Heron stands in the blue estuary,
Solitary, white, unmoving for hours.
A fish! Quick avian darting;
The prey captured.
The secret of its serenity is a type of vigilance, a contemplative state. The heron is not in mere dumbness or sleep. It knows a lucid stillness. It stands unmoving in the flow of the water. It gazes unperturbed and is aware. When Tao brings it something that it needs, it seizes the opportunity without hesitation or deliberation. Then it goes back to its quiescence without disturbing itself or its surroundings. Unless it found the right position in the water’s flow and remained patient, it would not have succeeded.
Actions in life can be reduced to two factors; positioning and timing. If we are not in the right place at the right time, we cannot possibly take advantage of what life has to offer us. Almost anything is appropriate if an action is in accord with the time and the place. But we must be vigilant and prepared. Even if the time and the place are right, we can still miss our chance if we do not notice the moment, if we act inadequately, or if we hamper ourselves with doubts and second thoughts. When life presents an opportunity, we must be ready to seize it without hesitation or inhibition. Position is useless without awareness. If we have both, we make no mistakes.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
<>Marshal Wen (detail)<>
<> Traditionally attributed to Jiang Zicheng
<> Ming dynasty,
<> late 14th/early 15th century
<> Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk
<> 124 x 66.1 cm
<> Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
<> Fenollosa-Weld Collection cat. no. 87
Marshal Wen began as a popular deity worshiped in the southern coastal areas of Zhejiang province. As Zhejiang is a hot, humid region in southern China known for its frequent plagues and epidemics, it is no surprise that Marshal Wen was primarily known as a god who fought against plague demons. Legend has it that his terrifying appearance—blue face and bright red lips and hair—resulted from a selfless act. He once drank enough poison to kill a whole community so that it would not be poured into the communal well.
Although the cult around Marshal Wen began as a small-scale, regional movement, it eventually spread along the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and also to Sichuan. He gained status as a national deity of the orthodox Taoist pantheon, but his following never really expanded beyond these areas. He is still worshiped in southern coastal regions today, especially in Taiwan. Several factors aided the spread of Marshal Wen's cult, the most important being that the merchants from coastal Zhejiang looked to him as a protector spirit, thereby spreading his worship along trade routes. He was also worshiped by scholars and Taoist priests, both of whom had an impact on the development of his cult.
THE TAOIST RENAISSANCE
T A O I S M A N D T H E A R T S O F C H I N A
THE TAOIST CHURCH
THE TAOIST RENAISSANCE
Taoism and Popular Religion
From its very beginnings, religious Taoism has made a special point to distinguish itself from popular religion, especially local cults that relied on blood sacrifice as the primary means of worship. At the same time, Taoism developed from popular religious beliefs and practices and has been influenced by different regional traditions throughout its history. Popular religion has been an important source of new gods, and the orthodox Taoist establishment has frequently turned to popular traditions to renew its own spiritual doctrines.
The relationship between Taoism and popular religion, in particular the incorporation of popular gods into the official Taoist pantheon, became increasingly subject to official rules and procedures in the Song dynasty. Absorption of a local deity into the official Taoist pantheon meant imperial recognition of the deity's followers, with the political security that this recognition entailed. Imperial recognition could also provide increased economic opportunity for cults that centered around merchants and guilds. After the Song dynasty, Taoism and popular traditions often maintained a mutually beneficial relationship. Taoism was able to increase its appeal and expand its pantheon by absorbing popular deities, while local cults were able to avoid persecution and reach a wider audience through the elevation of their gods to national status.
© many thanks to the Chicago Institute of Art
Copyright © 2000, The Art Institute of Chicago.
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