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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/343

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THE TAOUIST RELIGION.

THE TAOUIST RELIGION.
By WARREN G. BENTON.

IN an attempt to unravel the mysteries of the religions of the Chinese, one is confused at the outset by the almost obliterated lines between the three leading forms of religion existing side by side. The process of amalgamation has gone on for so many centuries that one is liable to be misled in an effort to analyze the different creeds. The fact is that Buddhism, Taouism, and Confucianism have existed in the same minds until a belief in the distinctive phases of each has become quite common. And even those who nominally accept the Christian religion, either Catholic or Protestant, really add the new to the old faiths, and believe more or less in the four religions. It is thus true that in one mind may be found a belief in four primarily distinct and separate religions—each having added its quota toward a result whose aggregate beliefs are derived from wholly dissimilar sources; and the result is, as might be looked for, a unique specimen of religionist.

In this paper I shall endeavor to indicate the particular features of Taouism.

This system of religion is pronounced indigenous to China. Its founder was one Laou-tse, who is supposed to have lived contemporary with Confucius, and to have been some years older than that celebrated philosopher. The word Taou signifies reason, and therefore a Taouist is a rationalist, in name at least; but, in fact, the Taouists are the most irrational of all the religionists of the East.

The tendency in rationalism is toward the utter destruction of belief in the existence of unseen spirits of evil. Enlightened reason dethrones devils; but Laou-tse created devils innumerable, and the chief concern of the Taouist sect has always been to manipulate these emissaries of evil. Modern rationalists deny the existence of devils, and relegate them to the category of myths and to personified ideas.

Not so the rationalist of the Orient. He finds his greatest pleasure in contemplating the very atmosphere he breathes as filled with spirits constantly seeking his injury; and to outwit his satanic majesty is the chief end of life.

The sect is founded on the monarchic plan. The chief high priest corresponds to the Pope in the Catholic religion, and all authority is vested in him. His decrees constitute the laws of the sect, and all power to perform miracles must come from him to the priesthood. He has the power to exorcise devils and to heal