James Miller Associate Professor Chinese Religions Queen's University Canada

Started by rickymooston, May 17, 2013, 11:38:53 PM

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QuestionMark

I take exception to the use of the term "story-book God".
καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει

none

how long after I type amen do I get the money?
I'm lost, if you see me you are lost also
If Jesus believed in himself he wouldn't have been Jewish.

rickymooston

Steve, thanks you for mentioning "Budai, the "laughing Budha" with the stomach rubbing. There are several figures that cross between Chinese Taoist traditions and Budhist ones that confuse me. There is a Taoist wealth God who seems a bit suspiciously similar to the laughing Budha for example?

AK, I'm unsure how James will answer your question and know nothing about "recent" issues involving Taoists in communist China3 there but the "God/hero"2 Guan Yu, apparently defeated the "yellow turban" rebellion in the 300 century AD which was lead by a Taoist sect. I'm curious whether the Boxer rebellion had Taoist influences or not. Taoist sects have created their share of martial arts.

1 - Budhism, Taoism, Confusism, ...
2- Hero, immortal? The real human upon which the legend is based was killed in battle. Based upon the write up in wiki about the yellow turbans, they actually sound like their "ideals" are similar to the ideals that the communist claimed to believe; i.e., caring about the poor. Guan Yu is greatly respected by Taoists which could also be puzzling to a westerner.  ||tip hat||
3 - I believe, originally, they suffered some persecution during the cultural revolution but right now, there is a state sanctioned Taoist society that runs most of the temples there. I would love to hear James' opinion about whether this Taoist organization is consistent with the organizations in Korea, Hong Kong or Taiwan.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

QuestionMark

καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει

rickymooston

Quote from: QuestionMark on May 25, 2013, 03:54:50 AM
I thought this thread was about James Miller

It is but the focus is on his area of specialty which is Chinese religions. As he says in one of his posts in this thread, he doesn't know much about Christianity and isn't the person to ask about that.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Hi everyone and sorry for the delays in answering your great questions.
Rickymooston asked a good question about Daoism as a family tradition. For Daoists who are monks, of course the idea here is that you leave your family and take on a new identity within a monastic lineage. You receive a document that specifies your place in the lineage, explaining who your teacher is, who his teacher was, who your "siblings" are within the lineage structure. In effect this replaces your family tree and signifies your adoption into a new kind of religious genealogy.

Then there are Daoist priests who marry and have families and pass on their teachings to their children, one of whom would traditionally be expected to follow in his father's footsteps.

Aside from these "professional Daoists" lay people have varying degrees of religious allegiance. Some may declare themselves to be Daoist and regularly visit a Daoist temple, burn incense there, and maybe even belong to a lay association. Other lay people are more eclectic in their religious tastes, and may visit a wide range of temples from time to time, not really caring whether they are devoted to the Buddha, the Daoist gods, or some local deity. For these people religion is something that is used for practical benefits. This is a client-centred approach to religious practice, rather than an affiliation approach, where you are expected to be a member of one religion exclusively.

jamesmiller

Thanks also for the question about the relationship between Daoism and the Chinese state. The relations have gone up and down over the centuries, with the imperial government variously supporting and patronizing Daoist sites, and alternately (or often simultaneously) exerting authority over them. In exchange for this patronage, Daoists have from time to time served as court ritualists, and have "ordained" members of the Chinese imperial family into Daoist lineages. For the past 200 years or so, Daoism has had a rather tough time. Firstly, the emperors of the last Qing dynasty tended to favour Buddhism over Daoism. Secondly, after the fall of the empire at the beginning of the 20th century, the Republican government sought to control religion much more closely than before, often expropriating lands from monasteries (like King Henry VIII in England), and turning religious buildings into schools etc. This process of secularization continued under the Communists until the Cultural Revolution 1966-76 when all religion was banned. Since then, the government has adopted a policy of permitting religion to take place in authorized locations, and generally supervising and managing religion, rather than repressing it outright. You can read a great article about how the engagement between Daoism and the state is playing out in China here

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/magazine/07religion-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Assyriankey

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 27, 2013, 10:03:46 PM
Hi everyone and sorry for the delays in answering your great questions.
Rickymooston asked a good question about Daoism as a family tradition. For Daoists who are monks, of course the idea here is that you leave your family and take on a new identity within a monastic lineage. You receive a document that specifies your place in the lineage, explaining who your teacher is, who his teacher was, who your "siblings" are within the lineage structure. In effect this replaces your family tree and signifies your adoption into a new kind of religious genealogy.

Then there are Daoist priests who marry and have families and pass on their teachings to their children, one of whom would traditionally be expected to follow in his father's footsteps.

Aside from these "professional Daoists" lay people have varying degrees of religious allegiance. Some may declare themselves to be Daoist and regularly visit a Daoist temple, burn incense there, and maybe even belong to a lay association. Other lay people are more eclectic in their religious tastes, and may visit a wide range of temples from time to time, not really caring whether they are devoted to the Buddha, the Daoist gods, or some local deity. For these people religion is something that is used for practical benefits. This is a client-centred approach to religious practice, rather than an affiliation approach, where you are expected to be a member of one religion exclusively.

Hi James, that's very interesting.

Have the followers of Daoism ever become militiarised?  I'm pretty sure that some followers of Buddhism have taken up the gun at various times in history.
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

Assyriankey

Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

rickymooston

^The communist party official was, at the end rather inventive though. I rather love how he proposed to the nun that she take a short "break" so he could get in his party's speeches.  ||yingyang||
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Assyriankey

Quote from: rickymooston on May 28, 2013, 12:20:07 PM
^The communist party official was, at the end rather inventive though. I rather love how he proposed to the nun that she take a short "break" so he could get in his party's speeches.  ||yingyang||

Even better IMO was her response.
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

jamesmiller

In response to the question about the militarization of Daoism, there is a strong connection between Daoism and martial arts, with Mt. Wudang, one of China's most significant Daoist sites, still the centre of school of martial arts training. Tai Chi, which originated as a martial art, also claimed connections to Daoism (though these are almost certainly retrospective historical constructions). There were also several famous sectarian groups such as the White Lotus or the Yihetuan (Boxer) who drew on ideas from Buddhism and sometimes Daoism and engaged in actual conflict, but these groups can't be considered representative of the mainstream practices of Buddhism or Daoism.

rickymooston

James, which Taoist temples have you been to that were the most interesting? Why?

Are you familiar with the fake tea shows in China? Do you know anything about the traditions that the scams are a corruption of? Do most taoist traditions have tea ceremonies?

http://www.smh.com.au/travel/tea-and-the-mystery-girl-20101126-189uk.html
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

One of my most memorable experiences was staying overnight in a temple at Mt. Qingcheng near Chengdu, Sichuan. The temple was half way up the mountain and had very basic accommodations for visitors. The air was cool and humid -- you could almost feel the water suspended in it, and in the early morning all was calm and quiet before the daily throng of tourists arrived. It seemed as though the temple was immersed in the thick forest that surrounded it, and the foliage mingled with the buildings so that it felt as though you were part of the mountain. There's no doubt in my mind that these temples were built to generate particular aesthetic experiences that were deemed helpful for the meditation practices that take place there. This relationship between environment, architecture and meditation hasn't really been studied, but I think it's deeply significant for Daoism as a religion.

rickymooston

Makes sense and sounds very interesting.

When we went to the white cloud temple, my wife wasn't much interested in the temple as a "temple". She just enjoyed the "Feng Shui" and let me wonder around.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

meAgain

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 21, 2013, 07:41:04 PM
But Daoists also view this as the creative interaction of male and female (yang and yin) aspects. We tend to perceive the universe in a binary way: up and down, left and right, etc. These two modes / aspects depend on each other. Creativity is the result of the interaction of these two. So the Daode jing says Dao gives birth to one; one gives birth to two; two gives birth to three; three give birth to 10,000 things.

Given this understanding, what might Daoists think of something like homosexuality?

jamesmiller

Daoists tend not to have any view about this that is significantly different from mainstream Chinese culture, which is to say, don't ask don't tell. I would assume that monasteries witness same-sex activity but this is never talked about, certainly not with outsiders like me.

meAgain

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 29, 2013, 05:18:41 PM
Daoists tend not to have any view about this that is significantly different from mainstream Chinese culture, which is to say, don't ask don't tell.

But does the ?don?t ask don?t tell? approach mean same sex relationships would be incompatible with Daoism?  From your previous explanation regarding yin and yang ? that is how I would understand it. 

rickymooston

May i speculate, based on james answer, that because its apparently not emphasized by the
Taoist texts, that people just go with what they know? The Taoist
understanding of the yin and the yang is highly nuanced. This is
apparent even in the symbol for Tao. One nature is present in
another, whatever polarity one describes. ;).   So, even if you are female,
you have some "masculin" aspects to your behaviour and vice versa.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

meAgain

Quote from: rickymooston on May 29, 2013, 10:17:17 PM
May i speculate, based on james answer, that because its apparently not emphasized by the
Taoist texts, that people just go with what they know? The Taoist
understanding of the yin and the yang is highly nuanced. This is
apparent even in the symbol for Tao. One nature is present in
another, whatever polarity one describes. ;).   So, even if you are female,
you have some "masculin" aspects to your behaviour and vice versa.


Hmmmm. . .  seems very convenient to make yin and yang mean whatever you want it to mean.  I know a few Christians who would feel very comfortable in that kind of philosophy. 

Just doesn?t jive, IMO, though.  If a Taoist professes to believe in the principles of Feng Shui, but then goes on to say, ?build the house any old way and the location of the couch is of little importance?, I certainly wouldn?t think there is much to Feng Shui to care about.

So with something like believing the male and female counterparts come together in the universe and create a third life and seeing this as two components that depend on one another, it would be very hard to understand then turning around and saying, but if you?re two people of the same sex, then that cool stuff I just said doesn?t really mean anything.  ||think||

rickymooston

I didn't claim the symbol can mean whatever you want. It deals with dualities in nature, such as male and female, dark and light, good and evil, etc, etc, etc.

Taoism is a very subtle1 religion and, unlike James, I'm not an expert on it at all  However, my understanding of the symbol, is this, you have one fish on the "top" and one fish on the "bottom". They are forever locked in an infinite dance around the circle and it is not an accident that the eye of one has the nature of the other.   While you are a woman, you have some characteristics that are considered to be "male". While I'm a man, I have characteristics that are considered to be "female". The polarities are not absolute and yet, male and female we may be.

Derek Lin, a modern Taoist, and translator of the Dao De Jing, but not a monk or member of a famous lineage, i know online, has claimed, that there are Taoists authorities who say that homosexuality is "wrong" but he didn't think so. His reasoning involved an understanding of love that transcends the physical and is . My thinking is, the Taoist literature places quite a lot of emphasis on observation rather than simply relying on belief. We can observe that some people are like that and consider sexuality to be a continuum as suggested by the symbol.

1 - Easily misunderstood and one should take the observation of non-experts with a grain of salt.
2- I ignored your observation about feng shui. Lots of people make stuff up and call it feng shui. I know absolutely nothing about the ancient tradition, other than the fact it exists. In terms of Taoism, I've at least read something. I'm familiar with 4 out of 1200 of the Taoist canon
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

meAgain

^
I didn?t mean to come across as rude ? hope I wasn?t.  My point was that for me a philosophy or belief system that just makes observations wouldn?t really be enough for me. 

I?m not sure the point of a whole lot of observation without putting what one finds out in all that observing into practice. 

I can observe that in nature there are some animals that eat their young.  To not be able to conclude that it is not good for man to eat his young renders observation meaningless to me.  Unless, we can draw conclusions from the world and man?s relationship with his world, it is of little consequence to me to devote much importance to observation.  And to be afraid to make conclusions based on our observations does man no good either. 

Eastern philosophies remind me of the few times I?ve tried marijuana.  I had the false impression that everything I experienced was deep, meaningful, and amazing.  But when I came down, I realized I was just stoned. 

With Eastern philosophies, I keep getting the impression they describe a whole lot with some really fun words like creativity, energy source, transcendence, etc. but just like when I was high realize such New Age ?enlightenment? isn't actually saying anything.

Again, not trying to be rude ?  To me, I just see it as a distraction to truth.   

Maybe I?m not smart enough to get it.

rickymooston

Keep in mind that my knowledge of Taoism is pretty shallow and that many people who teach eastern religions in the west don't know much about them. That said, I never said it was "just" about observation. A body of knowledge exists. Traditions exist.

By means of an analogy. Ask yourself, how much knowledge and discipline is required to know a martial art? Taoist monks invented many of the martial arts. I can do a karate chop but I don't pretend to know much about karate.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

rickymooston

Sorry for allowing the thread to derail with my own speculation. Lets get back on topic to asking James.

James, do you have any tjoughts on Guan Yu and Guan Yin? Are both more heroes than Gods? They seem to be grestly revered. The woman Guan Yin seems to cross into Budhism too?
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

The question about Guan Yu (aka Guandi or Guangong) and Guanyin goes to the question of how Daoism relates to other religious traditions in China. As I mentioned earlier, the tendency in China has been that of adding or incorporating other religious figures into the story of Daoism, and into Daoist temples. Such figures may we worshipped on their own and be completely disconnected from Daoism, but they may also be worshipped in Daoist temples and given a status in the Daoist pantheon. This often adds to the confusion of trying to decide whether such and such a temple is "Daoist." For the history of these figures, the information on Wikipedia is pretty good. What I would like to point out here, though, is that the questions that people ask about religion have to do with the things that they expect religions to do. Because of our experience with Judaism-Christianity-Islam (which from an outsider's point of view is really a single religious system) we expect religions to have opinions about homosexuality, and we expect religions to have mutually exclusive demarcations. But that's not the way that religion in China operates, and it's not what religion basically "does" in Chinese society. This fact helps us to understand that "religion" is not in fact a cultural universal. Rather it's a kind of organizing term for cultural practices that comes laden with certain expectations about what it is "supposed to do". That is to say, it's not a simple descriptive term, but always prescribes values, expectations, norms etc.

meAgain

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 30, 2013, 07:36:28 PM
The question about Guan Yu (aka Guandi or Guangong) and Guanyin goes to the question of how Daoism relates to other religious traditions in China. As I mentioned earlier, the tendency in China has been that of adding or incorporating other religious figures into the story of Daoism, and into Daoist temples. Such figures may we worshipped on their own and be completely disconnected from Daoism, but they may also be worshipped in Daoist temples and given a status in the Daoist pantheon. This often adds to the confusion of trying to decide whether such and such a temple is "Daoist." For the history of these figures, the information on Wikipedia is pretty good. What I would like to point out here, though, is that the questions that people ask about religion have to do with the things that they expect religions to do. Because of our experience with Judaism-Christianity-Islam (which from an outsider's point of view is really a single religious system) we expect religions to have opinions about homosexuality, and we expect religions to have mutually exclusive demarcations. But that's not the way that religion in China operates, and it's not what religion basically "does" in Chinese society. This fact helps us to understand that "religion" is not in fact a cultural universal. Rather it's a kind of organizing term for cultural practices that comes laden with certain expectations about what it is "supposed to do". That is to say, it's not a simple descriptive term, but always prescribes values, expectations, norms etc.

Then maybe I just don't get the point of it all. 

Take something like Feng Shui.  It's a fun topic to discuss, especially when the west adopts such principles and puts them in a $25 coffee table book about how to design your living room, but to take it more seriously than that, I can't help finding a bit forced or contrived. 

I mean seriously  -- the position I place my bed -- will affect me how? 

For me when it comes to life . . . I say . . . Give me something I can use. 

rickymooston

Try to keep your posts to questions that James can answer. He answered your question about homosexuality. I think, you should try and consider the possibility that judging something prematurely you know little about is a bit silly. I found the Dao de Jing, the works of Chuang-tse and the art of war quite practical but that's just me.  ||wink|| I know very little about Taoism proper which is why i invited James here.  ||wink||

James, do the Chinese Taoist traditions have a culitivation aspect or is that just the western take on some of the popular Taoist works? I'm also curious about the claim a friend made that the distinction between Confuciusm and Taqoism is artificial? I'm even told that Ge Hong referred the works of Confucious as deeply as those of the Taoist masters? (I"m partial to Ge Hong because I have seen his temple and been inspired by it somewhat. Sadly, it's pretty hard to find western translation of his works. I assume you are familiar with the Inner and the Outer chapters, ...)
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Yes, cultivation is central to the practice of Daoism. This is a thread that seems to run through all forms of the tradition. What precisely the cultivation looks like, and how it is imagined certainly vary, but I think it's safe to say that Daoism begins with the notion that our experience of the world can be changed through practice. This is a kind of very basic Daoist spiritual insight: that experience isn't simply given from the world to our minds, but mediated through and cultivated in our bodies. So Daoists focus on the cultivation of Qi (a kind of subtle life energy) that flows in the body. (There are parallel forms of cultivation in Indian Yoga traditions, that focus on Prana -- a kind of life energy in the Indian tradition). Now there are many cultural traditions in China that focus on body cultivation exercises, including a wide range of medical traditions and martial arts practices, but in Daoism, these practices are undertaken within a religious context and for spiritual purposes (as opposed to medical or military ones). As well as engaging in these internal body cultivation practices, Daoists also perform public rituals for the well being of the community. I made a 10 minute video of one of these, which you can see on youtube.

Maggie the Opinionated

I would really like to hear a little bit about the question I posed awhile back. How does Daoism account for evil and innocent suffering in the world?

jamesmiller

Sorry, Maggie. I missed the question about how to account for evil or innocent suffering. Basically this is another of those questions that is important in Christian theology, but not particularly in Daoism. It's important in Christianity because the world is understood as the expression of God's will, and so if the world isn't so good, what does that say about God. But in Daoism the world isn't created by a god, so there's no basic problem of theodicy for theologians to solve.

The general metaphor used for evil and suffering is that of disharmony and misfortune. This can be understood situationally -- namely one is caught up in an environment that produces misfortune which is not of your own making. The answer there is move! It can also be understood genealogically -- that one's present misfortunes are in part the product of one's ancestor who are seen as influencing the present from beyond the grave. This is one reason why Chinese people pay great attention to their ancestors ensuring them a comfortable afterlife, so that they will bring good fortune in the present, not misfortune.

Whereas western philosophy wants to see things in terms of good and evil as moral absolutes, Chinese ethics tends to be more situational: what can we practically do to produce the optimal harmony in this particular situation.