Religion is a deeply personal journey, and it takes many unique paths.
One individual, in particular, embarked on a fascinating road to spiritual enlightenment. Meet 23-year-old Lee Chee Tong, who openly shares his experience of Taoism on his TikTok account QZ Taoism.
But that's not the whole story – he's not just a follower of the faith; he's also a Taoist priest.
On Sept 1, Chee Tong shared a compelling video slideshow recounting his journey to becoming a Taoist priest.
Growing up in an atheist family, Chee Tong frequently had a recurring dream involving an elderly man who offered him guidance and wisdom.
"Religion was something that was never on my mind," he recalled, until he attended a church service during his junior college years, introduced by friends.
Though he initially had doubts because "some of the church doctrines didn't align" with his personal values, he remained in Christianity. He found beauty in the teachings of Jesus Christ and, at that age, was somewhat frightened by the concept of hell.
Then, one day, he stumbled upon the Tao Te Ching, a classic Chinese text on Taoism, and was immediately drawn to its teachings.
"I was captivated by the wisdom within it," he mentioned.
What particularly resonated with him was Taoism's perspective on the interplay between opposites.
For example, he noted that light cannot exist without darkness, and vice versa – both are essential for existence.
"I realised that its philosophy of cultivating oneself to benefit others fit my motto, and how actually embracing death as a natural cycle of life frees one's soul in some sense," he explained, which deepened his interest in Taoism.
Do you remember the elderly man who appeared in Chee Tong’s dreams during his youth?
In one dream, the man urged him to search for a Taoist group online. Following this mysterious guidance, Chee Tong discovered a Taoist community where he encountered Shifu Master Chung, who became his mentor.
Fast forward two years, Chee Tong was ordained as a Taoist priest, finding solace in what Taoism regards as the 'Three Treasures'.
The comments section was filled with praises and well wishes.
One user asked what the 'Three Treasures' actually meant, to which Chee Tong replied that they are the Dao, the Scriptures and the Teacher.
While another asked whether he would be able to have a significant other since he is a priest.
Surprisingly, according to Chee Tong, you can and it depends on which sect you’re from.
The road to priesthood
Speaking to AsiaOne, Chee Tong shares how he became a Taoist priest.
“In my society, usually you have to train in the chanting of scriptures that are used in rituals," he begins.
This serves as the fundamental stepping stone. Given the multitude of scriptures involved, this learning process can span many years.
"[Even] now I am still learning," Chee Tong confessed.
The other phase involves learning the intricate structures of the rituals. That includes understanding the precise movements, the timing, the when and how of worship, and the usage of spells.
And only after all that, your master will decide if you are prepared for ordination.
In terms of challenges, Chee Tong mentions that his lineage is from Hong Kong, which means Cantonese is the choice of language.
"I am not Cantonese," he revealed. "So I have to annotate everything down so that I know how to pronounce it."
Additionally, the scriptures are written in traditional Chinese, which presents its own challenges.
Chee Tong mentions that he is fortunate enough to have a supportive group of seniors who consistently assist him, and his master is always there to clarify any doubts.
Currently, Chee Tong is pursuing an undergraduate degree in social work at the National University of Singapore.
He draws intriguing parallels between his studies and spiritual practice.
"Both professions have the same notion of cultivating others to help others," he observes.
"The philosophy of Taoism trains us to see past the duality of things. It helps my work as it opens my perspective in analysing the situation."
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