CatholicNews ■ Sunday August 5, 2007

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The roof is often an image of a sacred mountain, an abode of the immortals. The figurines that decorate the roof depict legendary figures and heroes of sacred myths. At the top of the roof are usually two dragons looking at each other over a flaming pearl located in the centre. This pearl represents the pure energy (chʼi) that emanates from the incense burner in the temple. Taoists pray to the gods, and to their ancestors too as a mark of

The Three Pure Ones – known as Jade Clarity, Highest Clarity and Supreme Clarity – were formed by the breath of Tao. They are at the top of the Taoist pantheon, just below Lao Tzu. Their main goal is to save mankind by teaching kindness.

To a Taoist, death is not the ending of life but the beginning of the next stage in life, the spiritual stage. Taoists believe that the yang component in each person comprises three Hun souls and the ying component comprises seven Po souls. The three Hun souls form the skeleton and the seven Po souls make up the flesh. At the death of a Taoist, a ritual is undertaken to let the deceasedʼs three Hun souls be transported to the other world. However, the seven Po souls are believed to linger after death and a ritual is required every seven days to send one of these seven Po souls to the other world. Only at the end of 49 days, is the deceased fully at rest in the other

Ling, famed for his promotion of Taoism. Other important Taoist dates include the seventh day of each month when it is believed that seven celestial Taoist gods, known as the seven Northern Dipper Star Lords, enter the Mortal World (earth). Taoists believe that when they recite the Great Northern Dipper Scripture on this day, their sins,debts and sufferings will be reduced and they will be blessed with longevity. The festival of the “Hungry Ghosts,” celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, is, perhaps, the most famous Taoist feast in Singapore. It marks the birthday of the Earth Official, who judges the dead. Devotees take part in good works, fasts and rituals to seek

Taoism is polytheistic. Taoists believe in many deities and immortals. Its gods are believed to be pure emanations of Tao. Immortals are humans who have achieved eternal life through the cultivatiion of Tao, and, particularly, through meditation, physical training, breathing techniques, the ingestion of elixirs, and moral behaviour. Immortals dwell in the heavens, on mountains, and in other magical paradises. At the top of the pantheon is Lao Tzu, revered both as the first god of Taoism and the personification of Tao. He is followed by the Three Pure Ones whose main goal is to save mankind by teaching kindness. Below them are thousands of gods with numerous titles, qualities and functions and who are worshipped at various ceremonies throughout the year. Taoists usually worship in their own home or in the temple. The temple is believed to be the residence of a heavenly official (a god belonging to the Jade Clarity realm and who confers blessings). The temple is usually built with the

Taoists offer joss sticks in honour of their ancestors, or to pray for a special intention.

Taoists also worship immortals, who are humans who have achieved eternal life through the cultivatiion of Tao.

characteristics of the palaces of imperial China. The principal door of the temple opens toward the south and the temple walls on either side often have the images of the Green Dragon (representing yang) and White Tiger (representing ying).

respect. Prayer is also a form of cultivating the Tao. When Taoist priests recite the scriptures and chant repentance rituals, they are beseeching the gods to erase sins and, at the same time, spreading the teachings of Tao. Taoists believe that reciting the scriptures can dissolve misfortune, eliminate illness, prolong life and benefit health. To a Taoist, ancestor worship promotes harmony and peace within the family, reaffirms the family identity and maintains the order of succession. Fruit offerings, the burning of paper money and paper houses, and the lighting of joss sticks are some intrinsic Taoist practices. They symbolize respect, gratitude and pride in oneʼs roots and, at the same time, serve as requests for good luck and fortune.

Male and female Taoist priests conduct rituals side by side, evoking the Heavenly Spirits or Celestial Masters, according to the particular celebration.

world and capable of blessing the descendants still living on earth.

The most important date for Taoists is the birthday of Lao Tzu on the 15th day of the second lunar month when Taoist temples and organizations honour him. Another important Taoist feast is held on the 18th day of the fifth lunar month to mark the birthday of Heavenly Master Zhang Dao

forgiveness for the sins of their ancestors, obtain his mercy for them and ask him to lead them to the heavenly realms. These devotees pacify the hungry ghosts by praying, chanting and offering food and other things to them so they will have what they need to survive and move on to their next life. In Singapore, it is common to see joss sticks lit, wayangs (street theatre), feasts and auctions during this period. ■