— The Erimtan Angle —

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‘Worshippers begin a nine-day journey to honour the goddess Mazu in Taiwan. Julie Noce reports. Published on Apr 9, 2016’.

The goddess Mazu you say . . . a dedicated website explains thusly: “Mazu, or Mat-Su, Chinese Goddess of the Sea, is the story of an extraordinary girl who became a goddess. The Goddess Mazu’s stories even come to us in an unusual way. Usually we have to search the works of poets and philosophers, historians and anthropologists, when wishing to explore the myths of the legendary ladies we call goddesses. But ancient government edicts, court documents, Taoist scriptures, and even shipping logs provide the stories of the young girl and the goddess she became. Mazu . . . a goddess, even after a millennium has passed . . . arguably the most worshipped in the world with over 1,500 active temples and 100 million devotees”.[1] Or, the most popular goddess or deity you’ve never heard of . . .

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Mazu is a goddess in the Taoist pantheon . . . the psychologist David Ho explains that “Taoism [, (i)ndigenous to China,] represents the Chinese counterculture . . .Taoists disdain the Confucian affinity to social convention, hierarchical organization, and governmental rule by the scholar class. To them, the good life is the simple life, spontaneous, in harmony with nature, unencumbered by societal regulation, and free from the desire to achieve social ascendancy-in short, a life lived in accordance with the Tao [or the way, in Mandarin Chinese]. Taoists are thus champions of individuality and individual freedom”.[2] The religious scholar Dr Livia Kohn “summarizes the ethical principles of Taoism and the Taoist community [in her book 2004 Cosmos and Community]. She explains that from childhood, the Taoist learns societal norms in accordance with specific morals, values, behaviors, disciplines, and responsibilities to those in the community (Kohn, 2004, p. 13). The individual, as part of the community, believes that all things exist in harmony with nature. If things go wrong for the individual or the community, it is because of an imbalance between the energies of Yin-Yang. To restore balance, the Taoist must stop trying to control nature. Consequently, all blockages in the natural flow of life are restored when nature is allowed to regain its equilibrium. When the Taoist tries dominating nature, his selfish desires are at work. The consequences of selfish desires may be disastrous to the individual and the community. According to Taoist ethics, all of nature is a manifestation of the Tao [or the way, in Mandarin Chinese], and is therefore sacred. If the Taoist defies these ethical understandings, the community and nature will suffer, and there will be setbacks ( p. 13). Fortunately, these set-backs are temporary, and nature will triumph in the end”.[3]

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Dr Kohn opines that the “common view of [T]aoism is that it encourages people to live with detachment and calm, resting in nonaction and smiling at the vicissitudes of the world. Most people assume that [T]aoists are separate from the human community, not antisocial or asocial but rather supra‑social and often simply different. [T]aoists neither criticize society nor support it by working for social change, but go along with the flow of the cosmos as it moves through them. They are not much concerned with rules and the proprieties of conduct, which they leave to th Confucians in the Chinese tradition”.[4] She then adds insightfully that “[c]ontrary to this common view, [T]aoists through the ages have developed various forms of community and proposed numerous sets of behavioral guidelines and texts on ethical considerations”.[5] Turning to the goddess Mazu, specifically, the authors Yeh (Sam) Shih Shuo, Chris Ryan and Ge (Maggie) Liu explain that “Taiwan inherited many of its cultural traditions from different parts of Mainland China. However, because it avoided the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the patterns of pre- and post-Communist thought associated with that period and the Mainland, Taiwan retained many of those traditions unaffected by Communist beliefs. Consequently Buddhist and Taoist beliefs have retained significant importance in Taiwanese thought, and the country is notable for the number of temples that are scattered throughout it. Both religions were introduced to Taiwan between the end of the Ming and early Qing Dynasties (approximately 1559–1618)”.[6] The authors continue that a “belief in Mazu is defined officially as a Folk Religion in Taiwan, but has close connexions with Taoism. Two essential texts of Taoism are the Daode Jing, which the Stanford on line Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2006) describes as ‘terse and poetic’, and the Zhuangzi prolix, described by the same source as ‘funny, elusive and filled with fantasy dialogues.’ The complexity of Taoism, or reflections on the nature of dao (way), is that it has no specific normative precept or theory, but rather is paradoxical, nonassertive, and naturalistic and comprises mystical statements of modes of life. It significantly influenced both Confucian and Buddhist thought, and by its nature was well able to absorb local gods based upon naturalistic observation and good works. Thus the relationship with belief in Mazu as a holy mother of the sea, protector from harm, provider of care, and source of precepts of a good life based on care for others was easily established”.[7]

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[1] “Mazu , Chinese Goddess of the Sea” Goddess Gift. http://www.goddessgift.com/goddess-myths/chinese-goddess-mazu.htm.

[2] David Y. F. Ho, “Selfhood and Identity in Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism: Contrasts With the West” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 25, 2 (1995), pp. 115-39,

[3] “Taoist Ethics by Robert Waxman” Robert Waxman. http://www.robwaxman.com/id3.html.

[4] Dr Livia Kohn, COSMOS AND COMMUNITY. The Ethical Dimension of Daoism (Three Pines Press, 2004), p. 1.

[5] Dr Livia Kohn, COSMOS AND COMMUNITY, p. 1.

[6] Yeh (Sam) Shih Shuo, Chris Ryan and Ge (Maggie) Liu, “Taoism, temples and tourists: The case of Mazu pilgrimage” Tourism Management, 30 (2009), pp. 581–588.

[7] Yeh (Sam) Shih Shuo, Chris Ryan and Ge (Maggie) Liu, “Taoism, temples and tourists”.

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