I went to Baiyunguan - White Cloud Temple - today, a place where Daoism is practiced as a religion. It's an important location, a key site for the Quanzhen sect of Daoism. I have to admit, I do not know much about religious Daoism - I am more of a philosophy guy - but it's obvious that it is a deep and complex faith tradition.
This is a living place of worship. There are Daoist adepts, dressed in a kind of uniform of white and black, who oversee a series of temple halls dedicated to various and sundry saints, people who, throughout the ages, since about 100 CE, created a canon of spiritual practice and passed the tradition along to their predecessors. There is a Daoist heaven and hell, and people will come to the temple and pray for good luck or good health or just generally seek solace in their lives. On specific holy days there are special ceremonies. Today was not one of those days, so there were not that many people in attendance. The people who were there burned joss sticks in front of the deities, bowed, asked for blessings, in a manner similar to Buddhist temples I have visited.
The entire complex is well kept. There are a good number of priests and adepts to keep things in order. But I also got the sense that the community contributed significantly: there were large, rather fancy vases in some of the halls, containing imitation flowers that were well crafted. I suspect successful businessmen come to seek good fortune; there were a couple of black Audi's idling out front. One of the deities, in fact, is precisely charged with responding to prayers for wealth.
There was a sign that stated the temple and the sect were patriotic and law-abiding. Indeed, this is also the organizational center of the Chinese Daoist Association, the government office in charge of keeping an eye on religious Daoists. The state is wary of religious revival of all sorts, Daoism included, but whatever surveillance there was did not disrupt the peace and quiet of the grounds. It was quite a pleasant place. Here are some photos:
The main gate