Saturday, July 2, 2016

Temples in everyday Taiwanese life

After the zoo, I headed north to explore several temples. Religion is woven into everyday life for many Taiwanese people, and they freely mix strains of belief together. The Confucius temple had a peaceful and contemplative atmosphere. Confucius advocated for education for all people, so this temple is used once a year to celebrate his birthday and honor the top scholars (I think, but my understanding of the Taiwanese script may have been a bit fuzzy). The temple was beautiful, and my traveling companion and I took advantage of the quiet surroundings to have a theological discussion ourselves, which felt like an appropriate topic for the temple of a philosopher.

Confucius temple - the black plaque means "education for all."
A short stroll across the street brought us to Baoan Temple, which is Daoist in nature. Last, we visited Longshan Temple, which is Buddhist. Both temples were more lively than the Confucius temple, and streams of people constantly cycled through the worship areas. We visited the Longshan temple close to 5 pm, so I'm guessing that many people were stopping by quickly on their way home. The worship setup was similar in both cases - a square plaza with a central incense burner, a beautiful enclosed area to house the primary god of the temple, and smaller shrines around the edges with other gods. 

I was fascinated by the rituals of worship. The Taiwanese seem sincere in their desire to gain spiritual favor and engage the spiritual realm, as evidenced by the number of people at the temples and the fervency of their prayers. The air was full of the smell of incense sticks that worshipers would light and hold during prayer. Tables and alters were laden with gifts to the gods, including flowers and fruit. Circling an item over the incense burner three times seemed to be a way to consecrate or bless the item. Doing things in groups of 3 also seemed to be important in general - bowing three times after prayer, circling three times, prostrating three times, etc.  I also saw some people dropping two red crescent-shaped pieces of wood on the ground - these are called Jaiobei. If you are seeking wisdom from the gods for a yes/no question, you can drop these on the ground and discern the answer based on how they land (one side is flat and the other side is round). The worshiper throws them three times in a row to gain accuracy in the answer.

Worshiper holding Jiaobei pieces and praying (left), central incense burner (top right), and the view into the central shrine area (bottom right).

Beautiful waterfalls in the courtyard of Longshan Temple.
I was struck by how smoothly religious life and normal life flows together in Taiwan. Temples sit right in the middle of bustling city life, and no one blinks an eye about it. I captured a few pictures that exemplify this integration to me, since it contrasts with my own culture that concentrates religious activity on one day of the week.

Street vendor preparing sesame buns right outside the Confucius temple. I love how he glanced straight into my camera lens.
View of Taipei city in the background with the Zhinan temple welcome sign in the foreground
A small temple pokes out from the high rises on the south side of Taipei - just one of many buildings in the area.

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