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Religion Library: Taoism

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Written by: Julia Hardy

In some Taoist groups, one is also held responsible for the sins of one's ancestors, up to ten generations.  Thus, sickness is viewed as the result of one's own and one's ancestors' wrongdoings.  It is also possible for some to act for the benefit of others, relieving them of their sins.  In some cases, a barefoot Taoist priest, that is a priest that is not a trained Taoshi but has some of the same abilities, will undergo self-mortification for the benefit of all.  There are also certain Taoist rituals that are designed to cleanse a community from sin or hardship.

Early Taoism emphasized Confucian virtues, which encouraged harmonious community living rather than salvation from sin.  Later, most Taoist sects, strongly influenced by Buddhism, adopted many moral rules, and adepts would take precepts — that is, like Buddhist monks and layperson, they would vow not to do certain things that are regarded as sinful.  The Buddhist concept of merit was also widely adopted by Taoists. 

Some Taoists accepted the Buddhist belief that sin would be punished after death in some form of hellish afterlife existence, and good behavior similarly rewarded in some type of paradise.  Some Taoist adepts also worked to accumulate merit, sometimes for their own benefit, and sometimes for others. 

From the point of view of many lay people, demons, unhappy ancestors, or orphaned souls are the cause of illness and other problems in life.  The Taoshi are their main defense against evil, either by rituals at the community level, or through personal consultations at which the Taoshi may prescribe a talisman or some other form of magical cure to drive away evil and place a person back in harmony with the cosmos.

 


Study Questions:
1.    Why is nature, despite its amorality, of particular interest to the Zhuangzi?
2.    What are some Taoist explanations for bodily suffering/illness?
3.    How can suffering/illness be dispelled?

 

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