Taoism: Beliefs and Practices
In the 19th and 20th centuries, during the course of various persecutions, most Taoist temples and monasteries were destroyed or converted to schools, hospitals, or government offices, but there has been a revival of Taoism in China in recent decades. In 1956, the Chinese Taoist Association was formed, and received official approval in 1957. It was disbanded during the Cultural Revolution under Mao, but reestablished in 1980. Taoism has no centralized authority and different sects have different headquarters. However, the White Cloud Temple in Beijing is a key center for training for priests and for administration. There are currently 20,000,000 practicing Taoists with the majority in China. However, the West has started to follow this religion. Alex Anatole, born in Moscow, Russia, has been ordained as a Taoist priest. After building several underground Taoist temples in Russia, he has fled to the United States . He has built the Center of Center of Traditional Taoist Studies and its Temple of Original Simplicity, recognized as one of the few authentic Taoist temples outside China.
Currently non-lay people visit the temples to pray for good fortune, to mark the changing of the seasons, and to conduct rituals for the departed. Daily involvement with Taoism on the part of the congregation is not ritualized in any particular way. In immigrant communities, Taoism has been merged with other religions, and has integrated many popular practices, and this was also the case on the mainland. Studies of Taoist practices have, for the most part, focused on the Taoshi, rather than lay practitioners.
There is one area in which the Taoshi are still actively engaged with the laity. The Taoshi who live at home serve as consultants to those members of the community who have personal problems or illness. Each Taoshi has an "office" where the household altar is kept, along with statues or paintings of deities and important figures in Taoist history. Toashi’s utilize talisman’s for healing and deliverance. They also will sometimes use herbal medicines, acupuncture or astrological or fengshui readings as a ritual cure.
Taoshi’s also spend a great deal of time learning rituals and memorizing sacred texts. They are also required to exhibit moral behavior and periodic confessions. They also perform gymnastics, breath-control exercises, special diets, meditation or visualizations on a regular basis.