Thursday, January 13, 2022
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
My Neighbor’s Prayer: The Vocabulary of Blessing as Common Bond
Daoism (sometimes written as Taoism) began in the sixth century BCE. While it may have originally been more of a philosophy or way of life, after millennia of practice and deep influence across what we now know as China, the Daoist tradition eventually expanded and became more complex, often embracing a pantheon of gods, recognizing distinct sets of sacred texts, and dividing into diverse schools of thought. It is still a dominant religious tradition in China today, with rituals and codes of behavior that impact daily life. A season of Communism has in some ways deflated any unified spiritual core, but the practices persevere: in 2017 there were 173 million people who claimed to engage in some sort of daily Daoist practice, making up twelve percent of the population. Some of you may have read the Daodejing, translated as the “Scripture of the Way and Virtue” which can lead one down the path to enlightenment.
Among the prayer practices of ancient Daoists was creating or sponsoring the creation of Daoist sculptures that included engraved blessings carved in stone. Traditionally the stone carving would include an image of a Daoist god—most often Lord Lao—and an inscription asking for the protection or blessing of the gods. After being carved and placed high on a mountainside to promote communion with the world beyond, a priest would bless and consecrate the statue, so that all who visit there might be blessed by its message. Below is an inscription from one of these prayer stones found in northern China. I appreciate the wide reach of the blessing—that it asks not just for the hope, happiness, and long life for individuals, but also for the general ordering of life together in community, that all leaders might be guided toward what is right and good. Unlike more individual-centered religious traditions, the ordering of the government, and the communal practices of shared life are important in the Daoist tradition.
My Neighbor’s Prayer
May the governors and rulers and all the officers
who keep the Earth in order
guide the people with bright virtue…
May the good teaching be spread widely,
and the people follow it in happiness
looking up with hope…
May they have their wishes realized
and their lives extended!
Inscription on a Daoist Sculpture, 5th Century China
From Livia Kohn’s book Introducing Daoism, 2009