Permanent Exhibitions

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Great Hall of World Religions

There are two mains displays in the Great Hall of World Religions: one is the Display of World Religions, and the other is the Greatest Sacred Buildings.

Display of World Religions

The ten major religions in the Great Hall of World Religions were chosen on the basis of history and number of followers.  Eight of these, including Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Shinto, are given permanent display, while the other two, Ancient Religions (Egyptian) and Indigenous Religions (Maya), have special rotating exhibitions.  In addition, there is a specific section devoted to Taiwanese Popular Religion.

The names and symbolic motifs of each religion are engraved into the floor of the Great Hall to represent the theme of each section. Through artifact and multimedia displays, visitors can gain an understanding of each religion's traditions, history, development, rituals, organizations and festivals. Televisions displaying images and sounds connected with each religion further assist in portraying the beauty and diversity of each religion.  These finally combine to symbolize the features shared by all religions, love and peace.

 

Christianity

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” says Jesus Christ in the gospel of Matthew, one of the holy scriptures of Christianity. Over the nearly two millennia since Jesus lived on earth, Christian communities, collectively called the Church, have spread all over the globe, becoming immersed in many cultures. Christianity is one of the world’s largest religions, with more than two billion followers. As varied as the faces of these different Christians are the myriad ways in which they express their experience of and devotion to Jesus Christ: worship and ritual; ministries of charity; active engagement for social justice and peace; prayer; monasticism; and study of the Holy Scriptures. 

Who was this Jesus Christ, whose presence is felt even today and who inspires so many different women and men?

The various Christian traditions, as they developed, sought in different ways to answer this question more deeply and to reconnect with the mysterious and challenging person of Jesus. After his death, old and new followers gathered in his name and were soon called Christians. They proclaimed that Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah; that Jesus is Emmanuel (God-with-us), the divinity who was incarnated in human form, was resurrected after being dead for three days, and is now the King of heaven and earth; and that Jesus Christ is still alive today, giving strength to and being present in individuals and communities who dedicate themselves to him and to his teaching and action of peace and praise of God.

Islam

Islam arose in the western part of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century and rapidly spread throughout the Middle East.  Today, Islam is the second largest religion in the world with adherents in all parts of the globe. Muslims believe that in 610 CE Muhammad ibn Abd Allah, then a forty year-old merchant, began receiving revelations from God through the Archangel Gabriel (Jibrail), charging him to call humanity to the religion of Islam.  Islam is an Arabic word derived from the root s-l-m connoting ‘peace’ and ‘prosperity.’  In its current form, islam means ‘submission’ or ‘surrendering.’ The word islam implies the peace and prosperity attained through utter submission of one’s self to God, known to Muslims as the sole Creator and Lord of all of existence. 

The revelations received by Muhammad, collected in a scripture known as the Quran, is believed to be God’s last and best source of guidance for humanity.  The Quran, however, does not provide specific guidance for all occasions, but is interpreted by Muslims to make its message applicable to their daily lives.  As the chosen messenger of God, Muhammad is the first and most authoritative interpreter of the Quran. After Muhammad’s death in 632 CE, Muslims were left without this authority. Using the Quran and the example of Prophet Muhammad, they have developed varying and intricate means of approaching God and interpreting the divine will.  The message of Islam—submission to the will of the one God—is simple to comprehend; the genius and the richness of the Islamic tradition are in the multifaceted ways in which individual Muslims seek to realize God and God’s will in their every day lives.

Buddhism

The term “Buddhism” was coined by European scholars nearly three centuries ago to describe a pan-Asian religious, philosophical, and cultural tradition centered around the life and teachings of the Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, or “Enlightened One,” was a prince of the Sakya clan who live in India over twenty-five hundred years ago. Today the followers of the way of the Buddha most live in Asia, but significant numbers are in Europe and North America as well. Buddhism continues to attract followers, who are often drawn by the social and cultural aspects of the various sects that have arisen over time.

Siddhartha Gautama gave up his life as a prince and searched for enlightenment as to the true nature of existence. His teachings outline the Four Noble Truths: life is suffering; suffering arises from craving and attachment; attaining nirvana — the cessation of suffering — entails overcoming ignorance and attachment; and the way to reach nirvana is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. For the follower, the path begins with acceptance of the Triple Jewels: the Buddha, dharma (religious teachings), and sangha (the community of monks, nuns, saints, and laypersons). 

Buddhism assumes that humans undergo cycles of birth and death. Since there is no soul, or atman, these cycles are series of new manifestations, rather than the reappearance of the same being. A Buddhist’s ultimate goal is to reach nirvana — freedom from desire and from the cycle of rebirth and suffering.

Daoism

Daoism arose in China. It traces its origin to the philosopher Lao-zi, who lived in the sixth century BCE. Over time, Daoism has developed into two streams: philosophical Daoism and religious Daoism. Philosophical Daoism (Dao Jia) is based on the writings of Lao-zi, Chuang-tzu, and their successors. It strives toward mystical union with the Dao, the principle of transformation that underlies the ever-changing universe. Religious Daoism (Dao Jiao), draws from several philosophical and religious movements, including philosophical Daoism and the principles of Yin–Yang and the five elements (Wu-hsing). Religious Daoism applies meditation, liturgy, alchemy, and philosophy to understanding the Dao. Daoists live according to the principle of the Dao — “Dao invariably does nothing, yet there is nothing that is not done.”

There are three traditional sects of Daoism, two of which survive today. Zhang Dao-ling founded the Celestial Masters in 142 CE; it remains popular today. The Celestial Masters recite sacred texts, practice meditative breathing, and abstain from cereal grains. The Shang-ching school is based on texts dictated to Yang Xi between 364 and 370 CE. This school, originally focused on meditation and personal practices, later became centered on texts. The Shang-ching school stressed a personal, mystical relationship with the Daoist gods, and created Daoist hymns and striking images. The Ling-pao, or “Sacred Treasure” school of Daoism, still exists today. It developed from the convergence of Shang-ching texts with Chinese Buddhism.

Hinduism

The word “Hindu” is derived from Sindhu, the name for the Indus River. In its long and complex history, the Hindu tradition has developed a multitude of holy texts, as well as diverse philosophies and religious practices. Today, Hinduism has more than one billion followers, most of whom live in India.

In general, Hinduism values correct behavior more highly than correct belief. This emphasis on righteous action instead of rigid beliefs has led to tolerance and understanding within the Hindu community, and to peaceful relations with other religious communities. Most Hindus, however, do share common beliefs, including the concept of Brahman and the law of karma. Brahman, a Supreme Reality, underlies all existence. Originally without form, Brahman came to be represented by numerous entities, among them Hindu gods and goddesses. Brahman is also believed to be inherent in all living beings, as atman, or the soul. Thus, Hindus are encouraged to treat life with reverence, since all creatures are partial manifestations of the divine.

Karma is the principle that all actions have inevitable consequences. Good actions will lead to a superior rebirth, while bad actions will lead to an inferior rebirth. As long as people are tied to the results of their actions, they cannot escape the cycle of rebirth and attain union with the divine. To achieve release, a Hindu must follow one of three selfless paths: knowledge of one’s spiritual self, devotion to the divine, or action infused with a deep sense of religious duty and detachment. These paths emphasize giving up destructive, selfish behavior for a transcendent awareness of the sacred.

Sikhism

The history of the Sikh religious tradition begins with Guru Nanak (1469–1539 CE), who lived and preached in the Punjab region of India. He created his own unique religious philosophy by synthesizing some important concepts from the Hindu and Islamic traditions. Guru Nanak composed nearly one thousand hymns conveying his ideals of the brotherhood of all humanity and the existence of one true God. The one God can be represented by the mantra “Ek Omkar.” The goal of human life is to rid oneself of the bonds of karma and reunite with the one God. This can be achieved through recitation of God’s name and strict obedience to one’s guru. 

The Sikh community centered around a guru, or spiritual teacher, until the death of the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1708. Each guru contributed to the development of the community, and most added hymns to the collection begun by Guru Nanak. Guru Gobind Singh introduced many innovations into Sikh religious life. He formally established the khalsa, or Sikh community, and developed a code of discipline accepted by most Sikhs. According to the khalsa, Sikhs are required to keep five K’s: kesh (uncut hair), kangha (comb), kara (steel bracelet), kirpan (double-edged dagger), and kaccha (short breeches). Guru Gobind Singh also installed a holy text, the Adi Granth, as the future guru of the Sikh community. The community views external rituals and class distinctions as irrelevant to spiritual achievement; Sikhs are exhorted to live a detached, spiritual life with respect and love for humanity.

Judaism

According to tradition, Judaism originated in the ancient Near East roughly four thousand years ago. In the course of its history it has traveled over several continents and experienced much change, development, and diversity, while remaining surprisingly consistent in some ways. Jews believe in one God who created the universe and continues to be involved with human affairs. Because God created all humans, they must be treated with respect and love.

Judaism’s roots are in the Torah, given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. The Torah is traditionally divided into written and oral parts. The written Torah includes the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), Prophets, and Writings. The oral Torah was eventually compiled and recorded; it sets forth the laws and traditions of Jewish civil and religious life. Judaism adapts to changing political and social circumstances as the Jewish community discusses and interprets the Torah. In this sense, Judaism is not a static system but is perpetually changing and regenerating itself.

Jews believe that all their souls were present when God revealed the Torah to the Jewish people, so that each individual has a personal responsibility to follow the Torah’s laws. These commandments and obligations, or mitzvot, regulate human relations with God and with other human beings, and encompass practices, rules, and laws regarding every aspect of religious, legal, civic, and ethical life. Additional rules or customs, known as minhag, cover almost every aspect of cultural life, even culinary practices and music. Indeed, all of life ultimately relates to the Torah and a personal involvement with God and his teaching.

Shinto

The word “Shinto” is made up of two Chinese characters, “shen” and “tao,” used to express the Japanese phrase “Kami no michi,” or “the way of the Kami.” Shinto is a religious way of maintaining ongoing, favorable relationships with the Kami. “Kami” cannot be translated, though the term is close to “deity” or “spirit.” Kami refers to the innumerable sacred and natural forces that have shaped the world and continue to influence everyday life. 

Elements of contemporary Shinto can be traced back thousands of years, to Japan’s prehistory. Shinto does not emphasize historical founding figures, sacred scriptures, or systematic doctrines. Rather, it honors nature, tradition and family, and purity. It thrives in the rituals that weave the powers of the Kami into the habits and concerns of the everyday life of the Japanese. 

Throughout its history, Shinto has focused on concrete, practical needs, relating to the work and the fruits of the seasons. People turn to the Kami for good health, prosperity in business, the formation of a happy family, the growth of children, help in passing university examinations, safety in traffic, and the dispelling of bad luck. Shinto rituals restore ritual purity — the power and beauty of creation as it first appeared from the hands of the Kami — to both persons and things. Such well-being is linked to one’s relationship with nature, in which many Kami are manifest, and to one’s proper relationship in family, neighborhood, or other social networks, such as the workplace. During the 19th and 20th centuries, charismatic religious leaders shaped new religious movements within the Shinto framework, using Shinto ideas and practices.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian civilization spanned a period of nearly 3,000 years, beginning with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt in about 3100 BCE. A series of kings, called pharaohs (from per aa, “great house”), later organized into 30 dynasties, ruled the country. In 332 BCE, Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great. It was then ruled by the Greeks, during the so-called Ptolemaic period, and later by the Romans, from 30 BCE to about 395 CE.

The early historian Herodotus called Egypt “the gift of the Nile,” and the country relied on this vast resource for agriculture and transportation. Its annual flooding deposited rich fertilizer over the fields and gave stability to Egypt. This in turn fostered great achievements in art, architecture, mathematics, and medicine.

The Egyptians worshiped many gods. Some, like the sun god, Re, were revered throughout the country, while lesser gods and goddesses had local centers of worship. Still others were household gods worshiped at home. Some gods and goddesses were represented as human; others took the form of animals or animal-headed humans. Ancient Egyptians did not worship animals directly but as representations or embodiments of particular gods or goddesses.

Egyptian religion was permeated by concepts of life cycles. They included the cycle of the sun-god, who is born each morning, traverses the sky during the day, sets in the evening, travels through the underworld at night, and rises again in the morning; the annual flooding cycle of the Nile; and the cycle of human life — birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Indigenous Religions—Maya

Identified within the broader cultural zone of Mesoamerica, the Maya Indian population numbers today in the millions. Their ancestor’s ancient ruins are found in the same region that the contemporary Maya occupy, including Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.  Their culture history is divided into four major periods: the Formative (900BC-AD200/250), when farming villages prevailed and urban society first developed, along with distinct religious traditions; the Classic (AD250-900), when Maya achievements were at their apex, that is, mathematics, astronomy and writing were developed and royal kingship governed the many independent city-states; the Postclassic (AD900-1521), when populations shifted to the Yucatan peninsula after a systematic collapse at the end of the Classic period caused Maya political power to dwindle throughout the rainforest regions; the Colonial and National (1521-present), when a new society emerged following the Spanish Conquest that combined indigenous and European world-views. 

While the Spanish Conquest in 1521 destroyed a great deal, the Maya maintain many of their distinct cultural traditions.  As skilled farmers, the Maya still rely on a basic subsistence of corn, beans, squash, and chili.  Steeped in agricultural metaphor, Maya religion is centered around nature and the cyclical patterns of the cosmos.  Physical forces are deified, and agrarian fertility is commonly worshipped.  The world is seen as animate, filled with sacred powers manifest in plants, animals, people, and their creations.  Thus, ancient and contemporary religious imagery frequently shows a synthesis of human, animal, and plant life.

Religious Life of the Taiwanese

Taiwanese folk religions reflect an ancient history of many diverse Han peoples coexisting over a period of thousands of years. The meanings, organization, and ritual ceremonies of Taiwanese folk religions have been integrated into the secular social life of the people. Thus, Taiwanese religious beliefs and ritual behavior are manifested in various aspects of daily life. They include worship of ancestors, belief in spiritual gods, seasonal ritual ceremonies, customs followed over the course of one’s life, concepts of time and space, magic incantations, divination by bagua, and fortune-telling.

Han people say that they “respect nature and worship ancestors.” Respecting nature means being awed by nature and following nature’s principles. Worshiping ancestors means being mindful of one’s origins, showing respect at funerals, and remembering one’s ancestors. 

Gods and goddesses are believed to protect Taiwan and its people. Such benevolence and kindness morally entails a debt of gratitude, and people express their gratitude and appreciation by holding grand festivals to greet the gods and goddesses on their birthdays.

Taiwanese folk religions have no religious beliefs or sacred manuscripts in common, though ancient Confucian ethics provide moral principles, and Zhung-Xiao-Jie-Yi (traditional moral standards) have been handed down from generation to generation. The proverb “God is three feet above you” reflects the Daoist belief in the omnipresence of nature. Good deeds are valued, for they are believed to bring a reward; conversely, performing a bad deed will bring retribution. 

Nevertheless, according to a Taiwanese saying: “There are unknown storms in nature; good or bad luck can happen to people at any time.” To ward off bad luck, people worship gods, goddesses, and the Buddha, and they venerate objects installed in villages, temples, and houses that are believed to ensure safety and protect from evil. When people are confronted by difficulties, they turn to fortune-telling and divination by bagua in order to avoid evil and have good luck. 

Thus, the complex, and sometimes enigmatic, rituals practiced by the Taiwanese people reflect their respect for nature, their worship of ancestors, and their hopes of being protected from danger and rewarded in this life for good behavior.

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