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Sunday August 18, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday August 18, 2013 MYT 12:44:37 PM
MODERN technology is convenient but certain rites and rituals must still be done the traditional way, Taoist Association of Malaysia (TAOM) president Prof Dr Yam Kah Kean (pic) says.
“For example, some rites and rituals such as the burning of real incense and candles should not be substituted with electrical ones.
“(That said), yes, modern technology helps,” the Universiti Malaya’s Chinese Studies Department senior lecturer says, adding that the TOAM uses projectors and power point presentations to help followers understand the meaning and procedures involved in the religious ceremonies.
“We want them to know what is actually going on. There shouldn’t be the ‘I don’t understand but I just follow’ mentality.”
Nowadays, microphones allow chants to be heard clearly, unlike in the old days when priests would mumble to themselves.
Scriptures for chanting are now typed and printed.
“But this is nothing to be proud of because the older generation priests are excellent calligraphers who used to copy and write the texts themselves,” he shrugs.
He laments the lack of young men interested in becoming Taoist priests.
He says those who approach the association actually want to learn “magic, medium trance, feng shui, fortune telling and the like”.
“Strictly speaking, these are against Taoist teachings,” he says.
Asked if a young graduate can earn enough if he chooses to be a full-time Taoist priest instead of pursuing a conventional career, Dr Yam says priests do not treat the religion as a means to earn a living.
“However, in Malaysia, we don’t have an institution that supports and provides for the needs of Taoist priests. The TAOM is working to achieve that,” he says.
Dr Yam is trying very hard to strip off “the secularity of local Taoism” and believes that having a tertiary education (even if in a field that is unrelated to Taoism) definitely lifts the faith to a “more sophisticated, explainable level”.
He, however, says priests are expected to be theologically inclined. Reading and digging deep into the scriptures provides that knowledge. For example, the more these young priests read, the more they understand that some practices such as mediums going into a trance and making “paper offerings” to deities are wrongly labelled as Taoist.
There are more scholars doing authentic and fruitful researches on Taoism today, he notes. “Scriptures are easily accessible. Young Taoist priests nowadays have all the advantages to fully utilise these. Hence, they are actually more ‘literate’, religiously speaking,” he points out.
Himself an ordained senior Taoist priest, the Chinese history, philosophy, popular culture and religions expert describes his religious undertaking as “a calling”.
“It all began with Daode Jing, the sacred Taoist text written by the founder of Taoism, Laozi,” he says. “I met my master in Singapore in the late 1990s and learned the rites and rituals from him.”.
The older generation priests tend to see their religious specialities as “products, services or family businesses” although there are some who see it as a calling.
“The latter view is reflected in their piousness. One of the TAOM’s mottos is to clarify that Taoist rituals are not products that can be sold to customers. Rituals should be treated as an essential and important part in one’s religious life,” he explains.
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