Monday, July 4, 2011

Taiwanese Tradition: The Hidden Temples of Taiwan

Taiwan is a religious country. The traditional Taiwanese religion permeates just about every facet of society. Almost all of the holidays and events in Taiwan are based on religious festivals. Only a few notable days like, Double Tenth Day, the celebration of the Wuchang uprising, or 228 which marks the slaughter of 10,000 innocent Taiwanese are “political” holidays. The other holidays are religious in nature.

New businesses are often opened with a blast of fireworks and the traditional lion dance. The purpose of the lions is to drive out and devour evil spirits. Building are designed with Feng Shui principles, (yes, Feng Shui is religion) designed to insure prosperity or harmony. It is extremely common to drive down the street and see people burning “Hell Money” to bless their dead ancestors who may be awaiting reincarnation. People care for stray dogs and remove cockroaches from the house and take them outside out of concern that they may be some poor unfortunate person doomed to that life because of bad karma in their previous life. Taiwan is a religious country.

So it isn’t surprising that on a recent scooter ride that I stumbled upon a number of “hidden” temples.

Within a radius of ½ kilometer of my house there are no less than eight temples. This isn’t unusual. Only one of them is of any size the others are small hidden temples, dedicated to local deities. There may be others that I haven’t stumbled upon yet.

The one I most recently discovered, I found as I rode through the rice fields. I love rice fields, I like to ride through them and look at the rice. I usually do this in the early morning, when the birds are feeding there. This particular morning I was deep into the cultivated fields when I saw a couple of tombs. They were family tombs, built on the family’s fields so the family could properly care for them. Behind the tombs was the family’s personal temple. They built the temple as a way to honor their ancestors buried there. Incense from early morning worship was still burning.

There is another small neighborhood temple about a half block from my home. I often see neighbors there bringing offerings of fruit and liquor, burning incense and “Hell Money” or praying and asking the local deity to meet their needs or grant their wishes.

There is a huge park near my home called Yang Ming Park. On either side of the park there are temples. One is fairly large and often stages temple parades and festivals utilizing the park. The other is small and quiet and I sometimes see people sitting in the shade and meditating.

In the back of our neighborhood is another isolated and, no doubt, personal family temple. It is about 50 meters off the road and in an unused field. By the looks of the field they planted rice there at one time, but in the two years I’ve lived in this neighborhood, I’ve never seen anything planted or growing there. This temple is a bit more elaborate than some of the other small local temples, indicating that the owner may be a bit more prosperous than the others.

The people I’ve talked to coming from the temples are typically Taiwanese. They’re friendly, happy and eager to talk about their temples and their gods. There is one temple a number of kilometers from my home with a huge golden frog. The frog has a disc or coin in his mouth. A friend that was visiting wanted to stop and photograph the frog and two women who were at the temples waved to us and invited us into the temple to photograph the frog (and them with the frog) close up. My Chinese isn’t good enough to understand what the frog meant even though they patiently tried to explain it. Taiwan is a religious country.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Local Color:  The Temples of Taoyuan City
Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month
Taiwanese Traditions:  The Beliefs of Confucianism

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