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Taiwan's Religion/Philosophy

Development of Religion in Taiwan
Taiwan practices freedom of religion, generously accepting foreign religious ideas while honoring traditional beliefs: even within the same family, it is common for different faiths to exist.  As a result, Taipei has welcomed the development of many different religions.

Traditional Chinese religions include Buddhism, Taoism, and folk beliefs.  Taoism is indigenous to China, while Buddhism was introduced from India.  Taoists and Buddhists originally worshipped separately in Taiwan, but during the period of Japanese occupation (1895-1945) Taoists were singled out for severe persecution and began worshipping their deities secretly in Buddhist temples.  By the time Taiwan was returned to Chinese administration at the end of World War II, the two religions had blended together; while a few temples today are purely Buddhist, most Taiwanese continue worshipping a variety of Buddhist, Taoist, and folk deities in a single temple.

Many of these deities once lived as mortals and were given divine status because of their special virtues or contributions.  One prominent example of this is Juan Kung, who was a famous general during the Three Kingdoms period more than 1,500 years ago and is now revered as the God of War.  The most famous example, however, is Confucius, who lived 2,500 years ago and was first enshrined by Emperor Yuan of the Western Han, who reigned 48-33 B.C.  The Sage is honored today in many temples throughout Taiwan.

Christianity was brought to Taiwan in the early 17th century by Spanish and Dutch missionaries.  A number of Presbyterian missions were founded in early times, including the Panhsi Church of Tataocheng (today known as Tachiao Church) in 1874 and Manka Church in 1884; during the Japanese occupation period, the Chungshan Presbyterian Church, Chinan Church, and Chengchung Church were established.

Numerous other religions took hold in Taiwan in the atmosphere of religious freedom than followed retrocession; in addition to the Chinese religions and Christianity, Taiwan today also has followers of Bahaism, Islam, and Tienlichiao (from Japan), among others.

The Appearance of Temples in Taiwan
During the Ching dynasty (1644-1911) large numbers of Chinese from Fukien province made the perilous voyage across the Taiwan Straits to settle and seek better lives on this fertile but undeveloped island.  To keep themselves from harm during the dangerous trip, they carried with them sacred images, incense for the gods, and protective amulets.  Most of the ships they used carried images of Matsu, Goddess of the Sea, to assure calm weather and a safe passage.

Danger did not cease when the immigrants reached Taiwan, for medicine in this wilderness area was primitive and many people were claimed by sickness and disease.  For protection, the settlers worshipped a group of plague gods called Wang-yeh, who were believed to have the ability to eradicate illness.

Later on, as the settlers and their new villages began to flourish, the naturally felt a need to show gratitude for the divine assistance that had blessed them.  They built temples to honor their gods, the most important of which were Matsu and Wang-yeh.  In addition to providing homes for the gods and places for devotees to worship, temples also became centers of social activity for all members of the community.

Temples are memorial buildings, sanctuaries for the gods, and centers of faith for believers.  In addition to a design and layout that are governed by a complex set of rules, temples also showcase decorative arts (wood and stone carvings, clay sculptures, pottery, paintings, calligraphy) that in addition to offering a visual sense of beauty also reflect the Chinese outlook toward life - the desire to have good fortune and avoid bad luck, the supplication for enlightenment and honor.  These decorations constitute a body of religious art which gives full expression to the spiritual culture of the Chinese people.

Direction from the Gods
Inside Taiwan's temples, you can frequently see rituals being performed to seek help from the gods.  When devotees have a favor to ask or a fortune to be told, they  burn three sticks of incense before an altar as they mentally repeat their name, birth date, address, and the question or favor they want to ask.  Then they drop two crescent-shaped divining blocks, made of wood or bamboo, onto the floor.  When one block lands convex side up and the other flat side up, the answer is positive or the omen is good.  If both land with convex side up, the answer is negative or the omen bad.  If both land with the flat side up, the answer or omen is neutral and the supplicant has to try again.

Another way to seek divine guidance in Taiwan's temples is by drawing lots or oracles.  A large number of bamboo strips with number written on them are placed in a cylindrical container with the top open.  The container is shaken and the strip which protrudes the farthest is drawn out.  Then the diving blocks are used to determine if this is indeed the right strip; if they give a positive reply three times in a row, the supplicant chooses an oracle, according to the number on the bamboo strip, that is written on a piece of paper.  Many of the oracles are vague in meaning, and larger temples have specialists available to help interpret them.

Information provided by the Taiwan Culture and Information Center

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