‘Daoism’ is a Chinese philosophy and religion based on the concept of Dao i.e. 道. It is a philosophy that incorporates concepts of non-action i.e. 無為 and the natural order or spontaneity of things. It asserts that mankind must put its will into harmony with the natural world.

The Dao is the primordial principle that underlies the creation of the universe. The Dao is believed to be unlimited/infinite, transcendent, and unnameable. Dao is also believed to be the cause of everything in the universe. One of the most important classical texts in Daoism is the Dao De Jing i.e. 道德经, and it was written around 400 BC by Lao Tzu 老子.

The concept of yin and yang is a key element of Daoism. Yin i.e. 阴 and yang i.e. 阳 are two opposing types of energy. The yin is considered passive, dark and feminine, while the yang is active, bright and masculine. These opposing energies may also be a reflection of the operation of the Dao during its cycles of creation.

Daoism also incorporates concepts of qi i.e. 氣, and taiji i.e. 太极. Qi is believed to be a vital force or energy, and the cultivation of qi can be done through martial arts and the food we consume. The Taiji symbol that depicts yin and yang energy was first introduced during the Song dynasty.

From the Dao De Jing, it was held that “The Tao produced One i.e. 无极; One i.e. 无极 produced Two i.e. 太极; Two produced Three; Three produced All things.” It is believed that the Interaction between Yin and Yang, with the presence of Qi, is how Two produced Three.

In religious Daoism, the Dao i.e. produces One i.e. 无极, and it represents the Great Dao, embodied by Yuanshi Tianzun i.e. 元始天尊 at a time of pre-Creation when the Universe was still null, and the cosmos was in disorder. Manifesting into the first of the Taoist Trinity, Yuanshi Tianzun oversees the earliest phase of Creation of the Universe and is known as Daobao i.e. 道寶. Where One i.e. 无极 produces Two i.e. 太极, comes the Yin Yang i.e. 阴阳; and Yuanshi Tianzun i.e. 元始天尊 manifests into Lingbao Tianzun i.e. 灵宝天尊 who separated the Yang i.e. 阳from the Yin i.e. 阴, the clear from the murky, and classified the elements into their rightful groups. Lingbao Tianzun i.e. 灵宝天尊 is also known as the Jingbao i.e. 經寶. While Jing i.e. 經 in popular understanding means “scriptures”, in this context, it also means “passing through” i.e. 經过 [the phase of Creation] and the Laws of Nature of how things are meant to be. In the final phase of Creation, Daode Tianzun i.e. 道德天尊 is manifested from Lingbao Tianzun i.e. 灵宝天尊 to bring civilization and preach the Law to all living beings. Daode Tianzun i.e. 道德天尊 is also known as Shibao i.e. 師寶 .

Each of the Three Pure Ones represents both a deity and a heaven.

Yuanshi Tianzun i.e. 元始天尊 rules the first heaven, Yu Qing i.e. 玉清, which is found in the Jade Mountain. The entrance to this heaven is named the Golden Door. “He is the source of all truth, as the sun is the source of all light”. Lingbao Tianzun i.e. 灵宝天尊 rules over the heaven of Shan Qing i.e. 上清. Daode Tianzun i.e. 道德天尊 rules over the heaven of Tai Qing i.e. 太清.

The Three Pure Ones are often depicted as throned elders. As the Three Pure Ones are manifestations of Primordial Celestial Energy, they are formless. However, to illustrate their role in Creation, they are often portrayed as elderly deities robed in the three basic colours from which all colours originated i.e. Red, Blue and Yellow (or Green), depending on personal interpretation of colour origins by additive or subtractive means. Each of them holds onto a divine object associated with their task. Yuanshi Tianzun i.e. 元始天尊 is usually depicted holding the Pearl of Creation, signifying his role in creating the Universe from void and chaos. The Ruyi 如意 held by Lingbao Tianzun i.e. 灵宝天尊 represents authority, the second phase of Creation where the Yang was separated from the Yin and the Law of Things was ordered in place. Lingbao Tianzun i.e. 灵宝天尊 then took his seat on the left of Yuanshi Tianzun i.e. 元始天尊. Later, when all was complete, Daode Tianzun i.e. 道德天尊 took his place on the right of Yuanshi Tianzun i.e. 元始天尊, and He held the fan symbolizing the completion of Creation, and the act of fanning representing the spreading of Dao i.e. 道 to all Mankind.

Schools of Taoist thought developed around each of these deities. Taoist Alchemy was a large part of these schools, as each of the Three Pure Ones represented one of the three essential fields of the body, jing i.e. 精, qi i.e. 氣 and shen i.e. 神. The congregation of all three Pure Ones resulted in the return to Dao.

The first Pure One is universal or heavenly qi. The second Pure One is human plane qi, and the third Pure One is earth qi. Heavenly qi includes the qi or energy of all the planets, stars and constellations, as well as the energy of God (the force of creation and universal love). Human plane qi is the energy that exists on the surface of our planet and sustains human life, and the earth force qi includes all of the forces inside the planet as well as the five elemental forces.

I hope to share more about jing i.e. 精, qi i.e. 氣 and shen i.e. 神 in future and simplify the concepts with some examples so that it makes it easier for everyone to understand.

Singapore’s oldest and first Chinese temple, Soon Thian Keing (顺天宫), is located at 19 Lorong 29 Geylang, Singapore 388070. A literal translation of the temple’s Chinese name is, “Obedience to Heaven”.

The temple was first built in 1812 at Malabar Street and this was even way before Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819. Fun fact, Malabar Street has now become an indoor air-conditioned street (now part of Bugis Junction).

In 1993, the temple relocated to its present location in Geylang and here are some photos of the temple’s architecture and intricate decor which I found rather fascinating and even inspiring.

Part of the 1902 stele that is still preserved in the temple today. It shows the main temple sponsors and major contributors to the temple’s building fund.
One of the four pillars of the temple with Chinese characters inscribed on it
Eight Immortals

The main deity of the temple is 福德正神 (also known as Tua Pek Gong/土地公) and there are many other deities such as 慈航真人 (also known as Goddess of Mercy/观音大士), 齐天大圣 (also known as the Monkey God), 赵公明 (God of Wealth), and 註生娘娘 (Goddess of Childbirth) that are housed in the temple as well.

The temple is open to members of the public and if you have not been there before, feel free to arrange a visit!

As a young child growing up, I was exposed to many different faiths, and it was not until my 31st birthday that I truly found comfort and solace in Daoism. To begin with, Daoism is not a new faith to me because when I was young, my parents would bring my siblings and I to the temple to pray. However, back then, I did not know why we had to go to the temple, why we prayed to certain deities in the temple, and why we had to offer incense joss sticks. All I knew back then was that I had to obey and follow my parents’ instructions.

I also recalled that at certain times of the year, there were significant occasions when we would visit the temple to pray. These occasions include Lunar New Year, Vesak Day, and the Hungry Ghost Festival. There were also occasions when my mum would prepare special dishes like glutinous rice dumplings during the dumpling festival, mooncakes during the mid-autumn festival, and glutinous rice balls in peanut soup during the winter solstice. All these did not make much sense to me until the later part of my life.

When I entered my teenage years, I attended church and stopped going to the temple. Although the company of people was great, I did not feel liberated and the experience that I had felt transactional, superficial, and distant. When scandalous news of the church leadership broke, it drifted me away and led to many questions and self-doubts. I was in a state of limbo for more than 5 years.

In 2019, I was fortunate to participate in a trip to the Wudang Mountain in China. The experience that I had was life-transforming and invigorating. Since then, my affinity for Daoism grew, and I wanted to learn even more. Though COVID stalled my progress, I am thankful that I could still learn about Daoism from many different Daoist masters. When the Quan Zhen Cultural Society (Singapore), 新加坡全真教化協會 restarted its ritual classes early this year, I did not hesitate to sign up. Since then, I have been learning something new about Daoism every day, and therefore, I desire to document what I have learnt through this site and share my knowledge with others.