On this day, we had a really unique opportunity to take part in a Taoist (Daoist) ceremony for health, wealth, and happiness at the Wong Tai Shin Temple. Wong Tai Shin is a Chinese deity in Taoism who was born in Jinhua in the late 3rd century. He is especially famous in Hong Kong, but it is also venerated in Jinhua since not only was he born here, this is where he became immortal. He is well-known for his powers of healing. Like many deities, he came from humble beginnings, starting as a shepherd when he was only eight. When he was 15, he met a Taoist immortal (saint or holy person) on Red Pine Mountain in Jinhua and began practising Taoism at the age of fifteen and lived in seclusion for forty years on the same mountain.
This ceremony was special for us, and in fact they requested a list of our names ahead of time to be able to specially tailor their prayers for us. This ceremony came at a perfect time since about half the group is sick with colds of varying severity (the downside of living so closely together). We gathered in the main temple in front of a large golden statue of Wong Tai Shin. Five monks, dressed in red robes and one daoshi (priest) dressed in brillant yellow began the ceremony. We were all given a stick of incense to hold during the 20-minute ceremony. In addition to the chanting and singing, there was percusional accompaniment, including drum and cymbol. It was interesting to see this ceremony, even if I didn’t understand any of it. It was really touching that they went to this trouble to arrange this ceremony specially for us. Even though most of us didn’t understand the words, we could still feel the serenity and respect the moment. I think it was about the quietest I’ve heard our group of 80 people (participants, volunteers, and coordinators). At the end of the ceremony, we each went up and kneeled in front of the statue. Afterwards, we were given a small gold-toned card that had been blessed. These cards are thought to act as charms and should be carried at all times to keep us safe and healthy, and bring us good luck.
After this ceremony, we entered a classroom where we learned a little more about Taoism. Mostly, we watched a few performances of Tai Chi, including Tai Chi with swords, which was neat. We finished with a vegetarian lunch and had a few minutes to wander the grounds. The grounds are really beautiful, even on a foggy day like we had. There are several different buildings, each holding shrines to Wong Tai Shin and serving a different purpose. There is a large Yin Yang symbol that also serves as an echo chamber – but only to the two people standing on the dots on either side or to one person standing with one foot in each side. The place was very peaceful and gave us a unique chance to take part in a Taoist ceremony and learn a little more about this religion and its ties to Jinhua. Taoism is one of only five religions recognized by the People’s Republic of China. While it is somewhat popular in other areas of Asia, China remains the stronghold.