Taoism, together with Confucianism and Buddhism, is one of the important components of traditional Chinese culture. All this years, Taoism has not been given the status and attention. In the minds of many, Taoism is nothing more than sorcery, involving the drawing of strange signs, incantations, praying of statues, etc. This has led to misleading conclusion that Taoism is a superstitious religion.
More than 3000 years ago, our ancestors already developed the idea of “paying respect to the heavens, honoring the deities and paying respect to our ancestors”. This concept was passed down from one generation to the next. This, together with Taoism, fuelled the promotion and practice of ancestral and deity worship, and are now deep rooted in our hearts and it is a hallmark of the Chinese. Wherever you find Chinese people, you will be able to find temples; and wherever you fin temples, you will be able to find Chinese devotees. It has become a part of the Chinese lifestyle, a marvelous tradition of the Chinese, and it is definitely not a superstition. Although such worship is still widely practiced today, many emphasize on practicing it but not understanding it. Many practitioners do not really understand the proper meaning of worship and hence cannot give a satisfactory answer when others ask, “why must you pray?”, thus leading to the misunderstanding that such worship is superstitious.
Taoist prays to remember our source and not forget our roots and also to repay kindness and Gratitude.
The Taoist scripture says: All things have spirits, and deities of the heavens and earth are around us. The heavenly deities are always watching over us, caring for us, and blessing us without us knowing.
In the modern society, many people do not understanding the meaning of repaying kindness and showing gratitude to others who care for us. Many take such kindness for granted. The ideology of repaying kindness is vanishing in today’s society, and it is indeed a very sad and worrying phenomenon.
It is ancient Chinese belief that we should not only promote a culture of repaying kindness to the deities who bless and protect us, but also show gratitude to our country for the opportunities given to us, our parents for the care they lavish on us, our teachers for the knowledge they impart, and many others who have been always there for us. Praying to the deities sincerely is one of the methods to thank them.
Taoist uses incense for prayers
Incense is used as a medium to communicate with the deities, as the Taoist scriptures mentioned: The precious incense burns in the golden incense burner, and the emitting smoke travels up to the heavens. The incense is the communication tool for man to convey our wishes and messages to the deities, the rising smoke from the combustion carries our wishes up to the heavens. The scriptures also explained that the offering of three sticks of incense is to convey a message to the deities, and the deities of the three realms will turn shower blessings on us.
Taoists also believed the offering of incense to the deities is to show our sincerity and utmost respect. Likewise, the deities will acknowledge our respect by giving us blessings.
Taoist use the left hand to offer the incense (the left hand represents the “yang”, symbolizing respect). When offering the incense, Taoists will recite the spell silently “Burning of the incense shall receive ultimate peace” (常焚心香，得大清静).
The three sticks of incense should not be more than one inch apart, and must be placed straight upright. Inch is Chinese character is “cun” (寸) and it represents sincerity. Taoist scriptures advocates: A sincere heart can reach the heavens. This shows that with sincerity, one can convince the deities of the 9 heavens.