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Taoism In Modern China

Last month, Shanghai’s City God Temple played host to a solemn congregation assembled in celebration of the birth of Laozi, an ancient philosopher broadly called the founder of Chinese Taoism. The service has been held on the 15th day of the next month in the Chinese lunar calendar, an auspicious day which Taoists consider to be the birthday of the Highest Lord Lao, one of Taoism’s three greatest gods.

Lord Lao is the deified form of the same Laozi who apparently wrote the Tao Te Ching, a classic work of Chinese philosophy written around the sixth century B.C.. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, Lord Lao allegedly reappeared before the Taoist celestial master Zhang Daoling, bestowing upon him the teachings which afterwards came to shape the orthodox beliefs of the Zhengyi sect, one of the significant Taoist denominations in China now.

For followers of Taoism, the Highest Lord Lao is the embodiment of the Tao, or”Way,” and the Tao Te Ching is among the most important Taoist scriptures. During the Tang Dynasty, the emperor gave Laozi the venerable title of”Highest Emperor of Mysterious Origin,” and from 840 A.D. onward, his birthday was rigorously observed by the royal court, when the nation’s larger Taoist temples held burial ceremonies for followers to fast and preach scripture. Lord Lao’s birthday is, in nature, as close as Taoism gets to Christmas in the West. Nevertheless regardless of the current resurgence of religion in China, Lord Lao had not enjoyed a birthday celebration on this scale for quite a while.

Last month’s celebrations in Shanghai were so important for two reasons. For starters, it had been the first time in many years the City God Temple hosted a large scale Taoist festival. Although Taoism is China’s only indigenous religion, its sway now pales compared with its previous status. A lot of people know the City God Temple as a tourist milestone and business center, but few understand it as a significant Taoist religious site.

Secondly, the ceremony itself revealed Taoism is adapting its image to attract new converts. Within the course of the afternoon , organizers deftly mixed tradition, commerce, and technologies to create a welcoming atmosphere for new and lapsed Taoists alike.

During morning , the temple abbot started with a ritual preaching of the Tao. Afterwards, he conducted the tradition of natural audiences with Laozi, an extremely ritualized ceremony where followers proceed in slow procession around an altar, repenting of the sins and praying for blessings from heaven. In the day, two additional ceremonies were held which were significant for more pious followers who, after committing to longterm study and self-cultivation, want to eventually become”lay Taoists” — spiritual adepts who dedicate themselves to following the Tao, but aren’t members of the clergy.

The party was meant to expand the influence of Taoist culture, notably by bringing more young people to watch and take part in this traditional festival. Because of this, the thoroughly planned event was filled with fresh interpretations.

Among the most surprising innovations lay in the organizers’ repurposing of traditional iconography. In contrast to traditional images of Laozi — which tend to depict him as an elderly, ethereal, sage-like figure — the predominant image at the City God Temple was an anime-style illustration of Laozi as a baby, his hair drawn back into a bun, naked as the day he was born.

The icon’s artist, the Taoist priest Wang Minyuan, told me that the infant Laozi is, in fact, a very important part of Taoist iconography. It has its origins in the Eighty-One Transformations of Lord Lao — an illustrated religious text — in which it represents the beginning of the universe. In addition, the image of a child reflects the Tao Te Ching’s veneration of newborns, who symbolize the purity and sincerity of ancient times. Returning to a state of primordial communication with the Tao is the ultimate aim of those who practice Taoist self-cultivation — but that’s not to say representations of this ideal cannot also be updated for modern followers.

The event compellingly mixed modern-style iconography with much more traditional paraphernalia. Organizers erected a shrine to the Holy Infant and a further altar in honor of the Sovereign of the Void, a Taoist celestial worthy. The former harkened back to the tradition of sacrificing to Laozi during the Han Dynasty. The shrine was draped in a purple coverlet that joined together like curtains in the front, with a statue of the infant Laozi housed within.

The latter followed the ancient style of the Tang and Song dynasties, featuring outer, middle, and inner altars. Believers gathered to pay their respects at the outer alter, with a view of the religious accoutrements laid out on the middle altar. Finally, the inner altar was dedicated to spaces for the high priest, the abbot of the temple, and the other religious masters to perform Taoist rituals.

The planners’ intentions behind committing and constructing to these special altars were clarified by Taoist priest Tao Guanjing. The altars’ reappearance reflected the ongoing revival of the Taoist belief in spontaneity, he said. Taoist priests and adherents were invited to interact with one another during the ceremony, as a means of restoring the long-lapsed connection between the temple clergy and the congregation. Together, they gave free reign to the concept of universal salvation through communing with the Tao.

Interestingly, the entire event was broadcast live on internet giant Tencent’s Taoism channel, an online TV station that, alongside Buddhist and Confucian sister channels, aims to popularize Chinese traditional religion via the web. This was a historic first for a Shanghai-based Taoist ceremony. On the ground, three camera operators filmed the event in real time, beaming full, detailed coverage of the ceremony to audiences at home and abroad. Statistics showed that 630,000 viewers tuned in to watch the morning mass, a number that grew to 740,000 by the end of the day.

Throughout the broadcast, a senior Taoist of the Shanghai City God Temple, Li Daqian, offered commentary on the ceremonial happenings, explaining in exhaustive detail each stage of the event as it proceeded. The effect was to give audiences at home insight into the rituals playing out on their screens, challenging the idea that Taoism is impenetrable, irrelevant, or irreconcilable with modern life.

Outside of the specialized Taoist ceremonies, pilgrims and tourists to the City God Temple could hang talismans bearing their personal wishes for the future, as well as eat local pastries purportedly infused with the energy of the Tao. These activities reflected a deep-seated commercial aspect of Taoist festivals, many of which historically developed into temple fairs with distinct regional customs. The Laozi Fair at Chengdu’s Qingyang Palace, located in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, takes place alongside a local flower market; in the same vein, the treats on offer at the Shanghai temple fair added to the sense of community participation.

Combining the traditional with the modern has long been a challenge at the heart of Chinese Taoism; indeed, it is a difficulty that confronts practitioners of all forms of Chinese traditional culture. For me, the mass was largely successful: The organizers captured much of Taoism’s basic spirit through their adaptation of ancient classics, and revitalized the ceremonies of the Tang Dynasty — a golden age of Chinese culture — for a contemporary audience. They promoted orthodox Taoist culture while utilizing modern online media, keeping their eyes trained on the preferences of today’s young people and working hard to create a “Taoist Christmas” that everyone could enjoy.

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Spirituality

An End of Life Caregiver Has a Message About Death that You Need to Hear Right Now

Speaking from his experiences working in an ER and witnessing death first hand, then going on to work in end of life care with Hospice, Zach Bush MD, shares a few powerful observations about the way we look at death and life.

As a guest on the Rich Roll Podcast, Bush spent considerable time talking about the impending ecological crisis the human race is facing, and how our current course of action will almost certainly lead to the death of our species and of life on earth, he helps us to reframe our concept of death.

“We have the belief, I think in our subconscious, because of the movies we watch, because of the TV shows we watch, because of our big divorce from the death process, it’s become sterilized. You have probably not seen many people die. You have probably not seen your loved ones die. They’ve probably died in operating rooms, or ICU’s… and so very few human beings are now watching this process of death, and its allowed death to be defined as an endpoint. As a contraction, or a disappearance, rather than what I’ve actually seen it to be.” ~Zach Bush, MD

He goes on to point out examples of people have biologically died but have been brought back to life. These are the people who’ve experienced what we’ve come to call near death experiences, a remarkable phenomenon in which people from all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and so on, all share a very common experience.

“And what I’ve seen it to be is a massive expansion, of consciousness, of reality, of awareness, and ultimately of love.” ~Zach Bush, MD

As an ICU doctor, Bush was a firsthand witness to resuscitation of many patients, and he expresses his awe with the fact that the most common thing a patient would first say after being brought back to life was, ‘why did you bring me back?’

“In the hours that follow, they are telling their loved ones, ‘I went into this space, and it was bright white light everywhere, and in that moment I felt completely accepted for the first time in my life.” ~Zach Bush, MD

Now, this is the part you really need to hear right now and share with others:

“I think we’re all walking around right now lonely as hell. And our opportunity to rebirth, because death is not an endpoint, is a transformation moment. It’s an expansion beyond limits of this frail, biological shell that we carry around. And the instant that we step outside of that, we find out that the universe embraces us in every single second of our existence, in complete acceptance of who we are. We are enough, in and of our own identity of ‘I am,’  at every second of every point of our existence.” ~Zach Bush, MD

He goes on to ask a very big question about our existence, that is, what if we need a death moment in order to evolve into who we are really supposed to be?

Watch the short clip for yourself, here, and please share with friends, family, and loved ones.

About the Author

Vic Bishop is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com. He is an observer of people, animals, nature, and he loves to ponder the connection and relationship between them all. A believer in always striving to becoming self-sufficient and free from the matrix, please track him down on Facebook.

This article (An End of Life Caregiver Has a Message About Death  that You Need to Hear Right Now) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Vic Bishop and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio and internal links. 

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10 Quotes from Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha That Will Truly Inspire You

Christina Sarich, Staff Writer
Waking Times

Hermann Hesse’s timeless book, Siddhartha, should be required reading for any spiritual seeker. The book is about Siddhartha’s journey as a respected son of a Brahmin. Everyone expects that he will follow in his father’s footsteps. He enjoys an idyllic life and follows the tenets of his religion expecting that they will bring him peace and happiness. He feels the pangs of discontent though, and observes that his father and elders have not yet reached enlightenment, even though they too have followed the instructions of their religion. When starving and naked ascetics cross Siddhartha’s path one day, his journey truly begins. On this endeavor, he comes to a river that teaches him many life lessons.

If you haven’t had a chance to be profoundly awakened by this book yet, here are ten quotes from it that will move you to question your own environment, religion, culture, and relationships, to possibly find something more.

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” 

We so often misunderstand the difference between wisdom and knowledge in this world. Wisdom is timeless. It can only be arrived at with discernment and the development of our consciousness to a level that understands paradox and true freedom.

Knowledge simply binds us to erroneous, concrete beliefs, making it nearly impossible to understand the truth of the Universe. Wisdom, however, discloses Truth in ways that cannot even be explained with a thousand books, a million teachings from religious figures, or a hundred million facts memorized and assimilated. Wisdom is so pure, that even language corrupts it.

“When someone seeks, then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.” 

There are numerous literary and mythical examples of the seeker. Joseph Campbell describes the seeker in the quintessential quest for the Holy Grail – a representation of some outer prize that can be obtained with enough valor or sacrifice, but what we truly seek can be found only within our own hearts. When we seek an outside goal, this is an indication that our own hearts long to be understood. Striving for something outside ourselves causes us to forever remain a seeker.

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” 

All people, places and circumstances in life are fodder for spiritual advancement. Tears are a spiritual release. Hearing a song on the radio that reminds us of someone is a clue from the Universe to send that person love and compassion. Seeing someone else go through something horrible and thinking, “that could have been me,” is a reminder to be thankful.

Getting stuck at a red light is a reminder to breathe deeper. An argument is a gentle tug from the Universe to look inside yourself. Everything that we experience can help us grow. It isn’t just the positive, airy fairy things that help us grow.

When we do a life review, the times we acted with courage and faced our pain, fear, and sadness will be the moments when we smile the biggest.

“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.” 

This point is described in great detail by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their discussion of spiral dynamics. The way they visualize change is in a spiral. Though we may circle around to the same challenges, each time we do, we are higher up on the spiral, hopefully with a higher level of consciousness with which to approach the problem.

Beck explained that if we try to impose our ‘solutions’ too far ahead of the curve the result can be rebellion rather than transformation. Because of this, the authors use the term “more complex” instead of “better” or “higher” to describe humanity’s stages of evolutionary development. Even if we haven’t quit reached the apex of what we can visualize, we have already taken many steps to make a better world a reality.

“So she thoroughly taught him that one cannot take pleasure without giving pleasure, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every last bit of the body has its secret, which brings happiness to the person who knows how to wake it. She taught him that after a celebration of love the lovers should not part without admiring each other, without being conquered or having conquered, so that neither is bleak or glutted or has the bad feeling of being used or misused.” 

Sex is so often a mindless exchange between people these days. It is not an act to be engaged in so recklessly, though. When we share each other’s bodies, subtle energies are exchanged between us. The cultivation of these energies can even be used to achieve higher states of consciousness. When we act as though our bodies are just sacks of flesh, instead of the physical manifestation of energy, then we are missing the point of sensuality.

“It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.” 

One of my own spiritual teachers once said to me, you only have to learn to love. That is your only lesson while you are here. Even when we think we are loving, there are usually ways that we are not acting, thinking, and feeling from a loving place. This includes how we think and treat ourselves, not just other people.

“My real self wanders elsewhere, far away, wanders on and on invisibly and has nothing to do with my life.” 

Whatever you define yourself as in this life – a father, a mother, a daughter, a son, a husband, a friend, a lover, a worker, etc. – these are only labels. They don’t not encase your infinite soul. You have been all these things and more in many lifetimes, and in many more places than where you are now.

“Opinions mean nothing; they may be beautiful or ugly, clever or foolish, anyone can embrace or reject them.” 

You know that other saying about opinions and asses. Enough said.

“One can beg, buy, be presented with and find love in the streets, but it can never be stolen.” 

With everything that has been taken from us by an evil, destructive, psychotic, corrupt cabal, isn’t wonderful to know that love cannot be traded like a stock or destroyed like gold, faked like paper money, or made to be more, or less valuable at the whims of a few elite. Love is eternal, indestructible, and pure. It is our greatest treasure.

“I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha.” He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time.” 

 Every single major religion on this planet has been corrupted. This doesn’t mean that religion has nothing left to teach us. It also doesn’t mean you need to believe in God or be an atheist to arrive at true wisdom, but as long as you are looking to an institution or a person to bring you enlightenment, you’ll miss it.

About the Author

Christina Sarich is a staff writer for Waking Times. She is a writer, musician, yogi, and humanitarian with an expansive repertoire. Her thousands of articles can be found all over the Internet, and her insights also appear in magazines as diverse as Weston A. PriceNexusAtlantis Rising, and the Cuyamungue Institute, among others. She was recently a featured author in the Journal, “Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and Healing Arts,” and her commentary on healing, ascension, and human potential inform a large body of the alternative news lexicon. She has been invited to appear on numerous radio shows, including Health Conspiracy Radio, Dr. Gregory Smith’s Show, and dozens more. The second edition of her book, Pharma Sutra, will be released soon.

This article (10 Quotes from Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha That Will Truly Inspire You) was originally published at The Mind Unleashed and is re-posted here with permission.

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Holy Relics: Miraculous Powers Of Icons

Orthodox Christianity provides the faithful with many sacred objects of worship, especially icons – artistic depiction of holy figures. It is commonly believed these holy relics possess spiritual powers to perform miracles and protect individuals and even whole country from possible danger.

What is holy icon?

An icon (from Greek “image”) is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, where the most common subjects include Christ, Mary, saints and angels. In Orthodox Christianity the icons provide inspiration and connect the worshipper with the spiritual world, sometimes they are called “windows into heaven.”

These objects are important for believers because they depict patron saints, people who are chosen as special protectors or guardians over all areas of life. Traditionally people see them as symbols of how to live a better life. Most of Orthodox Christians understand that they are merely expressing honour and respect for the people and events depicted, and not for the icons themselves.

Since the time of Byzantine Empire the icons had become a major part of worship and devotion among the Orthodox Christianity followers. The walls of churches were covered inside from floor to roof with icons, scenes from the Bible, allegorical groups. Icons were taken on journeys as a protection, they marched at the head of armies, they hung in a place of honour in almost every house etc.

More reverence has been always paid to icons believed to have miraculous origins.

‘Our Lady of Vladimir’

Holy Relics: Miraculous Powers Of Icons

Our Lady of Vladimir

Our Lady of Vladimir is one of the most venerated Orthodox icons. Regarded as the holy protectress of Russia, the icon is displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Patriarch Luke Chrysoberges of Constantinople sent the newly-painted icon as a gift to Grand Duke Yury Dolgoruky of Kiev about 1131. The beautiful image was coveted by Yury’s son Andrei the Pious who brought it to his favourite city Vladimir in 1155. When the horses that transported the icon stopped near Vladimir and refused to go further, this was interpreted as a sign that the Blessed Virgin wants to stay in Vladimir. To house the icon, the great Assumption cathedral was built there, followed by other churches dedicated to the Virgin throughout northwestern Russia.

In 1395, during Tamerlane’s invasion, the image was taken from Vladimir to the new capital, Moscow. The spot where people and the ruling prince met the icon is commemorated with the Sretensky monastery. Vasili I of Moscow spent a night crying over the icon, and Tamerlane‘s armies retreated the same day. The Muscovites refused to return it back to Vladimir and placed it in the Assumption cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. The image was also credited with saving Moscow from Tatar hordes in 1451 and 1480.

One of the most exquisite icons ever painted, Our Lady of Vladimir is imbued with universal feelings of motherly love and anxiety for her child. By the 16th century the Vladimirskaya (as the Russians call it) was a thing of legend. It was even rumoured that the icon was painted by St Luke on the Lord’s table of the Last Supper. The venerated image was used in coronations of tsars, elections of patriarchs, and other important ceremonies of state.

But its most important service was yet to come. In December 1941, as the Germans approached Moscow, Stalin order that the icon be taken from a museum and placed in an airplane and that it be carried around the besieged capital. Several days later the German army started to retreat.

‘Our Lady of Kazan’

Holy Relics: Miraculous Powers Of Icons

Our Lady of Kazan

This miraculous icon of the Mother of God appeared after the fire in Kazan in the 16th century in a rather mysterious way. Theotokos appeared to a nine-year-old girl Matrona in a dream and told her to find her icon on the ashes. This dream was repeated again and again, until the girl decided to go with her mother in search of the icon. And indeed, the icon was found there.

This image of the Mother of God is the most revered and beloved, and considered the ‘Great Intercessor of Russia.’ The icon more than once helped the Russian people in the most difficult times. Its appearance symbolizes victory over the Time of Troubles. Russians thank it for the disposal of Moscow from the invasion of the Poles. Before the Battle of Poltava, Peter the Great with his army prayed to the image of the Kazan Mother of God. The icon was the main patron of the Romanov dynasty. During the Great Patriotic War, this icon was the spiritual driver of the Russian people.

Beginning with Baptism, all the most significant events in life of a Russian Orthodox take place with this icon. It gives a blessing for marriage, helps in work and in everyday problems. Feast days of ‘Our Lady of Kazan’ are 21 July and 4 November.

The Pochaev Mother of God

Holy Relics: Miraculous Powers Of Icons

The Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God

Pochaev mountain is in the west of Kyvian Rus, now in modern-day Ukraine, and it is there in the 14th century, that an appearance of the Mother of God with her Saviour was granted to two monks and a nearby shepherd. After the vision, a single footprint remained in the mountainside, from which a spring emerged. The previously uninhabited mountain became the site of a monastery dedicated to the miracle. Over 200 years later, the monastery was visited by the a Greek Bishop, Neophit, who left behind as a gift, an Icon of the Theotokos from Constantinople. This is the Icon which came to bear the monastery’s name: the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God.

It is believed this icon saved the town from Turkish army’ attack in 1675. After people start praying a vision of the Mother of God appeared in the sky along with an army of angels, swords unsheathed. At this appearance, the defenders were over-joyed, whilst the besieging Turks were terrified. In panic, the Turks fired arrows into the sky at the image but the arrows simply fell back to earth upon the attackers.The Turks turned to flee, and the monastery was saved. The Pochaev Icon produced many other miracles over the years, and is still known as a wonder-working image to this day.

Our Lady of Smolensk

Holy Relics: Miraculous Powers Of Icons

  Our Lady of Smolensk

Another important icon in Russian Orthodoxy is Our Lady of Smolensk. With the population of 200,000 inhabitants, Smolensk was probably the largest city in the 15th-century Lithuania. Three Smolensk regiments proved decisive during the Battle of Grunwald against the Teutonic knights. It was a severe blow when the city was recaptured by Vasili III of Russia in 1514. To commemorate this event, the tsar founded the Novodevichi convent in Moscow and dedicated it to the holy icon of Our Lady of Smolensk.

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