Daoism and Cct

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

How are Daoist leaders chosen and given authority?

Traditional Daoist priesthood has long been a hereditary occupation, though that appears to be changing in recent times. This feature obviously applied consistently only to non-celibate branches of the priesthood. Individuals who successfully completed requisite initial training are ordained, following general patterns similar to those of Buddhist monastic practice. Ordination requires a quorum of ordained priests, and the ordinand takes “refuge” in the Dao, the canon of scripture, and the tradition’s spiritual teachers, much as the Buddhist monk takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Lay specialists, whether Black Hats or Red Turbans, apprentice to an authoritative master called a dao jang—perhaps the equivalent of “high priest.” His task is to lead novices through several levels of ritual assistantship. Students begin with basic musical accompaniment, learn to watch over the incense burners, and lead group prayers. More difficult training includes learning to chant and memorizing often intricate rubrics (ritual movements). After learning to copy sacred texts and write talismans calligraphically, aspirants are ready to lead ritual. In the People’s Republic of China some seminaries still provide formal doctrinal instruction, but that is generally not the case in Taiwan. Formal ordination focuses on the symbolism of the master conferring the seal of priesthood and the texts the specialist will follow. Some scholars suggest the training of Black Hats is more rigorous and literate than that of the Red Turbans, who tend to serve less official, more “popular” functions and have much in common with the shamans of old.


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