What Are Some Sacred Things in Taoism?

by Kathleen March

Some of the sacred items in Taoist worship are fruit, water, light, flowers and incense. "According to Taoism, and Chinese thought in general, the cycles of nature are movements of qi (vital energy) as it is shaped by alternating patterns of yin and yang and the Five Phases." Early Taoist priests lived on mountains, which the believers venerated because they were considered to be the place of residence of deities and immortals. The mountains also provided space for calm meditation. The word Tao is often translated as the path or way.

Interconnectedness

"Beyond time and space, Tao has been called 'the structure of being that underlies the universe'." All things are believed to be connected and the best life is one of simplicity and balance. Taoism originated in the 6th century B.C. "Taoism acknowledges that all elements of the universe are subject to the same physical theories and laws; therefore, the physical theories and laws of the material universe are applicable to the spiritual universe."

Nature and Sacred Spaces

Taoism, Yin/Yang

Some Taoists create sacred spaces in their home or office. Similar to altars or shrines, they are not created to please the gods, or to influence fate, but as part of an agnostic approach to spirituality, these sacred spaces are for one's own psychological purpose. The natural objects such as sticks or flowers are reminders of the interconnectedness with nature and the universe. Living objects such as plants should not be cut (killed) in order to place them on the altar. Naturalness or the primordial state is a key value of the Taoist way.

Altars

Taoist altars usually contain several sacred objects. The Sacred Lamp represents the Light of the Tao. Two candles represent Yin (the moon) and Yang (the sun). These are placed on the right and left sides of the Lamp. Three cups are placed in front of the Lamp. The right cup should hold tea (Yin). The cup on the left is filled with water (Yang). The middle cup holds grains of uncooked rice, symbolizing the union of Yin and Yang. Five plates of fruit and five bowls of food are placed in front of the cups. The fruit represents the five elements (water, wood, fire, earth, metal) in pre-natal form, while the food bowls symbolize the elements in their post-natal state. In the very front, an incense burner is placed and represents the lower Dantian (lower abdominal region). These objects are symbols that point to the inner alchemy and thus to the foundations of Taoism. Inner alchemy refers to the gathering, storing and circulating the energies of the human body. Incense signifies that the body is the meeting place of heaven and earth, and each breath "fans the fire" of our "sacred burning."

Daily practice

Every object that arises within the field of perception can be seen as an object on the "altar" of experience. Everything that you see, hear, taste, smell or feel can be sacred. Adding emotions and thoughts, treating them as Qi or vital energy, can point to the vibratory nature of reality. Kindness, simplicity and humility are the three essential virtues for Taoist practice.

Resources

About the Author

Kathleen March has been a writer for 40 years. A professor and translator of Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician, she has studied several languages and uses them for travel and research. She enjoys medieval architecture and avant-garde poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous critical journals in the U.S. and Spain.

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