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- Eastern Religions & Beliefs
CHINESE TEMPLE ART FROM SOUTH ASIA
Chinese communities in south Asia have erected lovely temples that house murals depicting the myth and folklore of China.
Chinese temples in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia were built by immigrants in the 19th century to honor their gods and to make offerings to their ancestors. Chinese people believe that the souls of the departed continue to live in the Otherworld where they act as intermediaries between the living and the gods. The ghosts of the ancestors must be placated with food, drink, and the attention of their family. Ignoring them brings bad luck.
CHINA'S THREE RELIGIONS
Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are the primary religions of the Chinese. Taoism and Confucianism are indigenous to China, while Buddhism arrived from India over the Silk Road in the early centuries of the A.D. era. According to legend, a band of mischievous monkey gods stole Buddhist scriptures from India and carried them as a gift to the Chinese people.
Taoism is the folk religion of China, incorporating all the mystical and shamanic knowledge that the Chinese people have gathered over their long history. It is based on the concept of chi or the, a flow of energy that runs through everything. Some of its practices include tai chi, astrology, fengshui, herbal medicines, charms, and incantations. Taoist gods take human form and are called celestials.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tse is not the founder of Taoism, although he is its most prominent voice. Born in the 6th century B.C., Lao Tse became tire of society in his old age and travelled off to the wilderness of central China to meditate. On the way, he was detained at a gatehouse of the Great Wall. When the guards discovered he was a well known philosopher, they demanded that he write down his knowledge before they let him pass. This is how the Tao The Ching, or Book of the Tao, was born.
The extended family plays a much larger role in Asian society than in Western culture. Confucianism defines the etiquette and behavior expected of each family member. The role of a son, especially the eldest, is different from a daughter. The patriarch of a clan has his place, as does an uncle or mother-in-law. Ironically, Confucius himself was so rigid in his relationships that his wife divorced him.
Confucianism also governs the rituals of offerings to the ancestors. Only a son can perform these rituals, and filial piety is the cornerstone of family structure.
The buddha taught that a person can free himself from the endless cycle of re-incarnation by following The Middle Way, a path that lies between uncontrolled desire and asceticism. This is known as The Eightfold Path: right understanding; right thought; right speech; right conduct; right livelihood; right effort; right feeling; and right concentration.
The religions of Asia come to the West neatly bound in books of Eastern philosophy, but in Asia itself, religion revolves around offerings to the gods. Deities like the fragrance of incense, so joss sticks are set afire and placed in a brazier as a person prays. The gods hear sound, so firecrackers are used to get their attention. They have to eat and drink, so devotees bring rice, fuit, and other delicacies to the altar.
Candles are a universal offering, and sometimes a whole table of flickering candles or tiny oil lamps blaze before an altar. Prayer paper is burned in brass braziers along with prayer money or even miniature papier-mache cars or T.V. sets.
MYTH AND FOLKLORE
A pretty maiden or a betrayed warlord always make for a good story. Myth and folklore abound in China's ancient culture. The stories convey moral or philosophical lessons, record history, or simply entertain. Chinese folktales originated in an oral tradition and were later written into classical texts. Chinese people have been writing four four thousand years.