The three major religious traditions in Taiwan are Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. However, many of the temples in Taiwan reflect a fusion of all three traditions. This is in part due to Japanese occupation, which led many Taoists to secretly worship in Buddhist temples. Contemporary Taiwan is predominantly a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist, with 93% of the population identifying with these traditions. Only 4.5% identified as Christian. Within the Taiwanese-born Australian population, a majority identified as Buddhist (35.2%). Additionally, 38.5% of the Taiwanese-born Australian population identified as not having a religion. This may be in part due to the common perspective that Taoism and Confucianism are not necessarily considered religions, but rather philosophies or ways of life.
The religious and philosophical tradition of Buddhism originates in the teachings of the Buddha. The core Buddhist teaching is the doctrine known as the ‘Four Noble Truths’, which states that it is through practising the ‘Noble Eightfold Path’ that one may be liberated from the perpetual suffering that underpins all existence. Taiwan typically follows Mahayana Buddhism, which somewhat differs from the earliest known formulation originating in India (known as Theravada Buddhism). Mahayana Buddhism emphasises the ‘Bodhisattva’ ideal of seeking full awakening through attaining perfection in morality and knowledge whilst endeavouring to assist others on their path towards enlightenment. In Taiwan, there are two predominant types of Mahayana Buddhist practices: ‘Ch’an’ (also known as ‘Zen’ in Japanese) and ‘Pure Land’. In recent times, Tantric Buddhism has been on the rise in Taiwan, in part owing to the exile of Tibetan monks.
Taoism, also referred to as ‘Daoism’, is rooted in the philosophical teachings of Laozi – a great thinker from China of the 6th century BCE. The tradition is based on the perception that the universe is a reality in which everything that exists is connected and emphasises a deep connection with nature and self-development. Whilst difficult to accurately convey in English, the central tenet of Taoism is that of ‘Tao’ (‘the Way’). The essence of Tao is ‘the One’, namely the notion of unification and. A tenet of Taoism perhaps most familiar to Westerners is the concept of Yin and Yang. This explains the world as full of opposites working in , unified in how they complement one another (e.g. light and dark, high and low, etc.). Taoist beliefs related to seeking with nature, spiritual immortality and the cultivation of ‘virtues’ manifest through practices of meditation and in ‘feng shui’.
Confucianism – a body of traditional practices rather than a religion – plays a significant role in the faith and personal beliefs of many Taiwanese. The foundations of Confucianism are derived from the teachings of Confucius, who emphasised the importance of healthy relationships. It promotes the idea that relationships between people are unequal and that everyone has defined hierarchical roles (for example, ruler and subject, husband and wife, father and son). When this natural inequality is accepted and respected, it becomes easier to maintain harmonious, stable relations between individuals and, therefore, in society as a whole. These core values are reflected in respect and a sense of duty towards others, as well as maintaining loyalty and honour for oneself and their family. A major part of daily life for Taiwanese is ancestor worship, as well as respecting their elders (). Although modernisation has posed challenges to the tradition, Taiwanese are finding ways to reconcile and uphold Confucian values.