(The dialog between Christianity and Taoist Folk Beliefs) author: Sense Chen
(Secretary General of Taiwan Conference on Religion and Peace,CEO of Taiwan St. Mary’s Hospital)
What is the distance between the heaven and the world? How to measure the dimensions of life? Look up the unlimited stars in the sky, and then bow your head down for self-examination, have you found God and the truth? With hearts, above the dark sea we can see the bright moon; also we can share the present time even we are far away!
Search for the truth: becoming good partners through cross-religions
Based on distance, Vatican is away from Taiwan for more than 6 thousand miles. And based on time, the birth of Jesus Christ is one thousand years earlier than the birth of Life Security Emperor (AD 979—1036). On October 15th and 16th, the two religions of east and west with no intersection before met at the Security Palace in Taipei held an international scholastic seminar called “In search of truth: the dialog between Christianity and Taoist Fork Beliefs”. This was the first time in history that Vatican and Taiwan dialogued on the Catholic and the Taoism. The Catholic mobilized the main clergies of the Communication Committees of three levels from Vatican, Asia and Taiwan which including the Bishop Ayuso from Vatican and Cardinal Han Tang of Hong Kong parish and so on over one hundred people attended the meeting.
In the opening speech, Bishop Andrew Chong felt regretful that although all the Fathers live in Taipei, however none have ever visited the Security Palace. He appreciated the opportunity of this communication to let the Fathers know that the Security Palace has help the Catholic many times which including donated money to Saint Mary’s Hospitals in Luotung and Taitung, and help them purchasing more medical equipment.
The Security Palace has 270 years history, the main worship is the Life Security Emperor. The Security Palace has put a lot of efforts to keep and maintain cultural monuments of Taiwan. In year 2003, the Security Palace received “Asia Pacific Cultural Heritage Save Award” from UNESCO; this is the first case of NGO in Taiwan and is also the only case in Taiwan until today. In year 2004, the Security Palace also received “Save Contribution Award” from National Cultural Save Award to recognize its contributions to save the cultural heritage of traditional temple. Because of these recognitions get Vatican’s attention, so Vatican selected the Security Palace in Taipei as the first start to communicate with Taoism.
Mr. Wuzi Liau, the chairman of the Security Palace stated that Vatican selected the Security Palace as the partner to search for the truth together is not an accident. The main worship of the Security Palace is the Life Security Emperor, he is a medical god, and he is merciful to the world. This is matched with Jesus’ loving everyone in the world and having the peace to the world.
Complete Trust—St. Mother Teresa’s experience
The seminar including 5 sub-topics which are: “Life process is the experience of life giver”, “Theology in the Scriptures”, “Retreat experience of communicating with God”, “Ritual—worship, praying to God”, and “The solid religion actions of enhancing mercy and peace”.
First, Father Clarence Daas shared a vivid example of retreater’s life experience.
“The headquarters of Sisters of Charity was at Calcutta. One morning, a beginner nun of kitchen came to tell Mother Teresa that they were lacking of flour for the lunch and one and half hours later, over 300 nuns working for the ministries outside would come back for lunch. Guess what Mother Teresa did? She did not take the telephone to find the donors for help, her response was natural and not contrived, then said: “Dear nun, are you responsible for this week kitchen service? Then go to the sanctuary to tell Jesus we were out of food. And the problem has been resolved. Now, let’s continue, what is the next step to dispose.” 10 minutes later, the doorbell was ringing, a male stranger took a clipboard at the gate, said: “Mother Teresa, we just were noticed that all the city school teachers were on strike, all the schools were closed, we have 7000 lunches waiting for disposition, would you please help us doing it?”
This was just one of Mother Teresa’s many life experiences. In fact, there is no anyone who experienced two times in the same river water; everyone more or less has some amazing experiences which linking together becoming the unique imprint of the life. A philosopher called Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said: “We are not human beings with the retreat experience; we are the retreaters with the experience of human beings.” Basically, the thought of pantheism and the belief of Christianity are incompatible. However, as a retreater with the experience of human beings, how to treat the other’s life experience? It seems to fall into a dilemma.
Dilemma Decision, put efforts to destroy the barrier
I think of one of my experiences. Faithful and devotional aunt brought the little friends by the house door and asked them a question: “You stand in the middle of door, if you come in, your dad will die; if you go out, your mom will die. Then what should you do?”
Then the little friends answered unrestrainedly, such as jump up, becoming invisible, just stay there i.e. not coming in and not going out; and some just crying! Only the younger brother said calmly: “I will suicide at the door.”
I was amazed; the 6 years old child could say this kind of words! In the book of “Western Region Travel of Great Tang Dynasty” recorded a disciple of Buddha called Ah Nan before his death made a dream to the two hostile kings that he was going to Nirvana at Ganges. After the two hostile kings knew that, they brought their own armies to Ganges in order to get Ah Nan. When they arrived at Ganges, they saw Ah Nan was on a boat in the middle of the river. He faced the two sides and said to the tense armies: “I consider the hate of the two counties, therefore coming to Ganges to finish my life to let both of your counties to have half of my body!” After finished the saying, Ah Nan burned himself to die. All the people were so sad, the two kings shared the relics which were left by Ah Nan and brought them back to their own counties to establish a tower to keep and worship. Therefore, the two hostile countries repaired the relationships to becoming friends and no more fighting because of Ah Nan’s sacrifice.
Let’s think, if it were you facing the dilemma, what would you do? I ask myself, my answer will be: “I will put efforts to destroy the barrier.” How to make it happen? To dialog and to communicate.
Mutual Respect—the light through intersection
Every time, when the statue of “Saint Mary” of the “Catholic Church of Wanchin” in Pingtung toured around the area, all the head arrays of local temples lined up to greet. The abbots of the temples said: “The Catholic in Taiwan does a lot of contributions, the Holy Mother is worthy for us to welcome her.” Saint Mary and the heavenly Saint Holy Mother—Ma Chu are like roses with different names with the same fragrant. Therefore, the religious communication presents the brighter glory.
Rev. Dr. Peniel, The CEO of Religious Altar Committee of Christianity Association, used the Zen’s picture of “Pointing Moon with Hand” to describe that the Lord’s presence in the Scriptures as the response. He said: “The moon pointed with our fingers is not equal to the moon itself.” Facing the Lord’s and human beings’ interaction, the Lord is asking us: “This is the style of how people listen to me, look at me and respond to me. I give them various grace and gifts, they respond this way. What is your own response?” Languages, words, and pictures are limited, in other words, we could not absolutely complete to control the entire Lord’s presences in the Bible. May be, through the dialogs of different religions can help us better understanding our own beliefs.
Listening Communication—meeting God in the quietness
Father Paul, the execute secretary of the Religious Communication Committee of Bishop Conference in Taiwan, mentioned one of his teaching experiences. He taught his students to know the Catholic and then asked the students to describe what “baptism” is. One student answered with the Catholic language from what they read in the book. Father Paul asked him: “Do you really understand your own words? If based on your own belief, how would you explain what baptism is.” Then the student’s answer was quite interesting, he said the baptism was just like residence registration, the baptized person is the registered Christian.
In fact, in order to prevent from each said the words in the religious communications, or becoming apologetics debate, the communicators for sure need some trainings and cultivations. Do not hurry to describe yourself, but listening to the other side first. The pioneer of religious communications in Taiwan—Father Albert Poulet-Mathis said: “Before, we talked ‘evangelism’; right now we talk helping one another, sharing cultures and beliefs. You are in me, I am in you. All the leaders of religious groups all agree to understand others’ beliefs and then there is communication, most of people would start from this respect and then to develop the further step. Deep Dialog cannot be effective without mutual exploration. People of different faiths can live together lost in a shared tranquility.
This attitude also responds to another speaker—Sr. Teresa Seow, the vice chairlady of Religion Communication Committee of Singapore. The content of her report: “In order to find God in this kind of time, we have prepared something that is to create a space in our own deep heart to accept God’s presence in His time…i.e. “meeting in the quietness”.
One in God and human—The Lord blesses with different grace
Archbishop Felix, the chairman of Asia Religious Communication Committee expressed the very good attitude of religious communication; he is a very good old friend of Father Albert, he is accepted by other religions with his open mind attitude, in the meantime, he can express the stand of his beliefs clearly, therefore, he has a lots of good friends from many different religions. More important is that he has been understood by his own group, and not been misunderstood as “not a good Catholic Father”.
My Catholic friend have told me that Father Albert certainly hope that he could baptize me. I informed Father Albert my friend’s idea; Father Albert said that he never had such kind of thinking. He said: “The purpose of religious communication is not for evangelism, it is the mutual learning through the communication of different religions. The Lord has different grace for you.” I was touched by his words until today.
The different grace will be happened at Professor Chan Tak-Kwong as well; he had the opportunity in the same time to accept edifications of Gregory Hymn and ancient zither, and therefore can experience the “one in God and man” from the spiritual music of East and West into the perspective of “walk to the water shortage area and then sit to watch the forming clouds.”
In search of real righteousness—Is it necessary to “Pu-Du” in lunar July?
Father Raphael Lin was the last one to present the paper. He did an excellent demonstration, he “from the understanding Tao based on the Christian’s view point ”, with the language of Taoism’s “Tao gods”, linked the theological concept of “Trinity” of the Catholic, to help the Catholic members knowing the theological concept of Taoist, and of course even helping more on establishing the foundation of mutual dialogs.
Because of “Love”, therefore we can see the image of the Lord from the people of the different beliefs.
One of the attendants asked an interesting question to cause the enthusiastic discussions: “Are the Catholic hospitals suitable to ‘Pu-Du’ (that means to worship the homeless ghosts) in lunar July or not?”
Prior to Father Raphael Lin, the lecture of “The meaning of ‘Pu-Du’” presented by Professor Kwei Wen Hsieh was used for the subject. Only the homeless ghosts which no one to worship them could make bad things to people, the homeless ghosts are the spirits and souls which have no any relationship with us. But “the three in one” and yin(female) yang(male) are related. The relationships are existed even we do not talk about them.
The Catholic prays all the dead; this has been done since the early ages. Every year on Tomb Day in April, all the ancestors are prayed for the memory, even pray for all the dead who have no one to memorize them. November is the refining spiritual month; the whole month is used to pray for all the spirits which could not be in the heaven directly. The Catholic pays a lot of attentions on the dead spirits; however, it is different from the “Pu-Du” of folk beliefs.
Father Raphael Lin said: “The doctrines of the Catholic more emphasize on ‘repent’, repent means re-establish the proper relationship. The Catholic emphasize repent very much, what is repent? Repent into the Lord’s love, to establish the proper and intimate relationship with the Lord, when receive the forgiveness in the Holy Spirit, the peace is in the heart and will receive the endless stream of blessings from the Lord.
Cautious on Death and Memorize the ancestors—fraternity with passion in Chinese Culture
Profess Kwei Wen Hsieh of Taoism indicated; “Pu-Du” of “Chung-Yuan” (means on lunar July 15th) was originally from the beliefs of “Three-Yuan”—Heaven Official, Earth Official and Water Official to associated to Sang-Yuan, Chung-Yuan and Sya-Yuan. In the later time, when the Scripture of “Yu-Nan-Pon” of Buddhism was transferred into China, the “Pu-Du” was becoming the ceremony of Buddhism. Buddhism is the foreign religion, it can accept “Pu-Du” of “Chung-Yuan”. The Catholic why not to think about during the period of “Pu-Du” of “Chung-Yuan” what can be done, and this will be very helpful for its propaganda.
Actually, the Catholic has done something. Father Zing Suin Chou, the consultant of Pontifical Religious Liaison Committee took the experience of Fu-Jen University as an example, from year 1970, Cardinal Bin Yu, Archbishop Kang Luo worship the ancestors at Fu-Jen University every year, he presides a mass every month in Hong Kong and after the mass followed with the public ancestors worship.
This is living in Chinese culture with the concept of “Pu-Du” which means “worshipping the homeless ghosts”.
Archbishop San Choan Hong even with more positive way to look at “Pu-Du”, After all, there are three hospitals in Taipei parish, over 90% of the employees are not Catholic, he need to helping them to know Catholic’s attitude on “ghost month” that is lunar July and “Pu-Du”. Archbishop Hong said: “How do I explain it? We are not afraid of ‘ghost month’, we are afraid of years, there is no passion in years, but there is passion in ‘ghost month’. Chinese said, ‘there are three disobediences, the first one is no child.’ This does not mean no child is disobedience. What they worry is after you die, there is no one to worship you. This is why a lot of people scared to believe in Catholic or Christianity. They are afraid of not allowing burning incense. They do not know that Catholic is burning incense for worshipping the ancestors. I believe the lunar July is the period of summit of showing fraternity of Taiwanese. Because they worship the ancestors who have no one to worship them, we call these kinds of ancestors “the homeless ghosts”, the Catholic considers all of them are spirits, and the Catholic especially uses November to pray for these ancestors and doing love charity. Facing the lunar July, we should look at it with the positive attitude and not negative. The negative attitude is we are afraid of homeless ghosts; the positive attitude is we help worshipping those ancestors who have no one to worship them, we also pray for them.”
Express Mercy—through cooperation reaching peace
Isn’t this mercy? Share happiness with all the people is greatness; suffer sadness with all the people is greatness. Therefore, at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Luotung, by the parking lot, there is a temple of all the dead patients, and at Kindness Hospital in Hukou, the “Pu-Du” of Catholic style is held every lunar July.
Bishop Ayuso indicated, the world is eager for peace, but a lot of people of many countries are torturing by the wars, suffering pain and poverty. Through the mutual communication of this seminar, we can have mutual beneficial cooperation, advocate the mutual value, produce the precious fruit of peace, and is not to change other side or get into opposition unscrupulously.
Last year was the 50th anniversary of publishing the declaration of “Nostra Aetate” (The church’s attitude to non-Christianity religions), its spirit is to express care and friendship to non-Christianity religions’ beliefs, and this is the important milestone of the Catholic Church’s attitude and comment to other religions. Therefore, the Pope announced this year is “Mercy Jubilee”, to treat one another with mercy, to promote meeting together with other religions; open more enthusiastic communications to know one another to eliminate the various unrespect, get rid of violence and discrimination. But, compare with the two thousand years history of Catholic, this declaration is very new, we are still learning.
Where there is heart and where there is love, even it is far away just as of nearby. Where there is no heart and where there is no love, even it is just nearby could be very far away.