Rights & Customs

The Taoists and Funeral Customs

The Yin Yang symbol represent the balancing of opposites in nature.

The Yin Yang symbol represent the balancing of opposites in nature.

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by Contributing Writer

Taoism, also spelled "Daoism," is an indigenous Chinese philosophy and religion that advocates a return to a simpler life that is in harmony with nature. The harmony of nature is understood as being the "Tao," or "the way," and is symbolized by the Yin Yang symbol, the balancing of opposites that is at the heart of all life. Taoist funeral customs express a respect for nature, and involve the performance of rituals passed down from antiquity.


Believers chant scriptures for the dead during a Taoist funeral. According to the Daoist Culture Centre, chanting scriptures relieves the spirit from suffering in darkness after death. The "Book of the Jade Emperor," the "Book of the Three Officials" and the "Book of Salvation," which are Taoist religious texts, are often read from during funeral ceremonies.


Taoists also perform a litany before the gods, asking forgiveness for the sins of the departed, and for the gods to grant the deceased a place in heaven or a good reincarnation. Believers may perform the ritual for family members themselves, or ask Taoist monks to perform this ritual for them.

Water and Land Rituals

The most elaborate and longest litany performed by Taoists for the dead is the Water and Land Ritual, which can last as long as eight days. This ritual pays respect to the opposites making up the universe. During the ritual, Taoists pay respect to the spirits in heaven above and the earth and water below, and also pray to deliver the spirit of the dead from suffering in the afterlife.

Lighting Lanterns

Lanterns are lit in Taoist funeral ceremonies to light the way of the departed to heaven. Lanterns may be arranged according to the pattern of the sun and stars on a Taoist altar, to show the deceased's spirit the way to the afterlife by casting light into the darkness. Taoists also place a lantern or oil lamp at the feet of the deceased to light the path after death. Taoists also light water lanterns as part of the funeral ceremony, as they believe that the spirit must pass a dark river to cross over to the afterlife -- paper lanterns with lit candles are placed onto a board, which in turn is placed on the water. If the lantern floats away without turning over, it is a good sign for the spirit.

About the Author

Guy Gardner has worked as a writer since 2007, with work published in "The Prescott Russell News" and on various websites. He is also an experienced academic researcher, teacher and traveler. Gardner holds a Master of Arts in political economy from Carleton University and a certificate in Chinese language from Beijing Foreign Studies University.

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