Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Chinese Way

Last time I spoke about Buddhist gods and Boddhisatvas. This time I will talk about the Folk and Taoist gods of China. The Chinese are interesting. It's like a religious buffet set up for them, where they get to pick and choose what they want, a little Taoist philosophy, a little Folk gods, a little Buddhist meditation, a little Confuscius and viola', a personal religion. It is from them that I have developed my own personal religious views of picking and choosing what I feel comfortable with from all the religions, past and present, that I am exposed to.

Confucius, Buddha and Lao Tzu

Taoism (it is supposed to be pronounced with a "D" to make Daoism, but so many people say it with the "T" that it can no longer be called innacurate. Wasn't it the British whom first translated Chinese into English, because they messed up big time, creating a huge mess with Chinese and English spelling translations, also you will see that I am not a fan of Pinyin and mostly prefer the Wade-Giles form of latinized Chinese, ) is a philosophy that originated from Lao Tzu, also spelled Laozi, whom has become immortal and a god. It was created around the 6th century BCE, though that is only when written records appear, it may be older. Tao means "the way" or just "way" and refers to the way that you should act in regards to morals and towards nature. Taoism is where the concept of Yin-Yang came from, the idea that opposite forces do not fight each other, but flow into each other and work together to make the cosmos. This is in contrast to the Western worlds modern (as of 2000 years ago) idea that opposing forces fight each other for control of the world. As a Taoist, you are supposed to work with the cosmos and if you can align the forces just right in your body, you may achieve immortality. Taoists have temples and priests, called Daoshi, which are distinct from the Folk temples. Some western scholars have suggested that Taoism is not a religion, but more like a way of life. If that is true, then the same could be said of the Ancient Egyptians, yet thier views were called a religion, too. Taoists use a book called the Tao Te Ching, also called the Dao de Jing, which is a book filled with poems and philisophical advice for all people. I could go on and on about Taoism, but I would suggest looking up more information on your own. "The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet" by Benjamin Hoff is a great book for Western people to read to learn about Taoist philosophy.

Taoism and the Folk Religion are intertwined, but not the same thing. Though many foriegn people often confuse the two as the same, which irritates Daoshi (see above.) The folk religion is the old religion of China, well the older religion of China, meaning it is the pagan religion of China. The folk religion is centered around the old mythology of China dealing with the gods and goddesses, ancestors, dragons, and other mythic entities. It comes from the neolithic times, having an incredible history. It has later taken bits and pieces from other Chinese religions and philosophies, so you will see hints of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism it there as well. Because of this, and because of the reservations of the writers, many Westerners have branded the Folk Religion adherents as Taoist, since it is considered a named and organized religion closer to what modern (i.e. Christian) western people know. So there are actually millions of pagans living in China.

Confucianism was developed by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, though that is his Westernized name, his name is actually Kung Fu Tzu. Confucius saw that the people of his time were becoming morally corrupt and so made up a philosophy to help lead the people back to a golden age. It stresses morality, obedience, scholarship and leadership. His teachings also back the ruling elite, showing that it is up to them to lead the way. Many other Asian countries adopted his philosophies, well at least the ruling elite did. While I admire many of his teachings, I personally blame Confuciusians for the decline of Korea, weakening their military because the nobles were too busy spending that money so that they could show everyone how scholarly they were, and leading to Japan so easily taking over before WWII. Confucianism has no gods, it is a philisophical religion, but they do honor and revere Confucius.

Here is a list of some of the deities of China. There are far too many too list, and some haven't even been seen in English before, so I don't even know their names. Also, as China is an Empire made up of many smaller kingdoms, each kingdom had its own gods and goddesses, there are just too many to count. I even saw that there was a goddess of Pears in the Hanyuan province, though I don't know her name, just like the Gauls had a god of apples. I guess she was only meant to be known there, though that makes me sad, as she may be the only goddess of pears and so should be known to all who eat pears. I guess I am a lot like the Chinese in that I like to have a divine beaurocracy.

Celestial beaurocracy in action, the Ministry of Demons and Monsters

The 3 Pure Ones-primordial gods that represent creation from the void of nothingness, they are the highest gods, higher than the Jade Emperor (see below.) They are not clearly defined and are more revered as abstract deities.

Guan Yu-the great general of heaven, patron of policemen, soldiers and protectors of law, seen as the epitome of loyalty and righteosness. He was a mortal man living in the times of the 3 Kingdoms, a much romanticized period of history in China, where he was an important figure in the civil war to dispose the Han dynasty. He is portrayed as a powerful warrior with a red face (the color, not rouge) and black hair and a long beard. Though many modern artists have taken the red face away to show that he was born a mortal. He carried a guando, which is similar to a halberd, called the Green Dragon Cresent Blade (though I have also seen it called the Black Dragon Blade,) and wears a green robe with his body armor. After his defeat and death, he was apotheisized into a god. He is a Folk god, a Taoist god, a Boddhisatva, and a Confucian ideal of the virtues of honor and loyalty. He is a very popular deity, and there is a lot of information available about him, so look him up.

Kuan Yin-known as Kwannon/Kannon in Japan, is the goddess of mercy, though she is at times depicted as a boy as well. This is because she was originally the Boddhisatva Avaloketishvara, a man, but because of how he dressed and his feminine appearance, when his worship came to China, he was confused for a girl and eventually became a seperate goddess in her own right. Though buddhists have no problem with this and see it as Avaloketishvara taking the form of a goddess to show non-Buddhists the path to enlightenment, and boddhisatvas can take any form anyways. This goes to show that it doesn't matter how a god or goddess came to be, they exist all the same. She appears as a woman wearing a white gown and having a white headscarf or some form or hair ornament(I always imagine her with the headscarf,) holding a vase full of the waters of compassion. She may also appear with a thousand arms (showing her Indian heritage) or as a young man, or as a mother, or as a buddhist seated in meditation, and a myriad of other forms. As the goddess of mercy, compassion and unconditional love, she is also the mother of orphans, protector of mothers, women in general, and all children. She can also grant children, help the poor and unfortunate and heal the sick. She is a goddess for everyone and her worship has spread all over the world. I have even invited her into my pantheon of gods. She is a popular goddess and you can find a lot of information about her.

Matzu-also spelled Mazu, was the goddess of sailors and the ocean. I would also call her the patron goddess of Taiwan, as she has so many temples there, and as an island nation (yes I believe in their soverignity) surrounded by the ocean and having many fisherman and sailors, she is perfect for them. She is often portrayed with a black face(the color, not the race of people,) and surrounded by the Jiu Huang Ye, the 9 emperors, her emanations and servents, or 2 demon generals she has conquered and subdued, named Qianli Yan and Shunfeng Er. She was said to have been a mortal girl, whom would dress in red and sit or walk along the shore, so that sailors and fishermen could see the shore and not crash, she also went into a trance and saved her father or brothers from drowning once and was apotheosized into a goddess. While she is a goddess of the ocean and sailors, people also pray to her for other things, like health, careers, etc... Her worship has spread to other countries and she can be found wherever the Chinese have moved. When I lived in Taiwan, I went to one of her temples and prayed for her to help get my sons visa (see my other blog, The Journey to my Son, for info about that mess) and he did eventually get it, but I also prayed to her for another son and that never happened. I guess she can only do so much.

Pa Hsien/8 Immortals-are popular figures in art and literature in China, Japan and now in the Western World. They were 8 mortal people that found different paths to immortality. They are also called the lucky gods, as they are though to dispense luck. Each one has a different sphere of power and influence though, such as music, sholarship, or acting. They were often shown together on a ship and they are often drunk.

  • Cao Guojiu-patron of actors, and older man with a beard, holds a jade tablet or castanets.

  • He Xiangu-patron of musicians, the only woman in the group, she often holds a sheng(a stringed instrument) or a magical lotus that can cure all ills.

  • Zhongli Quan-shown as an older man with an open robe showing a large belly, holding a magical fan that can revive the dead

  • Li-T'ieh Kuai-patron of doctors and all healers, is an ugly looking older man, using an iron crutch to help him walk, often appearing as a begger, and holding a gourd that holds special medicine that can cure all illnesses. He was actually handsome before he became an immortal, but his spirit left his body to go visit heaven, and his apprentice thought he had died, so cremated his body, when he returned he possessed the nearest body available, which was that of a recently deceased begger.

  • Zhang Guo Lao-represents old age and seems to be patron of wine and alcohol. He loved to make alcoholic drinks and the drunken style kung fu was named after him. He often rides his donkey and can turn into a bat (a symbol of good fortune in Asia.)

  • Lan Ts'ai-ho-patron of minstrels, buy I am not sure what he is really a patron of, he seems to do things contrary to normal, such as dressing like a woman, or wearing very little in the winter or stuffing his clothes in the summer. He is a young man.

  • Han Tsiang Tzu-patron of flautists (thats people who play flutes and related instruments)

  • Lu Tung Pin-patron of scholars and carries a sword that dispells evil spirits. He is said to be the leader of the group and can have a huge temper.

Shangdi-heaven, the primordial god, the first ruler of the gods and creator of the universe. His name is literally over 4 thousand years old. Never represented as a person or thing, just his name written on tablets placed in the temple of heaven. Ruler of the great ancestral spirits and nature spirits, and maintainer of the natural order. The emperor would perform annual sacrifices to him to maintain social order and give good harvests.

Yu Huang-the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven, earth and hell. He is the supreme power in creation and has done such things as create the Chinese zodiac to divide up the years, conquer the most powerful demon to stop him from laying waste to the heavens, and help transform the earth to make it more habitable for mankind. He is seen as either the second to hold the position of Emperer of heaven and will be succeeded by only one more Emperor, or as one among a line of Emperors. He represents the Yang, in the Yin-yang of Taoist philosophy. He holds his celestial court in the topmost layer of the sky and can grant immortality or other riches and blessings to people.

Hsi Wang Mu-the Queen mother of the west, holder of the peaches of immortality. She is the goddess of life and immortality, living on the sacred mountain in the West (of China,) Kun-lun. There she lives in a palace paradise, where many gods, goddesses and immortals meet for events. She is the highest of the goddesses and so many live in her palace or work as her servents. She represents the Yin in the Taoist philosphy of yin-yang. In some myths she is the mother of the Jade Emperor, in others she is his wife.

Zao Shen-the kitchen god. He lives in everyones stove in the kitchen, the hub of the home, where he observes and listens to everything you do. Then once a year, the day before Lunar New Year, he will go to the heavens and report what he has seen and heard to the Jade Emperor, who then rewards or punishes the family. To stop him from this, people will offer him sticky rice on this day, making it hard for him to speak. Despite this, he was seen as one of the most important gods to the common man, as he was in charge of overseeing the wellfare of the family.

Tu Di Gong-the Earth god, both a singular god and a genius loci. Each locality was supposed to have its own Earth god, in charge of protecting the land and maintaining peace. Villagers would lovingly call him Grandpa and ask for his help with crops and weather, especially in times of drought and famine. As he is an earth god, he is also seen as able to grant wealth (Earth gods hold precious metals and gems in their realms.) He had many local shrines, often very rustic. I had the pleasure of seeing a museum exhibit about Tu Di Gong when I was living in Taiwan and these are a couple of the pictures I took about it.

Lung Wang-the dragon kings. They rule the four seas of China and represent the four directions. They live in crystal palaces under the seas guarded by shrimp soldiers and crab generals. They control not only earthly waters, but celestial ones as well, causing rains and clouds and even floods. Their true forms are those of dragons, but they can also shapeshift into other forms, even human.

  • Ao Guang-ruler of the East Sea, he often caused storms, was an enemy of both Son Wu Kong and Nezha. When he was defeated by Son Wu Kong, he gave him the golden chain mail, phoenix feather cap and cloud walking boots.

  • Ao Qin-ruler of the South Sea, when he was defeated by Son Wu Kong, he gave him a red and gold cape.

  • Ao Run-ruler of the West Sea

  • Ao Shun-ruler of the North Sea

Sun Wu Kong -the Monkey King, a very popular and famous character of Chinese mythology, he is also known as Son Goku in Japan, which is where the Dragonball character got his name and story idea from. Sun Wu Kong is the son of the earth, born from a stone. Because of his great strength and intelligence he became king of the monkeys and later became a student of Buddha. He learned many magical techniques, including cloud hopping, 72 magical transformations, and each of his hairs could become a clone of himself or anything else he could transform into. When he shapeshifts into human form, he still has his tail though, so was not perfect. He became boastful, so Buddha ordered him to leave. He travelled far and wide, even under the seas, were he aquired his magical staff, which could grow or shrink, fight by itself and multiply itself. This staff was a treasure of the Lung Wang and was used to keep the flow of the seas in check, so they battled him over it. He beat the Lung and forced them to give him several more treasures, like golden chain mail, a phoenix feather cap, and cloud boots. Full of pride, he sneaked into hell and erased his name from the registry of death, along with all his monkey kin. This caused chaos for the Yama Kings, and so the Yama Kings and Lung Wang reported all this to the Jade Emperor. The Jade Emperor thought that a royal position would calm him down and so offered him one and he accepted, but was then given charge of the royal stables. Humiliated, he stole the peaches of immortality, Lao Tzu's pills of longevity and the Jade Emperors special royal wine, and fled back to his monkey kingdom to plan a rebellion. He defeated all the forces of heaven sent against him, even the highest and best general, and was only finally defeated by the combined might of the Jade Emperors forces and Boddhisattvas. They tried to execute him, but failed, so Lao Tzu tried to boil him away into a potion, and after being sealed in a boiling pot for 49 days, he was still alive and given a new power, the power to see evil in any form, but smoke hurt his eyes after that. Then Buddha came and made a bet that Sun Wu Kong could not escape from his palm, he agreed and lept to the pillars of heaven, thinking he had won, he signed his name and did other things, then lept back to Buddhas palm, only to see that the pillars of heaven where the Buddhas fingers. Buddha then sealed him below a mountain, where he stayed for 500 years, until the goddess Kuan Yin released him to protect a buddhist monk as he traveled to India to get sacred sutras. He was tricked into wearing an iron headband that would tighten on his head causing unbearable pain if he betrayed the monk. For the rest of the story, read the "Journey to the West" a Chinese classic. He was given godhood and buddhahood afterward. He is often compared to Hanuman, a Hindu monkey deity.

Nezha-also named Zhongtan Yuanshuai or Nataku (in Japanese). I know him from the Japanese Anime, Hoshi Engi, named Soul Hunter in English. He is a guardian god and trickster. He was born to a military leader, and took 3 and a half years to grow in his mothers womb, and when he was born, he came out in a lump of flesh(a reference to a stone baby?), that his angry father split with a sword and he jumped out fully grown, which reminds me of Athena, only his body was grown, but not his mind. Later he killed a nature spirit and the son of the Dragon King Ao Guang, who threatened to kill his family in revenge, so he killed himself to spare his family. But, his teacher was one of the immortals, and brought him back to life using lotus blossoms to construct his body. He later became a general(or served right under the general) in the Jade Emperors army, and fought against Son Wu Kong, but was defeated. He can fly through the sky with a wheel of fire under each foot, carries a golden celestial hoop and spear and wears a red sash. Sometimes he is depicted with multiple heads and arms.

The Anime version from Soul Hunter

Chang O-also called Chang'e, goddess of the moon, though she did not make the moon or is the personification of the moon, she lives there with the Jade Rabbit of the moon, who makes magical elixers. She is China's version of the "man on the moon." She is the wife of Houyi, the great archer of heaven, who had the sad job of shooting down the suns when they all rose at the same time on the same day, leaving only one last sun. Though this was his answer to save the world from being burned to death, or having drought, he was punished by having his immortality removed along with his wife. While he was able to live quite well among humanity, his wife could not stand it, and so he journeyed west, to visit Hsi Wang Mu, who gave him one pill of immortality, saying that half a pill will make you immortal, the whole thing will make you into a god. He took the pill home and told her to wait while he finished some things, but she could not wait, and took her half, but then she decided she wanted more and ate the whole pill, which caused her to rise up to the moon and stay (another version said she fled there to escape the wrath of her husband.) Houyi eventually becomes immortal anyways and set up residence on the sun.

Xuan Wu-is a god of magic, the elements, martial arts and the great general of the north. He accidentally created the great tortoise and snake monsters that terrorized the land, but when he found out, he came and conquered them, where they became the beast Xuanwu, the black tortoise and remain as his mount. They also exist as his 2 generals in human form. He appears as a warrior wearing imperial robes, carrying a sword that he borrowed from Lu Tung Pin and never returned.

Tian Mu-goddess of lightning, she uses mirrors to create the flash. She is married to Lei Gong.

Tian Mu and an orange Lei Gong

Lei Gong- god of Thunder. He looks like a man, with blue or green skin, a birds beak, claws, and bat or bird wings on his back. he carried drums around his waist and beats them to create thunder.

Feng Po-god of the winds, he carries a sack with him, which is full of the winds. He can also appear as a dragon.

Lei Gong and Feng Po

Zhang Xian-is a god that almost no one knows of. He is a god that offers sons to those that pray to him. I found him because I was desperate to adopt my son and so I tried to choose a god from the area that could help. Since I did get to adopt my son (though he didn't help with the other boys I tried to adopt) I will mention him here. He is often pictured hunting his enemy, the north star or sirius.

Fu Lu Shou San Hsing-the three gods of fortunes, almost always shown grouped together. They are extremely popular and many people keep images of them in their homes to invoke their fortunes. They are also called the 3 stars and are connected to astronomy.

  • Fu Hsing-(short name would be Fuk, and no, I am not joking) god of happiness and fortune, he is taller than the other two and when shown together, he is placed in the center.

  • Lu Hsing-(short name Luk) god of affluence and helps with careers and official ranks, he is often shown carrying a small boy

  • Shou Hsing-(short name Sao) god of longevity, shown as an older man with a large rounded bald head, often astride a deer and holding a peach

Men-Shen-Door Gods, their function is to protect people from demons and other threats, by protecting the entrance to a home or temple. People would place their images on the outside doors or entrances to invoke their protection. They appeared as 2 fierce warriors holding an axe or sword. When I lived in Asia, I put a picture up of the door guardians as well, and we never had any villainous people or spirits enter our home.

Yama Kings-the rulers of Diyu, often translated into English as hell. THE Yama King is Yan Wang or Yanluo, the god of death and ruler of Diyu. There are 10 or more Yama Kings, each in charge of their own district in Diyu or Naraka. Naraka is where they mete out the punishment to those souls that did ill in the world. Most people do not stay in Diyu for long, as they are reincarnated, but if you are bad, your next life will be miserable, if you are good, you will have a good next life. The yama kings keep track of everything, they are the epitome of beaurocracy. People give them offerings hoping that this bribe them into putting their name or the name of a loved one on the good list, or at least shorten thier tortures, or to extend their alloted time on earth. The Yama Kings are not evil, but they are efficient and do not like a disruption to the natural order.

As I said, there are many, many gods, goddesses and other entities in China, so this is only a tidbit to give you an idea and help you on your way. I might post more later, but I think next time I will blog about Shinto gods and goddesses.