Tao-Shin, Church of the Divine Paths
Ever since the days of the Divine Bureaucracy thousands of years ago, the primary form of worship to the true gods of Krynn in the Midlands has been through the Tao-Shin, also known as the Church of the Divine Paths. The praise of individual gods is not unheard of, or even rare, but the Tao-Shin practice of worshiping the gods as separate steps on various paths of enlightenment has been common in Adlatum's history. The church bases its philosophy on three pathways, each leading to an ultimate goal.
From the ancient teachings of the Tao-Shin: "A being has the potential to attain the highest happiness, the highest peace, or highest power. Everybody would like to have such a state of being. Alternatively, everybody wishes to avoid that which opposes the core of their inner beliefs. As spiritual practitioners we should seek freedom from that which causes us strife – not only for ourselves but for all sentient beings. All intelligent beings are capable of achieving these goals. They are able to practice the teachings, the methods by which these goals are realized. A practitioner can begin from his or her own spiritual center, select a path and gradually attain higher levels of being until final perfection is achieved. In certain cases the highest goal, be it enlightenment, perfect balance, or unquestioning dominance, can be attained in a single lifetime."
The Paths of the Gods are the paths that lead to enlightenment and understanding of the universe. All mortal souls have three paths that they may follow in the course of their existence, each one with a different reward.
The Path of Light is followed by those who seek to do good deeds in the world. Those who follow this path believe that good deeds will set the foundation for their soul in the next world. Selfless acts, protecting the weak, liberating the repressed and lifting the downtrodden brings one closer to the heavens and a state of bliss when they pass into their next state of existence.
The Path of Serenity is the path of inner peace. The followers of this path search for a greater understanding of the universe and their place in it. Creation, nature, knowledge and wisdom are all things that demand a perfect balance, or they are in danger of becoming harmful in some way. Those followers that master this balance find a wider understanding of the world and of themselves.
The Path of Power is the path of dominance. Those who follow this path seek to control the world around them and bend it to their will. It is through following this path that one may gain supremacy and even immortality. Serving the gods of power is the most direct way to exert one's will over another.
Adventures: Priests of the Tao-Shin have a variety of reasons to adventure in Adlatum. Spreading the word of their faith and their gods is vitally important since the Church of the Divine Paths has only just begun to re-establish itself. There are many who were disenfranchised with the Tashrama when it was learned that the Elder Dragons were the true power behind the church, and some are looking for something new to believe in. This is an opportunity the Tao-Shin cannot risk passing up. Others adventure in order to apply what they have learned from their path in a real world environment.
Characteristics: The religion of the Tao-Shin is based on a caste system where each god is a social rank within the path to enlightenment. For example, Situlos is the lowest rung on the Path of Light, and Erraii is the highest rung. Since the return of the gods, the ranks of Erraii and Rasala Hage have been made into ceremonial ones bestowed upon the head of the individual Paths, but in reality the leaders worship Miraphayt and Alnath respectively.
These are the Paths of Divinity. At the top of each list is the highest rank in the path and the further down you go are the lower ranks.
Study and worship in each of the gods within a path leads to a desired state of being. The gods of magic on the bottom rung do not grant divine spells, so novices and those introduced into the church learn the tenets of their chosen path based on the teachings of the gods of magic.
Once they have demonstrated they have mastered the teachings of one of the gods of magic, the priests ascend in rank and worship and learn the doctrine of the next god along the path to enlightenment. Those priests wishing to continue their ascension along their Divine Path must petition the next higher order by first talking to a member of that order, who then petitions the god of that order for acceptance. The god will usually ask the initiate for a favor before acceptance will occur.
Some followers have been known to remain with one god for a number of years or even a lifetime. This is largely accepted among the church, as true enlightenment may sometimes be found in the journey itself and not the actual destination. In this way it is possible to find clerics of Charu that are more powerful than clerics of Miraphayt, but the Church of the Divine Paths would still consider the clerics of Miraphayt to have the highest ranking authority within their path.
Alignment: People of all alignments are accepted into the Tao-Shin. Which path a follower takes is often dependant on their own moral beliefs: the good often take the Path of Light, the evil often take the Path of Power, and the neutral follow the Path of Serenity. Ethical variations are not a major concern of the Tao-Shin.
Religion: Since the Tao-Shin is a religion of its own, other faiths are not allowed within the ranks.
Background: Tao-Shin was first conceived circa 1500 PD when a religious group of researchers stumbled upon the elven ruins of Shera'Tao. The site was once a sacred elven temple to the gods. Manuscripts recovered from the site spoke of a divine pathway to the gods. A devoted follower would serve each of the gods, thereby advancing to a higher plane of existence. The elven teachings made mention of two paths to greater enlightenment, and a third that was forbidden among the elves.
The humans, who considered the lost elves to have a greater understanding of the world around them, began an organization based on the documents. Because of their more neutral dispositions, the scholars decided that all three paths should be available to make Tao-Shin complete. The Church of the Divine Paths was created and worship in the true gods took on a new form.
As the Midlands grew in power so did the church. The Tao-Shin Theocracy, also known by some historians as the Divine Bureaucracy, came to great influence in the Midlands. Even outside of the theocracy, the church became the preeminent religious order of the continent, boasting temples in every local town and grand sprawling complexes in every major city. Some of these temples were dedicated to a single path, and those who followed the Path of Light may not have a place of worship in some towns. The same can be said for those of the other Paths.
Although the theocracy fell apart less than a half-millennia later, the Tao-Shin church survived and continued. However its political influence was diminished as the various nations of the Midlands squabbled with each other. Ironically, during the times when the church was viewed by most to be at its least influential in international events, that was when it had its greatest number of followers and clergy. But in time even that advantage faded and numbers fell.
The first great blow to the church occurred after the Drowning. The divine power backing the preaching of the clergy was gone, and over the following centuries the Tao-Shin was forgotten. A century and a half later the Tashramadic faith was built up, partially based on the Tao-Shin paths being merged into a single path with two directions.
In 350 AD, the gods of the Tao-Shin returned in what is called by many "The Arrival." Within twelve-months the Tao-Shin was reconstructed, and a Priest of Erraii named Yulii Nelens was named the new Premier of Isryan. The Tashrama and the Tao-Shin began a thirty-year struggle for the spiritual future of the Adlati people, each claiming the other church a heretical and blasphemous organization.
Following the Starfall on New Years of 383 AD, the church was bereft of the gods once again. In the span of a day, the Tao-Shin collapsed. Without their gods, the rival faith of the Tashrama gained dominance.
When the gods returned following the undoing of the Starfall in 421 AD, Deloun Var Silverwolf, head of the Path of Light received a vision that led him to the Midlands on a mission to bring knowledge of the true gods and Tao-Shin back to the Midlands.
Races: All races are allowed to join the Tao-Shin, however individual parishes have been known to discriminate based on local parishes.
Other Classes: Followers of the church can be of a wide variety of classes, but the clergy of the church usually have core class as clerics.