and “The Taoist Canon”. The Yuen has held a number of large Taoist rituals so far, including the “Great Offering”, “Worshipping the Great Dipper” and so on. It also co-organized the “Ceremony for Yin Yang” with the Hong Kong Taoist Association in 2011 to pray for the victims of the great earthquake of Japan. Since 2012, the Yuen has performed the “Quanzhen School Admittance Rite” from time to time to recruit those who have the intention to convert to Taoism. In 2013, the Yuen was invited by the Qianyuan Temple of Maoshan to perform the consecration ceremony for its Ziguang Altar and bring back the Taoist rituals and culture of the altar back to the temples and palaces of China.
The Yuen also holds scriptures and repentance rituals regularly, once every month, and invites worshippers to participate by reciting scriptures outside the altar, experience Taoist teachings, doctrines, and other ideologies from the ritual, and receive the enlightenment from the gods.

The Taoist concept of maintaining health is the exploration, understanding, and practice of the mutual relationship between humans’ spirit, life, and nature in pursuit of the ultimate goal of achieving longevity.

Taoism, a religion born and bred in China, emphasizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature and the spirit of “Heaven, Earth, and I exist together, and all things and I are one.” Man and nature are regarded as one. They are closely related and coexist. When spring returns to the earth and all things start growing, Taoism advocates that humans do not kill young and pregnant animals. Only then can grass seedlings grow without harm and maintain the ecological balance in accordance with the laws of ecology. The concept of “following nature and protecting the environment” has long existed in the traditional teachings of Taoism.

The three treasures of Taoism are compassion, frugality, and humility. Taoists are taught to be compassionate people who treat all things with a loving heart, cherish nature, and not to destroy nature out of selfish desire. While cultivating Taoism, one should be frugal, which we refer to as being thrifty nowadays, and control one's desires and ambitions. Humility is practiced when we minimize our competition with others, do not seek to pursue material desires and trends, conform to the natural environment, and coexist peacefully with nature.

It is worth mentioning that the gate of the Hong Kong Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple’s Confucian Veranda displays the altar name of the temple and a door couplet with the name of the Yuen in it. The door couplet translates roughly to “Achieving enlightenment at Puyi Altar, all things are empty at the garden named Sik Sik”. The words “Sik Sik” imply the Taoist doctrine of “calm indifference and the eradication of cravings”. Taoism advocates achieving Tao enlightenment, saving the world by helping people, and doing more good deeds and accumulating virtue, instead of satisfying all of one's material desires, indulging in one’s own life, and doing things that harm others to further one’s own interests. The ultimate concern of Taoism should be the pursuit of a life of self-enlightenment and the lofty ideals of becoming one with the Tao and joining the flow of the good fortune of Heaven and Earth. The spirit of compassion and environmental protection, benefiting the common people is a creed and responsibility of all Taoists.