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Enriching Christian-Daoist dialogue

TAIPEI (SE): “Encouraged by the success of this encounter, we commit ourselves to share the fruit of our dialogue (in) expressing deepest respect for one another’s tradition and agreeing to engage in sincere dialogue at local, national and international levels,” a statement released by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the conclusion of a symposium at the Daoist Baoan Temple in Taipei on October 16 says.

The statement, titled Seeking the Truth Together: Christian Daoist Dialogue, was issued at the end of a two-day symposium among the Pontifical Council, the local Catholic Church in Taiwan, the Daoist Baoan Temple, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and the World Council of Churches.

In addressing the symposium, John Cardinal Tong Hon pointed out that Daoist belief guides people to understand and realise the path to humility from the universe, whereas the Christian faith calls them to follow the revelation of the bible and rely on God’s grace in striving to imitate Jesus in cultivating the virtue.

“Even though these two beliefs are different, they have common ground, worthy of further dialogue and discussion,” the bishop of Hong Kong said at the symposium.

He pointed out that in the long history of Chinese culture, Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism are always regarded as the mainstream of thinking in philosophy, singling out Laozi and Zhuangzi, as two whose thought reflects the spirit of Daoism most clearly.

“Personally, I have a preference for the thought of Zhuangzi,” he said. “The Book of Zhuangzi is a Chinese collection of anecdotes and fables that carries similar ideas to stories in the bible of Christianity.”

The then cited one short story from Zhuangzi, which he described as not only of the essence in the literary sense, but also philosophically rich.

It comes from Dasheng (attaining life) and depicts the way a skillful carpenter goes about his work. His name is Ziqing and he once carved an astonishingly refined piece of handiwork from a lump of wood into an exquisite bell-shaped stand.

The cardinal then related that Lu Jun questioned him about his technology, but Ziqing simply replied, “I am only an ordinary carpenter. I do not possess any extraordinary skill as you described.”

Ziqing explained that whenever he carved in wood, he prepared himself, but not in a way that would consume his energy.

“First I have to fast, which helps me to be quiet. After three days of fasting, I become desensitised to reward, praise, honour and wealth in my heart,” Cardinal Tong related.

He then said that after five days, Ziqing said that he felt immune to any criticism that may be thrown at him over his techniques or skill.

After seven days of fast, he had entered into a realm of selflessness and even the power and glory of an emperor held no interest for him.

“Then I can concentrate and be focussed on my carpentry, eliminating all disturbing elements,” the cardinal said the story goes.

Only at that stage Ziqing feels ready to search for a suitable tree for his work, which must be natural in its posture and flawless in its appearance, then, when he has the image of what he wants to do firmly in his mind, he feels free to begin work, but without this preparation, he is unable to feel ready to begin his work.

“This means I integrate my humanity with the nature of the trees and produce wooden works from it,” Cardinal Tong related the story as saying, adding that the carving will then look like it was done with ghostly axes and spirit technology.

The cardinal said that the story illustrates the Daoist philosophy of cultivating humility and removing the shackles of material desire to reach a realm of transcendence.

He added that this virtue is fundamental to Christian life as well, noting that it helps recognise that all things come from God and that they must rely on grace and be ready to recognise God in all things, as well as glorify God in all people.

He cited King David dancing in front of the ark in the Old Testament and then Jesus humbling himself to take on the slavery of human flesh and washing the feet of his disciples.

Cardinal Tong pointed out that we have models for this in the person of the saints and he quoted Mother Teresa of Kolkata as saying when people praised her, “It is the dying person who gives me the grace, because his gaze of thanksgiving before he died remind me to always thank God for all our benefactors.”

He wished the symposium well in its dialogue, saying that he hopes that this will not be the last time that Christians and Daoists sit down to deepen their mutual understanding, as the dialogue can promote spiritual and moral values.

He pointed to Pope Francis calling religious leaders together to pray at Assisi as a striking example that can inspire further dialogue in the promotion of justice, peace and freedom.

In its final statement, the symposium acknowledged the great problems facing the world, especially those linked to globalisation, migration, religious and intercultural tension and fundamentalism, expressing the hope that the coming together of Christians and Daoists may be a beacon of hope in a darkened world.

The symposium agreed to face up to the challenges of secularisation, the eco-crisis and the scourge of indifference, stressing the importance of educating children to truly appreciate who they are, their own culture and heritage, as well as having respect for those of others.

It also made a vote of thanks to its hosts in Taiwan; the government, Department of Religious Studies at Fu Jen Catholic University and the local Christians, and especially the Daoists for their generous support in making the gathering a success.

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