‘Evergreen’ Tao church thrives in Brisbane

SIYUAN YANG

Evergreen Taoists Church. Photo: Siyuan Yang

Sunday afternoon at the Evergreen Taoist Church in Brisbane.

It’s a bit quiet today. Volunteers are preparing for a celebration, next week.

Meanwhile, a priest and two Taoists are engaged in a ritual – chanting and playing percussion instruments.

Said to be the biggest Taoist church in Brisbane, the Evergreen Church is located in Deagon, just 16 kilometres north of the CBD.

Evergreen Church pavilion. Photo: Siyuan Yang

Taoism as a philosophy and religion originates from China.

Taoism may be losing influence in its birthplace but in Brisbane the religion is showing more vitality than ever.

50-year-old Rick Yip, a priest for the Evergreen Church, grew up in a Hong Kong Taoist family and moved to Australia at the age of 20.

A god idol. Photo: Siyuan Yang

Wearing a black Adidas sports jacket, he looks slightly different from what one would probably expect a Taoist priest to look like.

“I’m not a full-time Taoist priest,” Mr Yip said.

“I come to this church every Sunday and have a regular job from Monday to Friday,” he said.

“I became a Taoists priest because three generations of my family are.”

A leaflet in the main building of the church provides some basic information about Taoism.

According to the pamphlet, Taoist priests are allowed to marry and have children like anyone else, and an “appropriate amount of sex” is advocated by Taoist doctrine.

Mr Yip said Taoism attracts people from across Brisbane

The Evergreen Church has about 2000-3000 members but Mr Yip admits it’s hard to put an exact figure on the number of Taoists in Brisbane.

“Taoism is a polytheistic religion; there are a lot of gods in Taoism,” he said.

“How would you judge that people only believe in Guanyin are Taoist or not?”

“Many believers choose greeting an idol in their own home and pray to it as well, so you will never know that how many Taoist in a big city accurately.

Guanyin (or Cihang Zhenren in Taoism) is a popular goddess in East and South East Asia and worshiped by both Taoism and Buddhism.

‘Andy’ (he does not want to provide his surname for reasons of privacy) is an immigrant from Taiwan.

Andy said he is not a Taoist, and just prays in the Evergreen Church “for safety and peace”.

Idols of three masters. Photo: Siyuan Yang

“My family is a Buddhist family in fact,” Andy said.

“I don’t really care about what kind of the religion is.”

This situation is not unusual among Chinese language-speakers.

Taoism and Buddhism developed together nearly two thousand years since Buddhism spread into China from ancient India; both experienced interaction and syncretism with each other, hence there are many similarities between these two religions.

During the tour, Mr Yip talks about Taoism philosophy, traditional Chinese medicine, alchemy and other things, which are abstract and hard to understand for outsiders

“I talk too much,” Mr Yip said.

In fact, that’s not good for practice,” he said.

“But that’s why I’m responsible for answering questions here.”

The ducks also enjoy the peace at Evergreen Church. Photo: Siyuan Yang

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