Monday, August 3, 2015

From Tenaga Dalam To Chinese Folk Cults (中外法教面面观)

This posting is to answer queries of an enthusiast:

‘Tenaga Dalam’ (TD) literary refers to ‘internal energy’, i.e. it is a type of exercise once popular in Malay Archipelago that is believed to bestow its practitioners with invulnerability. Basically practices of TD flourished during Indonesian war of independence around 1945 to 1946. I think perhaps local folks need some kind of practices that could bestow invulnerability against the Dutch whom were better armed. This is the same as the Chinese Boxer Rebellion against Christians in the 1890s. If we look further into the Chinese history, Boxer Group (义和团) members practices ‘fists of god’ (神拳) because they believed that this type of cult could bestow them with invulnerability against the western bullets.

Same as with Indonesian TD, the Chinese Folk Cults can be subdivided into many schools: Mao Shan (茅山),Liu Ren (六壬),Jin Ying (金英) etc. People would confuse these folk cult sects as part of traditional Taoism because these folk cults used names of traditional Taoist deities just like standard Taoist schools. Some scholars try to differentiate both systems as ‘Ceremonial Taoism’ (道教) and ‘Cult Taoism’ (法教).

The Ceremonial Taoism as its name implies, performs elaborate Taoist ceremonies and traditionally had the patronage of Chinese imperial families. So, Ceremonial Taoism is normally out of bound to ordinary folks as only royal families and the rich and famous of that time have the money and time to support a whole group of Ceremonial Taoists. Since folks of lower social status needed some kind of spiritual pursues too; Cult Taoism was hence devised.

Cult Taoism generally services general folks through simple magic rituals to solve their day to day problems: safety, protection, healing, exorcism, divination etc.

A this point, I just want to give you an idea how standard Taoist ritual vs. cult ritual like:  a standard Taoist ceremony can last from 3 days to 7 days with many Taoists; a simple Taoist cult ritual only lasts for less than an hour and one Taoist would be sufficient to do the job.

In order to enhance the credential of a cult Taoist, patron gods/goddesses are invoked into the Taoist’s body to perform miracle such as walking over fire, climbing up the knife ladders, invulnerability to sharp objects etc. Just same with the TD counterpart, when gods/goddesses possessed a Taoist, he/she would be able to perform dancing or kung fu stances. Whatever cases that may be: all of the above seemingly invulnerability feasts are only meant to show: the god/goddess has indeed possessed the body of the Taoist and it is the god/goddess that has bestowed the power for healing etc. The purpose is of course to gain trust and donation from the spectators.

With the emigration of Chinese labourers in the 18th to 19th centuries, these Taoist cults also being transmitted all over the world especially into the Southeast Asia regions. The Jin Ying (金英) sect is said to contain heavy Singapore and Malaysian flavours though traces of other sects could also be found across the region. Having said so, not many people continues to practise cult Taoism and many people has become spirit medium known as ‘Tangki’. Of course, these Taoist cults remain as popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong still.

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