The Differences between Taoism, Buddhism and Shenism (“Chinese Folk Belief”)
The Difference between Taoism, Buddhism and Shenism
(…) Chinese folk religion retains traces of some of ancestral primal religious belief systems such as animism and shamanism, which include the veneration of (and communication with) the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, the Heaven and various stars, as well as communication with animals. It has been practiced by the Chinese people for thousands of years, and since the start of the Common Era alongside Buddhism, Taoism and various other religions.
Rituals, devotional worship, myths, sacred re-enactment, festivals and various other practices associated with different folk gods and goddesses form an important part of Chinese culture today. The veneration of secondary gods does not conflict with an individual’s chosen religion, but is accepted as a complementary adjunct, particularly to Taoism.
Some mythical figures in folk culture have been integrated into Chinese Buddhism, as in the case of Miao Shan. She is generally thought to have influenced the beliefs about the Buddhist bodhisattva Guanyin. This bodhisattva originally was based upon the Indian counterpart Avalokiteshvara. Androgynous in India, this bodhisattva over centuries became a female figure in China and Japan. Guanyin is one of the most popular Bodishisattvas to which people pray. (…)
(retrieved 17.01.2014 at http://interfaithnet.wordpress.com/world-religions-spiritual-traditions-2/chinese-traditional-religions/)
(…) To distinguish “Shenists” from Taoists and Buddhists is to ignore the reality that it is not possible to define any Chinese belief system as it is practised today as one with a uniform, discreet set of values.
Here’s why: The act of Chinese ancestral and deity worship predates history. China’s first official religion – really more of a “thought system” – was Taoism, believed to be founded by the legendary philosopher, Lao Zi, over 2000 years ago.
Even then its practice was split three-ways: philosophical, religious and popular Taoism, with the latter two belief systems incorporating aspects of folk religion such as ancestral spirits, divination, and sorcery. Then came Buddhism, which was introduced to China in the Han Dynasty, about 200 AD, around the same time Taoism became the nation’s official religion. Buddhism was thus intertwined with Taoism from the start. Its scriptures were translated using Taoist vocabulary; records show Buddhism at the time was described as a kind of “foreign Taoism”.
The switcheroo went both ways. In competing for the public’s attention, Taoist leaders followed the Buddhists’ example and built monasteries and temples. They also adopted their ideas of vegetarianism and prohibited alcohol. The mix finally coalesced during the Song Dynasty, when Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism were patched together resulting in the state-endorsed Neo-Confucian philosophy, which lasted roughly between 960 and 1280 AD.
Venerable Shravasti Dhammika, an Australian who lives in Singapore and is the advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society, is right in that the worship of Chinese folk gods and spirits has nothing to do with the original, philosophical teachings of Lao Zi or the Buddha.
Here is some more about Shravasti Dhammika: http://www.buddhistelibrary.org/library/profile.php?aapath=17
Interesting comment on this article from Jeremy Shiu (extract):
(…) Chinese folk belief is based on the structure of Taoism. E.g, looking at talisman practices in ‘Chinese belief’/Chinese Folklore; we can see the dominance influence is Taoism. Chinese belief – literature and novels like – Journey to the west, Feng Shen Bang etc, although some are ‘degrading’ Taoism, but nonetheless the key structure is still very much Taoist – e.g, in Journey to the West, its background is set on Jade Emperor’s Heavenly administration(Celestial Heaven). Look at the ‘gui ren zhi’ (joss paper) in ‘Chinese folk beliefs’ and it is clearly a form of Taoist talisman (by the writings, pictures etc). (…)
(retrieved 17.01.2014 at http://archive.is/awfj)
Chinese folk religion
(…) The ”’Chinese folk religion”’ or ”’Chinese traditional religion”’ ( or 中国民间宗教 or 中国民间信仰 / Zhōngguó mínjiān zōngjiào or Zhōngguó mínjiān xìnyăng), sometimes called ”’Shenism”’ (pinyin: ”Shénjiào”, 神教).
The term ”’Shenism”’ (神教, ”Shénjiào”) was first used in 1955 by anthropologist Allan J. A. Elliott, in his work ”Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults in Singapore”.
During the history of China it was named ”’Shendao”’ (神道, ”Shéndào”, the “way of the gods”), apparently since the time of the spread of Buddhism to the area in the Han period (206 BCE–220 CE), in order to distinguish it from the new religion. The term was subsequently adopted in Japan as ”Shindo”, later ”Shinto”, with the same purpose of identification of the Japanese indigenous religion. The oldest recorded usage of ”Shindo” is from the second half of the 6th century. is the collection of grassroots ethnic religious+ traditions of the Han Chinese+, or the indigenous religion of China+.Lizhu, Na. 2013. p. 4. Chinese folk religion primarily consists in the worship of the ”shen” (神 “gods”, “spirits”, “awarenesses”, “consciousnesses”, “archetypes”; literally “expressions”, the energies that generate things and make them thrive) which can be nature deities, city deities or tutelary deities of other human agglomerations, national deities, cultural+ hero+es and demigods, ancestors and progenitors, deities of the kinship. Holy narratives regarding some of these gods are codified into the body of Chinese mythology. Another name of this complex of religions is ”’Chinese Universism”’, especially referring to its intrinsic metaphysical perspective.
The Chinese folk religion has a variety of sources, localised worship forms, ritual and philosophical traditions. Among the ritual traditions, notable examples includes Wuism and Nuoism. Chinese folk religion is sometimes categorized inadequately as “Taoism”, since over the centuries institutional Taoism has been assimilating or administering local religions. Zhengyi Taoism+ is especially intertwined with local cults, with Zhengyi ”daoshi” often performing rituals for local temples and communities. Faism, the tradition of the ”fashi” (“masters of rites”), inhabits the boundary between Taoism and folk religion. Confucianism advocates worship of gods and ancestors through proper rites, which have an ethical importance. Taoism in its various currents, either comprehended or not within the Chinese folk religion, has some of its origins from Wuism.Libbrecht, 2007. p. 43. Chinese religion mirrors the social landscape, and takes on different shades for different people.Wolf, Arthur P. “Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors.” ”Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society.” Ed. Arthur O. Wolf. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974. pp. 131-182. (…)
(retrieved 24.04.2014 at http://shelf3d.com/i/Chinese%20folk%20religion)
“Temple Oracles in a Chinese City” – A Study of the Use of Temple Oracles in Taichung, Central Taiwan” written by JULIAN PAS
“A sample from the Kuan Yin oracles occasionally but by no means exclusively found in Buddhist temples” (Julian Pas)
Get the shortened text only version or see the full pdf with drawings.
Journey to the West by Wu Cheng-en
A mix of Buddhist, Taoist and Shenist dieties appear in the the “Journey to the West” (16th century):
(…) The Jade Emperor then ordered all the gods of the Department of Thunder to split up and invite the Three Pure Ones, the Four Emperors, the Five Ancients, the Six Superintendents, the Seven Main Stars, the Eight Points of the Compass, the Nine Bright Shiners, the Ten Chiefs, the Thousand Immortals, and the Ten Thousand Sages to a banquet to thank the Buddha for his mercy. Then he ordered the Four Great Heavenly Teachers and the Nine Heavenly Maidens to open the golden gates of the jade capital, and Palace of the Great Mystery, and the Tong Yang Jade Palace, invite the Tathagata to take his seat on the Throne of the Seven Precious Things, arrange the places for all the different groups of guests, and set out the dragon liver, phoenix bone−marrow, jade liquor, and magic peaches. (…)
(received 05.01.2013 at http://china.usc.edu/%28S%28fa5usj55v1e04q554ndbtt45%29A%28AH44v1t4zQEkAAAAMDc3YzcxOGMtNjc2My00NDZjLTk1ZTItOTU0Nzg1OWE3MDlkwRet7Hje9mO7FUYef0YNyayi_Ks1%29%29/ShowArticle.aspx?articleID=2213&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1)
Shenism in the 21st Century
Offerings made to the ancestors including modern computer equipment at the Chinese Qingming Festival. It is the Shenist equivalent of the Christian All Souls’ Day (Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed / Feast of All Souls).
See also Qingming Festival: Dealing with death in the 21st century by Runhong Zhang for more information (source: Meanwhile in China).
(retrieved 08.04.2013 at http://www.6park.com/news/messages/20227.html)