Divine Teachings of the Confucian Tradition (Phoenix Halls)

Doctrines "The Divine Teachings of the Confucian Tradition" (Ju-tsung shen-chiao) is the name recognized by a significant portion of Taiwanese spirit-writing cults (or "phoenix halls"--luan-t'ang) for their system of religious beliefs and practices. Phoenix halls are voluntary religious associations that take spirit-writing as their ritual focus. In this form of communication between humans and gods, an entranced medium writes out messages believed to originate from a deity that has descended into the medium. These messages include edifying stories illustrating the workings of karmic retribution, descriptions of spirit-journeys to otherworldly realms, moral exhortations, and theoretical treatises on points of religious doctrine and cultivation. They are studied by the cult members and are often also collected and published in book format for distribution to the general public ("morality books"--shan-shu) for the moral edification of society at large. Cult membership confers a status of discipleship under the gods. By means of their written revelations, the gods guide these "phoenix disciples" (luan-sheng) through a long-term process of religious cultivation centring upon moral conduct and the accumulation of merit. The phoenix disciples hope to thus create a surplus of merit for themselves and their ancestors, which will allow them be reborn among the gods in the heavens. Once there, they expect to further cultivate themselves and reach final salvation, i.e., irreversible withdrawal from samsara, by means of entry into the ultimate realm of the Limitless (Wu-chi T'ien).

History The technique of spirit-writing as it is practised today originated probably during the T'ang dynasty (618-907) and the first morality books composed by this technique appeared in the eleventh century. The modern Taiwanese phoenix halls have their direct origin in a nineteenth spirit-writing movement on the Chinese mainland, which got transplanted to Taiwan in the second half of that century. Early centres on the P'eng-hu Islands and in I-lan county inspired phoenix hall foundings all over the island, so that by the beginning of the twentieth century these cults had become a familiar feature on Taiwan's religious landscape.

Symbols Phoenix halls do not employ a specific religious symbol, unless one takes as such the figure of the Sagely Divine Lord Kuan (Kuan Sheng Ti-chun), who is the main deity worshipped by the vast majority of Taiwanese phoenix halls.

Adherents No reliable figures are available due to the fact that phoenix halls do not appear as a separate category in government statistics on religious affiliation, and have not developed a national organization that would keep a membership count.

Main Centre
 There exists no effective national umbrella organization for phoenix halls; each phoenix hall is an autonomous entity that shares a common religious outlook with other halls, but is not part of any higher-level structure of religious administration. There exist some phoenix halls that enjoy a cross-regional reputation. These include, among others, the Hall of Sages and Worthies (Sheng-hsien T'ang, Taichung City), the Precious Palace of Sagely Virtue (Sheng-te Pao-kung, Taichung City), the Temple of the Martial Sage, Hall of Enlightened Orthodoxy (Wu-miao Ming-cheng T'ang, Taichung City), and the Culture Court (Wen-hua Yuan, Kaohsiung City).