Derek's Private Study
Question: Derek, are you a Taoist?
In the West, the term "Taoist" usually refers to the philosophical aspects of Taoism. In Asia, it is the opposite. "Taoist" is usually associated with religious Taoism. This is one of the major misconceptions in the great East / West divide. Many Asians do not understand that in this part of the world, if you walk into a bookstore like Barnes & Noble and look up books on Taoism, you will find tons of material on the philosophy and very little on the religious practice.
Because of the misunderstanding, most English-Chinese dictionaries define "Taoist" as a follower of religious Taoism. That's definitely not what I am. Such a person would be someone who worships Lao Tzu and many other Taoist deities. I do not. What I do is cultivate the Tao by studying and emulating the great sages and teachers from history. When I participate in a ritual, it is not to worship these sages and teachers, but to pay respects, to revere their teachings and to remind myself of what I truly wish to do - to live up to the examples they have set for us.
For those who are wondering, this is also the basis of I-Kuan Tao. Not "worship" as we understand the term - not asking deities for forgiveness or blessings or protection, but to commune with the spiritual essence, to practice humility and be in touch with a sense of gratitude.
Although the term "Taoist" as we use it in the West is fairly accurate in describing my orientation - someone who adheres to the philosophy of the Tao - in order to avoid confusing and misleading connotations, I prefer to refer to myself as a Tao Cultivator, someone who cultivates the Tao... when labels cannot be avoided.