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.