When you made your way towards the retreat house for your LASARE1 or LASARE2 along Agno Street, you probably saw this ancient looking temple to your right. With its green roofing and high red gates, it looked quite out of place in the busy street of Fidel Reyes, located in between makeshift houses. Believe it or not, it’s a Taoist church. The Menagerie takes a glimpse at what happens inside this holy temple.

Hidden Temple 1 - Joyce Tseng []

What is Taoism?

As one of the three early religions in China, Taoism has been ingrained in Chinese culture. While many believe that Buddhism and Taoism are one and the same, their fundamental beliefs about life and the universe are contrasting, to say the least. In Buddhism, it is believed that life is full of suffering that is brought about by earthly desires and attachments. It is due to this train of thought that Buddhists believe that in order to find peace, one must leave behind all desire and attachments to the world. It sees the world as a trap filled with lures.

Taoism does not contradict any teachings of Buddhism, but it does paint the world in a different color. Taoism believes that peace can be attained by going with the flow of the natural order of the universe. Suffering is only brought about by going against the laws of the natural balance. It sees the world as a teacher. Only when one understood the lessons of the world, and follows the natural laws that govern it, can one find peace.

Hidden Temple 2 - Joyce Tseng []

Many might assume that the temple along Fidel Reyes is similar to the Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple, the much larger temple along P. Ocampo around Vito Cruz. But Cecil*, a volunteer in the temple, says otherwise. While the former is Buddhist, the Temple of Heaven that you see on your way to the retreat house is for Taoists. Though Cecil says both religions stem from Chinese culture, their beliefs in general have certain differences. “Like the Catholics, [Taoism] worships many saints, while Buddhism only worships one, like the Protestants,” she says.

Cecil shares about the many saints that Taoists practitioners worship. “Each [saint] represents something,” she explains. Each Catholic saint represents a certain facet or need, and the same goes for the saints of Taoists, such as the goddess of seafarers Ma Zu, or the earth god To Ti Gong. Cecil also states that prior to today’s predominantly Buddhist China, the early religion of the Chinese was Taoism.

Oftentimes, Taoist temples are misconceived as Buddhist Temples and vice versa. The overall similar appearance however is credited to the Chinese cultural influence rather than the religious decor. In the early stages of Buddhism’s introduction to China, somewhere around 3rd century B.C., the religion slowly merged with Taoism, primarily because of Buddhist text utilizing many terms in Taoist scriptures during translation. As a result, modern day Buddhism, particularly Chinese Buddhism, is heavily influenced by Taoism, resulting in some Buddhists to be generally Taoist as well.

Hidden Temple 3 - Joyce Tseng []

Who goes there?

You probably thought that the temple was permanently shut down and abandoned, with its red gates always closed and looking as if no one has been going in and out of it. But really, you were probably just there at the wrong time. The temple is open to the volunteers, churchgoers and even the general public starting at 2:30 pm on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The temple wasn’t always there, though. It had only found a home in Fidel Reyes when the Taoists raised enough money to build it. According to the older generations of Taoists, the spirits or the santos was strong in this area, which is why they chose to have it there.

So what happens behind the high red gates? Every Wednesday and Fridays, churchgoers light incense at the altar and pray to the santos. Some pray for a while and leave, but the volunteers stay for longer.

The volunteers make sure the temple is clean and orderly inside and out, and they’re there for anyone who wants to learn more about the temple or Taoism itself. Mila, one of the volunteers there and an active churchgoer as well, says that many Lasallians also come over in the afternoons to visit out of curiosity. Some, however, visit for the purpose of academics, or religion related courses, shares Cecil. “Some [students] do OJT here for 10 hours per person. At the same time, there is always a group na nag-iinterview, nagte-take pictures. I think it’s for their subjects,” she explains.

Whether or not you believe in the tenets of Taoism, the green roofing and high red gates of this interesting structure may be worth paying a visit, if only to admire the different culture present within.

*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.

Audrey Giongco

By Audrey Giongco

Anthony John Tang

By Anthony John Tang

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