The Jade Emperor: Taoist Ruler of Heaven - and Celestial Bureaucrat

The Jade Emperor: Taoist Ruler of Heaven - and Celestial Bureaucrat

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The Jade Emperor is not only a notable figure in Chinese mythology, but also one of the most important deities in Taoism and in Chinese folk religion. Today, the Jade Emperor is regarded as the supreme ruler of Heaven, guiding the affairs of mortals via a bureaucracy not unlike that which was once used in imperial China. Considering the Jade Emperor’s significance as the ruler of Heaven, the history of his worship is rather peculiar. In the early Taoist writings, he was either a minor deity, or not even mentioned at all. In fact, it was only later on, during the Tang Dynasty, that the Jade Emperor became an important deity. Apart from his religious significance, the Jade Emperor also appears in many Chinese myths.

Becoming the Jade Emperor: Popular Folk Take of Zhang Denglai

The Jade Emperor is known by a variety of names. In the Chinese language, he is known either as Yu Huang, or Yu Di. He is formally known as the Pure August Jade Emperor, or the August Personage of Jade, and informally as the Heavenly Grandfather. There are two stories regarding the Jade Emperor’s origin, which, interestingly, contradict each other. One of them is a popular folk tale, whilst the other is derived from Taoism. In the former, the Jade Emperor is depicted as attaining his position by pure chance, whereas in the latter, he is portrayed as earning it through his personal virtue, and the cultivation of Tao.

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According to the popular folk tale, the Jade Emperor was originally a mortal by the name of Zhang Denglai. He is said to have been a minor functionary or common soldier who lived around the end of the Shang Dynasty and the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty . Zhang Denglai was one of the many people who died during the civil war that resulted in the toppling of the Shang Dynasty. As he fought for the Zhou Dynasty, Zhang Denglai was posthumously rewarded. These rewards were being distributed by Jiang Ziya, a noble who was instrumental in overthrowing the Shang Dynasty. One by one, the highest positions in the heavenly hierarchy were filled, until only the office of the Jade Emperor was left.

The story goes that Jiang Ziya was reserving the top position for himself. When he was offered the office of Jade Emperor, however, he paused with customary courtesy, and told the people “ deng lai ,” which means “wait a second,” so that he could consider the offer. Zhang Dengai, hearing his name mentioned by Jiang Ziya, seized the opportunity, came forward, prostrated himself before Jiang Ziya, and thanked him for the appointment as Jade Emperor. Realizing his mistake, Jiang Ziya was speechless, but at the same time, was unable to retract his words.

The Jade Emperor is known by many names. (Public domain )

Another Take: The Taoist Origin Story

By contrast, the Taoist origin story of the Jade Emperor is quite different. In this version of events, the Jade Emperor was originally the crown prince of the Kingdom of Pure Felicity and Majestic Heavenly Lights and Ornaments (translated also as the Kingdom of the Miraculous Joy of the Garland of Brightness). According to this story, the Jade Emperor was born of a virgin. As the king was a sick and elderly man, his queen prayed for an heir to inherit the throne. One night, she had a vision of the Taoist philosopher Laozi, and thereafter became miraculously pregnant. Even as an infant, the Jade Emperor was different from all other children. He is said to have been able to walk and talk before his peers, and was incredibly compassionate, patient, and kind. As a child the Jade Emperor spent his time helping the needy, showing respect and benevolence to all creatures.

After his father’s death, the Jade Emperor became the new ruler of his kingdom, and made sure that all his subjects were able to attain happiness and prosperity. This task was accomplished in a few short years, after which the Jade Emperor abdicated. After giving up his throne, the Jade Emperor left for the Bright and Fragrant Cliff, where he cultivated Tao. After a long period of cultivation, study, and practice, the Jade Emperor attained immortality, and became a deity.

According to another Taoist story, perhaps a follow-up from the previous one, the Jade Emperor originally served as an assistant to Yuanshi Tianzun, whose name translates to mean “Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning” or “Primeval Lord of Heaven.” Yuanshi Tianzun is one of the Three Pure Ones, and is believed to have personally chosen the Jade Emperor to be his successor. It is also believed that the Jade Emperor will eventually be succeeded by the “Heavenly Master of the Dawn of Jade of the Golden Door.”

The Jade Emperor surrounded by attendants holding court to local god, as seen on a Chinese handscroll from the 1600s. ( The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public domain)

Rising Out of Obscurity to Become the Supreme Taoist Deity

Historically speaking, the Jade Emperor was either a minor or unknown deity prior to the Tang Dynasty . It was only during this period that the Jade Emperor’s status in the Taoist pantheon was raised. In time, the Jade Emperor was worshipped by believers as the supreme deity of Taoism, and writers and poets who wrote about him acknowledged him as such. In folk religion, the Jade Emperor was regarded as the celestial equivalent of the Chinese emperor, and came to replace older deities such as Tianweng (“Father Heaven”), and Zhang Tiandi (“Heavenly Emperor Zhang”), who were previously worshipped as “rulers of Heaven.”

During the Song Dynasty, which succeeded the Tang Dynasty, the Jade Emperor was included as one of the deities to whom sacrifices were offered by the state. Apart from that, the Jade Emperor was merged with the more impersonal Haotian Shangdi (“High Ancestor of Bright Heaven”). Moreover, during the reign of Emperor Huizong , in the early 12 th century, the Jade Emperor was given the title Haotian Yuhuang Shangdi (“High Ancestor of Bright Heaven, Jade Emperor”).

When the Song Dynasty ended, however, the Jade Emperor lost his position as a state deity. Nevertheless, offerings could still be made to the Jade Emperor, though only on a personal basis. Although the Jade Emperor lost his status as an “official” deity, he was still worshipped as the supreme deity by the Chinese people. At some point, he was even given the Buddhist title Qingjing Ziran Juewang Rulai (“Pure King of the Natural Enlightenment, Tathagata”). This is an example of the fluidity of Taoism and Buddhism in China, and how deities from one pantheon may be assimilated within another.

The Jade Emperor is included in the 16 th century Chinese literary masterpiece Journey to the West, where he crosses paths with Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, seen here.

The Jade Emperor in Chinese Mythology, Folk Tales and Literature

Apart from religion, the Jade Emperor is also a significant figure in Chinese mythology, folk tales, and literature. A popular folk tale involving the Jade Emperor pertains the creation of the Chinese zodiac. There are several variations to the story, though most of them revolve around a race to the Jade Emperor’s palace. In order to select the two zodiacs, the Jade Emperor sent letters to all the animals in the world, informing them that the first twelve animals who arrived at his palace would be included in the zodiac.

The story is perhaps most notable for explaining the reason behind the animosity between cats and rats. In the story, the rat and the cat were originally friends. The cat had a habit of oversleeping, so the rat offered to wake him up on the day of the race. When the day of the race arrived, however, the rat was so excited that he forgot to wake the cat up. Another version of the story states that the rat deliberately let the cat oversleep, so that he could have a shot at being included in the zodiac.

This deity is a character in one of the best-known works of Chinese Literature, Journey to the West , written by Wu Cheng’en in the 16 th century, during the Ming Dynasty. In the novel, the Jade Emperor had the rather unfortunate experience of having to deal with Sun Wukong, known also as the Monkey King, one of the story’s main characters. Sun Wukong was a powerful troublemaker who wanted to attain immortality. Prior to his encounter with the Jade Emperor, Sun Wukong had already caused trouble in the underwater palace of Ao Guang, the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea, and in the Underworld. These actions brought Sun Wukong to the attention of the Jade Emperor, who, in order to keep an eye on the Monkey King, and to avoid further conflict, decided to give him the position of Keeper of the Heavenly Horses, an insignificant office in the celestial bureaucracy.

Although Sun Wukong was initially delighted with his post, his joy turned to anger when he found out that this was in fact a lowly office of little importance. Therefore, he left Heaven, and returned home to the Flower Fruit Mountain, where he declared himself Great Sage Equal to Heaven. In other words, Sun Wukong was rebelling against the Jade Emperor, who in turn assembled a celestial army to crush the Monkey King and his followers. The Jade Emperor’s army, however, failed to defeat Sun Wukong. In order to avoid further conflict, the Jade Emperor allowed Sun Wukong to use his title, which, by the way, was an empty title, and granted him the position of Guardian of the Heavenly Peach Garden.

Sun Wukong abused his position, however, and ended up eating most of the peaches in the garden. Moreover, the Monkey King crashed the immortal peach banquet before the arrival of the guests, as he learnt that he was not invited due to his roughness. Having caused such trouble, Sun Wukong fled to his mountain once again, to await the arrival of the celestial troops. Sun Wukong was finally captured after a long battle and brought to Heaven to be executed. The Monkey King’s body, however, had become indestructible, and in the end, it was decided to put him in Laozi’s eight trigrams furnace for 49 days.

The gods expected Sun Wukong to be turned to ashes, but on the contrary, he emerged completely unharmed. The enraged Monkey King wreaked havoc in Heaven, and the Jade Emperor, powerless to do anything, appeals to the Buddha in the Western Paradise for his aid. The Buddha overcomes Sun Wukong, and the Monkey King is imprisoned under the Five Elements Mountain for the next few centuries, until his released by the Chinese monk Tang Sanzang.

Jade Emperor Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. ( sergiswand / Adobe Stock)

Jade Emperor as Head of the Celestial Bureaucracy

The character of the Jade Emperor in Journey to the West may be interpreted in two contrasting ways. On the one hand, Sun Wukong’s negative qualities, i.e. his jealousy, bitterness, and impatience, is contrasted with the Jade Emperor’s positive ones, i.e. his kindness, compassion, and patience. On the other hand, the Jade Emperor may be seen as an incompetent ruler who is only capable of issuing bureaucratic orders. When a powerful outsider, like Sun Wukong, arrives to challenge the established order, the Jade Emperor’s authority quickly crumbles away.

Indeed, in folk religion, the Jade Emperor is normally perceived as the head of the celestial bureaucracy. The heavenly administration is divided into various bureaus, each headed by a bureaucrat-deity, and is in charge of a specific domain. This bureaucracy extends even to the local and familial levels. Each locality is said to have its own city god, whereas each family has its own kitchen god. According to Chinese folk religion, the kitchens gods would return to Heaven during the New Year. These gods would report to the Jade Emperor everything they had seen happening in the household in the previous year. The Jade Emperor would then decide whether the family should be rewarded or punished in the coming year. This has led to the tradition of offering sweets to the kitchen god during the New Year, as a means of sweetening him up, or to make his mouth so sticky that he would not be able to convey his report to the Jade Emperor.

To conclude, the Jade Emperor, as the supreme ruler of Heaven, is no doubt one of the most important deities in Taoism and in Chinese folk religion. Apart from that, he is also a significant figure in Chinese culture, as he appears in Chinese mythology , folk tales, and literature. Interestingly, the various sources tend to portray the Jade Emperor differently, and these portrayals may sometimes even contradict one another. Nevertheless, the Jade Emperor is still a highly-revered deity amongst those who practice Taoism and Chinese folk religion.

Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor is depicted in this 16th century ink and color painting on silk.

The Jade Emperor (Chinese: 玉皇 Pinyin: Yù Huáng or 玉帝 Yù Dì) in Chinese folk culture, is the ruler of Heaven and all realms of existence below including that of Man and Hell, according to a version of Taoist mythology. He is one of the most important gods of the Chinese traditional religion pantheon. In actual Taoism, the Jade Emperor governs all of the mortals' realm and below, but ranks below the Three Pure Ones.

The Jade Emperor is known by many names, including Heavenly Grandfather (天公 Tiān Gōng) which is used by commoners the Pure August Jade Emperor, August Personage of Jade (玉皇上帝 Yu Huang Shangdi or 玉皇大帝 Yu Huang Dadi) the Xuanling High Sovereign and his rarely used, formal title, Peace Absolving, Central August Spirit Exalted, Ancient Buddha, Most Pious and Honorable, His Highness the Jade-Emperor, Xuanling High Sovereign (太平普度皇靈中天至聖仁義古佛玉皇大天尊).

A crater on Saturn's moon Rhea, discovered by Voyager 2 spacecraft, is named after him.

Meet the Great Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝 yù huáng dà dì) is famously known as the leader of the Heavens in traditional Chinese folklore, especially in Taoism, and also in Journey to the West, the classic novel about Monkey King and Tang Monk on a dangerous quest for Buddhist scriptures. According to the Records of the Virtuous Jade Emperor, he was once the prince of the Shining Wondrous Kingdom (it sounds much more elegant in Chinese).

This is a kingdom that existed a long, long time ago. Under the rule of the King of Pure Virtue and the Queen of Gilt Moonlight, the kingdom was peaceful and happy. But the king and queen were growing old and still heirless. &ldquoWhen I am gone, who will take care of the kingdom?&rdquo worried the elderly king. So he ordered the kingdom&rsquos Taoist priests to pray to the deities for a son. For over half a year, the king and queen also prayed twice a day without fail and without results.

Finally, their heartfelt appeal moved the Primeval Lord of Heaven. He created a child for the king and queen and then sent a Taoist deity to bring him to the couple.

That night, fast asleep, the queen dreamed of a saintly glow enveloping the palace. The Taoist descended from the sky, holding a beautiful, radiant infant. Kneeling in front of the saint, the queen begged, &ldquoMy king has no heir. I plead for your compassion that you may grant us this child.&rdquo The Taoist replied, &ldquoThis is no ordinary child. One day he will attain the highest level of Tao. You must take good care of him.&rdquo The queen thanked the deity and held out her arms to receive the boy. The deity passed the child over, but he weighed as much as a mountain and the queen awoke in shock. She hurriedly went to inform the king who, wondrously, had the exact same dream.

The next day, the queen discovered she was pregnant, and a year later, a beautiful prince was born. His body shone with golden radiance, lighting up the entire kingdom. When he came of age, he gifted the kingdom stores of food and gave treasures to the poor and the orphaned.

Some time later, the old king passed away. After the prince ascended the throne, he ruled with wisdom and benevolence. But he soon realized that all beings in his kingdom were suffering and had no way of breaking the cycle of death and reincarnation. He thus abdicated the throne and, leaving the kingdom to a virtuous minister, entered the mountains. There, he sought the Way, or the Tao, hoping to unravel the mysteries of the universe and break through the limitations of mortality and suffering.

He cultivated his spirit arduously for 3,200 kalpas to finally attain enlightenment and become a Taoist saint, and spent another 100,000,000 kalpas gaining enough virtue to become the ruler of Heaven. How long is one kalpa? About the time between a universe&rsquos creation and subsequent recreation.

In the 16th century Journey to the West, the Jade Emperor is depicted as grand and austere, but also easily frightened and rather incompetent. He frets constantly, defers to his advisors on important decisions, assigns a monkey to &ldquoguard&rdquo a garden of magical peaches (in Chinese culture, monkeys are commonly associated with eating peaches instead of bananas), and generally seems capable of doing nothing besides issuing orders atop his throne. In many ways, he seems more like a human ruler than a divine one.

But all stories need colorful supporting characters. And all stories need, first and foremost, to entertain. And in a story that spans almost the entire Buddhist and Taoist pantheon&mdashfrom Bodhisattva Samantabhadra to the Three Pure Ones&mdashnot every deity can be perfect.

Evidently, being the Emperor of Heaven is no easy task. Little wonder that, in Journey to the West, when Monkey King tries to argue that the Great Jade Emperor should abdicate his heavenly throne and hand the seat over to himself, a monkey who at this point is not even 400 years old yet, he gets crushed under a mountain for half a millennium.

Chinese Mythology [ edit | edit source ]

Illustrated print of the Jade Emperor.

Shangdi's origins can be traced back to the oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty. In those times, people regarded Shangdi as a patriarchal deity and creator god who had power over victories, harvests, weather conditions, and even the fate of kingdoms. He was also said to have ruled over other gods and the spirits of the deceased. Sacrificial rituals were done to appease him. His birthday is celebrated by worshipers on the ninth day of the first lunar month.

While it is believed that Shangdi rose to prominence in the Shang Dynasty, various historical texts like the Sishu and Wujing prove that his existence predated the Xia Dynasty instead. During the early Zhou Dynasty, he had been given the name Tian (天) and was more or less supplanted by the Mandate of Heaven concept which explained that the right to rule lied in good governance and conduct rather than through familial ties. In later eras, Taoist practitioners began calling Shangdi the Jade Emperor, merging both identities into one.

Legends claim that the Jade Emperor was originally the crown prince of a nation called the kingdom of Pure Felicity, Majestic Heavenly Lights, and Ornaments. As a newborn baby, his body shined so brightly it illuminated the whole kingdom and alerted them of his birth. He spent his formative years aiding the poor and unfortunate before inheriting his father's throne to further ensure the happiness of the people. Afterwards, he spent more than three million years cultivating his Tao, eventually attaining true immortality in the process.

Another myth describes the Jade Emperor's exploits and his ascension to godhood. At the beginning of time, the world was festering with all kinds of demons who brought suffering and torment wherever they went. Not even the gods were enough to quell their rampage. It was at this time that the Jade Emperor, who lamented his inability to help those beyond his reach, decided to isolate himself in a mountain cave and pass 3,200 trials to cultivate his Tao. While meditating in solitude to increase his wisdom, an ambitious demon did the same thing for a different purpose, to fulfill its own desire of ruling the universe. Once the demon felt strong enough, it gathered an army of monstrosities to wage war on Heaven. Though the gods themselves were put at a disadvantage, the tide of battle shifted in their favor when the enlightened Jade Emperor saw their plight. He challenged the demon and was able to overcome it with his more meaningful cultivation. As a result, he was made ruler over all by humans and immortals alike.

The hierarchy of the Jade Emperor's court is said to be a reflection of Chinese bureaucracy, with each department overseen by a leading deity. The emperor is assisted by two other divine figures: Cheng Huang, the God of Fortifications, and Tu Di Gong, the God of Households. A third assistant, the Kitchen God Zao Jun, is responsible for inspecting the activities of every household on an annual basis.

Despite his position within the Chinese pantheon, the Jade Emperor had no direct involvement in the world's creation. One myth contradicts this by crediting him as the creator of humanity. But upon building the first humans out of clay, he inadvertently gave some of them illnesses and other abnormalities when several figures left to dry were deformed by rain. The Jade Emperor is a relevant character in other famous legends, sometimes playing the role of instigator. One of the stories behind the Chinese zodiac has him invite twelve different animals to Heaven and divide the years between each of them.

Fengshen Yanyi [ edit | edit source ]

In the novel, the Jade Emperor is the father of Nuwa and the uncle of Erlang Shen. While not a relevant character, he grants the Dragon King Ao Guang permission to punish Nezha who arrogantly killed the latter's third son Ao Bing.

Journey to the West [ edit | edit source ]

Upon hearing of Sun Wukong's mischief from the other gods, the Jade Emperor initially pacifies the Monkey King by granting him a minor position in Heaven. This solution fails when Sun Wukong discovers the meagerness of his given title and declares himself the "Great Sage Equal to Heaven" before causing more havoc. The Jade Emperor's next attempt has him appoint the monkey as guardian of the heavenly peach garden tended by Xi Wangmu. His efforts are rendered fruitless when Sun Wukong eats the peaches of immortality in protest of not being invited to a royal banquet held for the gods. Left with no other option, he then calls upon the Buddha for divine intervention resulting in the Monkey King's imprisonment under the Five Finger Mountain.


As explained by the scholar Stephan Feuchtwang, in Chinese cosmology "the universe creates itself out of a primary chaos of material energy" (hundun 混沌 and qi 氣 ), organising as the polarity of yin and yang which characterises any thing and life. Creation is therefore a continuous ordering it is not a creation ex nihilo. Yin and yang are the invisible and the visible, the receptive and the active, the unshaped and the shaped they characterise the yearly cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (shady and bright), the sexes (female and male), and even sociopolitical history (disorder and order). [29] The gods themselves are divided in yin forces of contraction, 鬼 guǐ ("demons" or "ghosts") and yang forces of expansion 神 shén ("gods" or "spirits") in the human being they are the hun and po (where hun ( 魂 ) is yang and po ( 魄 ) is yin respectively the rational and emotional soul, or the ethereal and the corporeal soul). Together, 鬼神 guishen is another way to define the twofold operation of the God of Heaven, its resulting dynamism being called itself shen, spirit.

By the words of the Neo-Confucian thinker Cheng Yi: [30]

[Heaven] is called . the gǔi-shén with respect to its operation, the shén with respect to its wonderful functioning.

Another Neo-Confucian, Zhu Xi, says: [31]

The shén is expansion and the gǔi is contraction. As long as it is blowing wind, raining, thundering, or flashing, [we call it] shén, while it stops, [we call it] gǔi.

The dragon, associated to the constellation Draco winding the north ecliptic pole and slithering between the Little and Big Dipper (or Great Chariot), represents the "protean" primordial power, which embodies both yin and yang in unity, [24] and therefore the awesome unlimited power (qi) of divinity. [32] In Han-dynasty traditions, Draco is described as the spear of the supreme God. [33]

Heaven continuously begets—according to its own manifest model which is the starry vault revolving around the northern culmen ( 北極 Běijí)—and reabsorbs, the temporal things and worlds. As explained in modern Confucian theology: [34]

. the historical Heaven, namely the generated Heaven, [is] one particular form or modification (marked by the emergence of celestial bodies) of the eternal Heaven. This eternal Heaven was embodied in pure before its historical form had been realized.

Rather than "creation" ( 造 zào), which has a long Western connotation of creation ex nihilo, modern Chinese theologians prefer to speak of "evolution" ( 化 huà) to describe the begetting of the cosmos even in modern Chinese language the two concepts are frequently held together, zàohuà ("creation-evolution"). [35] Such ordering power, which belongs to deities but also to humans, expresses itself in rites ( 礼 ). They are the means by which alignment between the forces of the starry sky, of earthly phenomena, and the acts of human beings (the three realms of Heaven-Earth-humanity, 天地人 Tiāndìrén), is established. Such harmonisation is referred to as "centring" ( 央 yāng or 中 zhōng). Rituals may be performed by government officials, family elders, popular ritual masters and Taoists, the latter cultivating local gods to centre the forces of the universe upon a particular locality. Since humans are capable of centring natural forces, by the means of rites, they are themselves "central" to creation. [29]

So, human beings participate in the ongoing creation-evolution of the God of Heaven, acting as ancestors who may produce and influence other beings: [38]

The involvement of an evolution in the divine creation hints that, although the Creator functions everywhere and all the time, every little creation is also participated by one particular thing which was previously created by the Creator. That is to say, each creature plays both the roles of creature and creator, and consequently is not only a fixed constituent of, but also a promoter and author of, the diversity or richness of the world.

The relationship between oneness and multiplicity, between the supreme principle and the myriad things, is notably explained by Zhu Xi through the "metaphor of the moon": [39]

Fundamentally there is only one Great Pole (Tàijí), yet each of the myriad things has been endowed with it and each in itself possesses the Great Ultimate in its entirety. This is similar to the fact that there is only one moon in the sky, but when its light is scattered upon rivers and lakes, it can be seen everywhere. It cannot be said that the moon has been split.

In his terminology, the myriad things are generated as effects or actualities ( 用 yòng) of the supreme principle, which, before in potence ( 體 ), sets in motion qi. The effects are different, forming the "myriad species" ( 萬殊 wànshū), each relying upon their myriad modifications of the principle, depending on the varying contexts and engagements. Difference exists not only between the various categories of beings, but among individuals belonging to the same category as well, so that each creature is a unique coalescence of the cosmic principle. [39] The qi of kindred beings accord and communicate with one another, and the same happens for the qi of worshippers and the god receiving sacrifice, and for the qi of an ancestor and his descendants. [40] All beings are, at different levels, "in" the God of Heaven, not in the sense of addition but in the sense of belonging. [41]

In the Confucian tradition, the perfect government is that which emulates the ordering of the stary vault of Heaven:

To conduct government by virtue may be compared to the North Star: it occupied its place, while the myriad stars revolve around it.

Tian is dian 顛 ("top"), the highest and unexceeded. It derives from the characters yi 一 , "one", and da 大 , "big". [46]

Since the Shang (1600–1046 BCE) and Zhou dynasty 1046–256 BCE), the radical Chinese terms for the supreme God are Tiān 天 and Shàngdì 上帝 (the "Highest Deity") or simply 帝 ("Deity"). [47] [48] [note 2] Another concept is Tàidì 太帝 (the "Great Deity"). These names are combined in different ways in Chinese theological literature, often interchanged in the same paragraph if not in the same sentence. [50] One of the combinations is the name of God used at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, which is the "Highest Deity the Heavenly King" ( 皇天上帝 Huángtiān Shàngdì) [51] others are "Great Deity the Heavenly King" ( 天皇大帝 Tiānhuáng Dàdì) and "Supreme Deity of the Vast Heaven" ( 昊天上帝 Hàotiān Shàngdì). [52]

God is considered manifest in this world as the northern culmen and starry vault of the skies which regulate nature. [4] As its see, the circumpolar stars (the Little and Big Dipper, or broader Ursa Minor and Ursa Major) are known, among various names, as Tiānmén 天門 ("Gate of Heaven") [5] and Tiānshū 天樞 ("Pivot of Heaven"), or the "celestial clock" regulating the four seasons of time. [6] The Chinese supreme God is compared to the conception of the supreme God identified as the north celestial pole in other cultures, including the Mesopotamian An ("Heaven" itself), and Enlil and Enki/Marduk, the Vedic Indra and Mitra–Varuna, the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda, [53] as well as the Dyeus of common Proto-Indo-European religion. [54]

Throughout the Chinese theological literary tradition, the Dipper constellations, and especially the Big Dipper ( 北斗星 Běidǒuxīng, "Northern Dipper"), also known as Great Chariot, within Ursa Major, are portrayed as the potent symbol of spirit, divinity, or of the activity of the supreme God regulating nature. Examples include:

The Dipper is the Deity’s carriage. It revolves about the centre, visiting and regulating each of the four regions. It divides yin from yang, establishes the four seasons, equalises the five elemental phases, deploys the seasonal junctures and angular measures, and determines the various periodicities: all these are tied to the Dipper.

When the handle of the Dipper points to the east at dawn, it is spring to all the world. When the handle of the Dipper points to the south it is summer to all the world. When the handle of the Dipper points to the west, it is autumn to all the world. When the handle of the Dipper points to the north, it is winter to all the world. As the handle of the Dipper rotates above, so affairs are set below.

is literally a title expressing dominance over the all-under-Heaven, that is all created things. [57] It is etymologically and figuratively analogous to the concept of di as the base of a fruit, which falls and produces other fruits. This analogy is attested in the Shuowen Jiezi explaining "deity" as "what faces the base of a melon fruit". [58] Tiān is usually translated as "Heaven", but by graphical etymology it means "Great One" and scholars relate it to the same through phonetic etymology and trace their common root, through their archaic forms respectively *Teeŋ and *Tees, to the symbols of the celestial pole and its spinning stars. [4] Other words, such as 顶 dǐng ("on top", "apex") would share the same etymology, all connected to a conceptualisation—according to the scholar John C. Didier—of the north celestial pole godhead as cosmic square (Dīng 口). [59] Zhou (2005) even connects , through Old Chinese *Tees and by phonetic etymology, to the Proto-Indo-European Dyeus. [60] Medhurst (1847) also shows affinities in the usage of "deity", Chinese di, Greek theos and Latin deus, for incarnate powers resembling the supreme godhead. [61]

Shang-Zhou theology Edit

Ulrich Libbrecht distinguishes two layers in the development of early Chinese theology, traditions derived respectively from the Shang and subsequent Zhou dynasties. The religion of the Shang was based on the worship of ancestors and god-kings, who survived as unseen divine forces after death. They were not transcendent entities, since the cosmos was "by itself so", not created by a force outside of it but generated by internal rhythms and cosmic powers. The royal ancestors were called ( 帝 ), "deities", and the utmost progenitor was Shangdi, identified as the dragon. [32] Already in Shang theology, the multiplicity of gods of nature and ancestors were viewed as parts of Shangdi, and the four fāng ( 方 "directions" or "sides") and their fēng ( 風 "winds") as his cosmic will. [73]

The Zhou dynasty, which overthrew the Shang, emphasised a more universal idea of Tian ( 天 "Heaven"). [32] The Shang dynasty's identification of Shangdi as their ancestor-god had asserted their claim to power by divine right the Zhou transformed this claim into a legitimacy based on moral power, the Mandate of Heaven. In Zhou theology, Tian had no singular earthly progeny, but bestowed divine favour on virtuous rulers. Zhou kings declared that their victory over the Shang was because they were virtuous and loved their people, while the Shang were tyrants and thus were deprived of power by Tian. [74]

Tian Edit

Tiān 天 is both transcendent and immanent as the starry vault, manifesting in the three forms of dominance, destiny and nature. There are many compounds of the name Tian, and many of these clearly distinguish a "Heaven of dominance", a "Heaven of destiny" and a "Heaven of nature" as attributes of the supreme cosmic God. [75]

In the Wujing yiyi ( 五經異義 , "Different Meanings in the Five Classics"), Xu Shen explains that the designation of Heaven is quintuple: [75]

  • Huáng Tiān 皇天 —"Yellow Heaven" or "Shining Heaven", when it is venerated as the lord of creation
  • Hào Tiān 昊天 —"Vast Heaven", with regard to the vastness of its vital breath (qi)
  • Mín Tiān 旻天 —"Compassionate Heaven", for it hears and corresponds with justice to the all-under-Heaven
  • Shàng Tiān 上天 —"Highest Heaven" or "First Heaven", for it is the primordial being supervising all-under-Heaven
  • Cāng Tiān 苍天 —"Deep-Green Heaven", for it being unfathomably deep.

Other names of the God of Heaven include:

  • Tiāndì 天帝 —the "Deity of Heaven" or "Emperor of Heaven": [76] "On Rectification" (Zheng lun) of the Xunzi uses this term to refer to the active God of Heaven setting in motion creation [57]
  • Tiānzhǔ 天主 —the "Lord of Heaven": In "The Document of Offering Sacrifices to Heaven and Earth on the Mountain Tai" (Fengshan shu) of the Records of the Grand Historian it is used as the title of the first God from whom all the other gods derive. [75]
  • Tiānhuáng 天皇 —the "King of Heaven": In the "Poem of Fathoming Profundity" (Si'xuan fu), transcribed in "The History of the Later Han Dynasty" (Hou Han shu), Zhang Heng ornately writes: «I ask the superintendent of the Heavenly Gate to open the door and let me visit the King of Heaven at the Jade Palace» [76]
  • Tiāngōng 天公 —the "Duke of Heaven" or "General of Heaven" [77]
  • Tiānjūn 天君 —the "Prince of Heaven" or "Lord of Heaven" [77]
  • Tiānzūn 天尊 —the "Heavenly Venerable", also a title for high gods in Taoist theologies [76]
  • Tiānshén 天神 —the "God of Heaven", interpreted in the Shuowen Jiezi as "the being that gives birth to all things" [57]
  • Shénhuáng 神皇 —"God the King", attested in Taihong ("The Origin of Vital Breath") [57]
  • Lǎotiānyé ( 老天爷 )—the "Olden Heavenly Father". [76]

Attributes of the supreme God of Heaven include: [78]

  • Tiāndào 天道 —"Way of Heaven" it is the God's will of power, which decides the development of things: The Book of Historical Documents says that «the Way of Heaven is to bless the good, and make the bad miserable». It is also the name of some religious traditions
  • Tiānmìng 天命 —"Mandate of Heaven", defining the destiny of things
  • Tiānyì 天意 —"Decree of Heaven", the same concept of destiny but implying an active decision
  • Tiānxià 天下 —"Under Heaven" means creation, ongoingly generated by the supreme God.

Shangdi Edit

Shàngdì ( 上帝 "Highest Deity"), sometimes shortened simply to ( 帝 "Deity"), is another name of the supreme God inherited from Shang and Zhou times. The Classic of Poetry recites: «How vast is the Highest Deity, the ruler of men below!». [57] is also applied to the name of cosmic gods besides the supreme godhead, and is used to compose titles of divinity for instance Dìjūn 帝君 ("Divine Ruler", Latin: Dominus Deus), used in Taoism for high deities in the celestial hierarchy. [57]

In the Shang dynasty, as discussed by John C. Didier, Shangdi was the same as Dīng ( 口 , modern 丁 ), the "square" as the north celestial pole, and Shàngjiǎ ( 上甲 "Supreme Ancestor") was an alternative name. [81] Shangdi was conceived as the utmost ancestor of the Shang royal lineage, the Zi ( 子 ) lineage, also called Ku (or Kui) or Diku ("Divus Ku"), attested in the Shiji and other texts. [82]

The other gods associated with the circumpolar stars were all embraced by Shangdi, and they were conceived as the ancestors of side noble lineages of the Shang and even non-Shang peripheral peoples who benefited from the identification of their ancestor-gods as part of Di. Together they were called 下帝 xiàdì, "lower deities" part of the "Highest Deity" of the Shang. With the supreme God identified as the pivot of the skies, all the lesser gods were its stars 星 xīng, a word which in Shang script was illustrated by a few grouped 口 dīng (cf. jīng 晶 , "perfect [celestial, i.e., star] light", and 品 pǐn, originally "starlight") up to the Han dynasty it was still common to represent the stars as small squares. [81] The Shang conducted magnificent sacrifices to these ancestor-gods, whose altar mimicked the stars of the north celestial pole. Through this sympathetic magic, which consisted in reproducing the celestial centre on earth, the Shang established and monopolised the centralising political power. [81]

Qin-Han theology Edit

The emperors of the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE) are credited with an effort to unify the cults of the Wǔfāng Shàngdì ( 五方上帝 "Five Forms of the Highest Deity"), which were previously held at different locations, in single temple complexes. [85] The Five Deities are a cosmological conception of the fivefold manifestation of the supreme God, or his five changing faces, [86] that goes back to the Neolithic and continues in the classic texts. They "reflect the cosmic structure of the world" in which yin, yang and all forces are held in balance, and are associated with the four directions of space and the centre, the five sacred mountains, the five phases of creation, and the five constellations rotating around the celestial pole and five planets. [87]

During the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the theology of the state religion developed side by side with the Huang–Lao religious movement which in turn influenced the early Taoist Church, [88] and focused on a conceptualisation of the supreme God of the culmen of the sky as the Yellow God of the centre, and its human incarnation, the Yellow Emperor or Yellow Deity. Unlike previous Shang concepts of human incarnations of the supreme godhead, considered exclusively as the progenitors of the royal lineage, the Yellow Emperor was a more universal archetype of the human being. The competing factions of the Confucians and the fāngshì ( 方士 "masters of directions"), regarded as representatives of the ancient religious tradition inherited from previous dynasties, concurred in the formulation of Han state religion. [89]

Taiyi Edit

Tàiyī ( 太一 also spelled 太乙 Tàiyǐ or 泰一 Tàiyī [90] "Great Oneness" or "Great Unity"), also known as "Supreme Oneness of the Central Yellow" ( 中黄太乙 Zhōnghuáng Tàiyǐ), or the "Yellow God of the Northern Dipper" ( 黄神北斗 Huángshén Běidǒu [note 3] ), or "Heavenly Venerable Supreme Unity" ( 太一天尊 Tàiyī Tiānzūn), is a name of the supreme God of Heaven that had become prominent besides the older ones by the Han dynasty in relation with the figure of the Yellow Emperor. It harkens back to the Warring States period, as attested in the poem The Supreme Oneness Gives Birth to Water, and possibly to the Shang dynasty as Dàyī ( 大一 "Big Oneness"), an alternative name for the Shangs' (and universe's) foremost ancestor. [91]

Taiyi was worshipped by the social elites in the Warring States, and is also the first god described in the Nine Songs, shamanic hymns collected in the Chuci ("Songs of Chu"). [92] Throughout the Qin and the Han dynasty, a distinction became evident between Taiyi as the supreme godhead identified with the northern culmen of the sky and its spinning stars, and a more abstract concept of (一 "One"), which begets the polar godhead and then the myriad beings the more abstract Yi was an "interiorisation" of the supreme God which was influenced by the Confucian discourse. [93]

During the Han dynasty, Taiyi became part of the imperial cult, and at the same time it was the central concept of Huang–Lao, which influenced the early Taoist Church in early Taoism, Taiyi was identifies as the Dào 道 . The "Inscription for Laozi" (Laozi ming), a Han stela, describes the Taiyi as the source of inspiration and immortality for Laozi. In Huang-Lao the philosopher-god Laozi was identified as the same as the Yellow Emperor, and received imperial sacrifices, for instance by Emperor Huan (146–168). [94] In Han apocryphal texts, the Big Dipper is described as the instrument of Taiyi, the ladle from which he pours out the primordial breath (yuanqi), and as his heavenly chariot. [92]

A part of the Shiji by Sima Qian identifies Taiyi with the simple name Di (Deity) and tells: [92]

The Dipper is the Thearch's carriage. It revolves around the central point and majestically regulates the four realms. The distribution of yin and yang, the fixing of the four seasons, the coordination of the five phases, the progression of rotational measurements, and the determining of all celestial markers—all of these are linked to the Dipper.

In 113 BCE, Emperor Wu of Han, under the influence of prominent fangshi—Miu Ji and later Gongsun Qing—, officially integrated the Huang–Lao theology of Taiyi with the Confucian state religion and theology of the Five Forms of the Highest Deity inherited from the erstwhile dynasties. [95]

Huangdi Edit

Huángdì ( 黄帝 "Yellow Emperor" or "Yellow Deity") is another name of the God of Heaven, associated with the celestial pole and with the power of the wu (shamans). [83] : 12, note 33 In the older cosmological tradition of the Wufang Shangdi, the Yellow Deity is the main one, associated with the centre of the cosmos. He is also called Huángshén 黄神 ("Yellow God"), Xuānyuán ( 轩辕 "Chariot Shaft" [96] ), which is said to have been his personal name as a human incarnation, Xuānyuánshì ( 轩辕氏 "Master of the Chariot Shaft") or Xuanyuan Huangdi ("Yellow Deity of the Chariot Shaft").

In Chinese religion he is the deity who shapes the material world ( 地 ), the creator of the Huaxia civilisation, of marriage and morality, language and lineage, and progenitor of all Chinese. [97] In the cosmology of the Wufang Shangdi his astral body is Saturn, but he is also identified as the Sun God, and with the star Regulus (α Leonis) and constellations Leo and Lynx, of which the latter is said to represent the body of the Yellow Dragon, his serpentine form. [98] The character 黄 huáng, for "yellow", also means, by homophony and shared etymology with 皇 huáng, "august", "creator" and "radiant", attributes of the supreme God. [99]

As a progenitor, Huangdi is portrayed as the historical incarnation of the Yellow God of the Northern Dipper. [100] According to a definition given by apocryphal texts related to the Hétú 河圖 , the Yellow Emperor "proceeds from the essence of the Yellow God of the Northern Dipper", is born to "a daughter of a chthonic deity", and as such he is "a cosmic product of the conflation of Heaven and Earth". [88]

As a human being, the Yellow Emperor was conceived by a virgin mother, Fubao, who was impregnated by Taiyi's radiance (yuanqi, "primordial pneuma"), a lightning, which she saw encircling the Northern Dipper (Great Chariot, or broader Ursa Major), or the celestial pole, while walking in the countryside. She delivered her son after twenty-four months on the mount of Shou (Longevity) or mount Xuanyuan, after which he was named. [101] Through his human side, he was a descendant of 有熊氏 Yǒuxióng, the lineage of the Bear—another reference to the Ursa Major. Didier has studied the parallels that the Yellow Emperor's mythology has in other cultures, deducing a plausible ancient origin of the myth in Siberia or in north Asia. [102]

In older accounts, the Yellow Emperor is identified as a deity of light (and his name is explained in the Shuowen Jiezi to derive from guāng 光 , "light") and thunder, and as one and the same with the "Thunder God" ( 雷神 Léishén), [103] [104] who in turn, as a later mythological character, is distinguished as the Yellow Emperor's foremost pupil, such as in the Huangdi Neijing.

As the deity of the centre, the Yellow Emperor is the Zhongyuedadi ( 中岳大帝 "Great Deity of the Central Peak") and he represents the essence of earth and the Yellow Dragon. [105] He represents the hub of creation, the axis mundi (Kunlun) that is the manifestation of the divine order in physical reality, opening the way to immortality. [105] As the centre of the four directions, in the Shizi he is described as "Yellow Emperor with Four Faces" ( 黄帝四面 Huángdì Sìmiàn). [106] The "Four-Faced God" or "Ubiquitous God" ( 四面神 Sìmiànshén) is also the Chinese name of Brahma.

Huangdi is the model of those who merge their self with the self of the supreme God, of the ascetics who reach enlightenment or immortality. [107] He is the god of nobility, the patron of Taoism and medicine. In the Shiji, as well as in the Taoist book Zhuangzi, he is also described as the perfect king. There are records of dialogues in which Huangdi took the advice of wise counselors, contained in the Huangdi Neijing ("Inner Scripture of the Yellow Emperor") as well as in the Shiwen ("Ten Questions"). In the Huang–Lao tradition he is the model of a king turned immortal, and is associated with the transmission of various mantic and medical techniques. [108] Besides the Inner Scripture of the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi is also associated to other textual bodies of knowledge including the Huangdi Sijing ("Four Scriptures of the Yellow Emperor") and the Huangdi zhaijing ("Scripture of the Dwellings of the Yellow Emperor"). [109]

In the cosmology of the Wufang Shangdi, besides the Yellow Deity, the Black Deity ( 黑帝 Hēidì) of the north, winter and Mercury, is portrayed by Sima Qian as Huangdi's grandson, and is himself associated with the north pole stars. [110] The "Green Deity" or "Blue Deity" ( 蒼帝 Cāngdì or 青帝 Qīngdì), of the east, spring, and identified with Jupiter, [111] is frequently worshipped as the supreme God and its main temple at Mount Tai (the cult centre of all Eastern Peak Temples) is attested as a site for fire sacrifices to the supreme God since prehistoric times. [112]

Yudi Edit

Yùdì ( 玉帝 "Jade Deity" or "Jade Emperor"), or Yùhuáng ( 玉皇 "Jade King"), is a personification of the supreme God of Heaven in popular religion. [113] More elaborate names for the Jade Deity include Yùhuáng Shàngdì ( 玉皇上帝 "Highest Deity the Jade King") and Yùhuángdàdì ( 玉皇大帝 "Great Deity the Jade King"), while among the common people he is intimately referred to as the "Lord of Heaven" ( 天公 Tiāngōng). [113]

He is also present in Taoist theology, where, however, he is not regarded as the supreme principle though he has a high position in the pantheon. In Taoism his formal title is the "Most Honourable Great Deity the Jade King in the Golden Tower of the Clear Heaven" (Hàotiān Jīnquē Zhìzūn Yùhuángdàdì 昊天金阙至尊玉皇大帝 ), and he is one of the Four Sovereigns, the four deities proceeding directly from the Three Pure Ones, which in Taoism are the representation of the supreme principle. [113]

The eminence of the Jade Deity is relatively recent, emerging in popular religion during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and becoming established during the Song dynasty (960–1279), especially under Emperor Zhenzong and Emperor Huizong of Song. [113] By the Tang dynasty the name of "Jade King" had been widely adopted by the common people to refer to the God of Heaven, and this got the attention of the Taoists who integrated the deity in their pantheon. [113] The cult of the Jade Deity became so widespread that during the Song dynasty it was proclaimed by imperial decree that this popular conception of God was the same supreme God of Heaven whom the elites had the privilege to worship at the Temple of Heaven. [114]

There are a great number of temples in China dedicated to the Jade Deity ( 玉皇庙 yùhuángmiào or 玉皇阁 yùhuánggé, et al.), and his birthday on the 9th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar is one of the biggest festivals. [114] He is also celebrated on the 25th day of the 12th month, when he is believed to turn to the human world to inspect all goods and evils to determine awards or punishments. [114] In everyday language the Jade Deity is also called the Olden Heavenly Father (Lǎotiānyé 老天爷 ) and simply Heaven. [114]

Taidi Edit

Tàidì ( 太帝 "Utmost Deity" or "Great Deity"), is another name that has been used to describe the supreme God in some contexts. It appears in the mystical narratives of the Huainanzi where the supreme God is associated to the Mount Kunlun, the axis mundi. [115]

Shen Edit

Shén is a general concept meaning "spirit", and usually defines the plurality of gods in the world, however in certain contexts it has been used as singular denoting the supreme God, the "being that gives birth to all things". [17]

Concepts including shen expressing the idea of the supreme God include: [17]

  • Tiānshén 天神 , the "God of Heaven", interpreted in the Shuowen Jiezi ( 說文解字 ) as "the being that gives birth to all things"
  • Shénhuáng 神皇 , "God the King", attested in Taihong ("The Origin of Vital Breath").

Shéndào ( 神道 "Way of the God[s]"), in the Yijing, is the path or way of manifestation of the supreme God and the gods of nature.

It is too delicate to be grasped. It cannot be perceived through reason. It cannot be seen through the eyes. It does without knowing how it can do. This is what we call the Way of the God[s]. [17]

Since the Qin and Han dynasty, "Shendao" became a descriptor for the "Chinese religion" as the shèjiào 社教 , "social religion" of the nation. [116] The phrase Shéndào shèjiào ( 神道設教 ) literally means "established religion of the way of the gods". [117]

Zi Edit

Zi 子 , literally meaning "son", "(male) offspring", is another concept associated to the supreme God of Heaven as the north celestial pole and its spinning stars. 字 , meaning "word" and "symbol", is one of its near homophonous and graphic cognates. It was the surname used by the royal lineage of the Shang dynasty. [118] It is a component of concepts including 天子 Tiānzǐ ("Son of Heaven") and 君子 jūnzǐ ("son of a lord", which in Confucianism became the concept of morally perfected person). According to Didier, in Shang and Zhou forms, the grapheme zi itself depicts someone linked to the godhead of the squared north celestial pole ( 口 Dīng), and is related to 中 zhōng, the concept of spiritual and thus political centrality. [119]

In modern Chinese popular religion zi is a synonym of 禄 ("prosperity", "furthering", "welfare"). Lùxīng ( 禄星 "Star of Prosperity") is Mizar, a star of the Big Dipper (Great Chariot) constellation which rotates around the north celestial pole it is the second star of the "handle" of the Dipper. Luxing is conceived as a member of two clusters of gods, the Sānxīng ( 三星 "Three Stars") and the Jiǔhuángshén ( 九皇神 "Nine God-Kings"). The latter are the seven stars of the Big Dipper with the addition of two less visible ones thwartwise the "handle", and they are conceived as the ninefold manifestation of the supreme God of Heaven, which in this tradition is called Jiǔhuángdàdì ( 九皇大帝 , "Great Deity of the Nine Kings"), [22] Xuántiān Shàngdì ( 玄天上帝 "Highest Deity of the Dark Heaven"), [23] or Dòufù ( 斗父 "Father of the Chariot"). The number nine is for this reason associated with the yang masculine power of the dragon, and celebrated in the Double Ninth Festival and Nine God-Kings Festival. [23] The Big Dipper is the expansion of the supreme principle, governing waxing and life (yang), while the Little Dipper is its reabsorption, governing waning and death (yin). [22] [23] The mother of the Jiuhuangshen is Dǒumǔ ( 斗母 "Mother of the Chariot"), the female aspect of the supreme. [22] [23]

The stars are consistent regardless of the name in different languages,cultures or view point on earth Northern/Southerm hemisphere. Same sky,sun,stars and moon

As explained by Stephan Feuchtwang, the fundamental difference between Confucianism and Taoism lies in the fact that the former focuses on the realisation of the starry order of Heaven in human society, while the latter on the contemplation of the Dao which spontaneously arises in nature. [120] Taoism also focuses on the cultivation of local gods, to centre the order of Heaven upon a particular locality. [29]

Confucian theology Edit

Confucius (551–479 BCE) emerged in the critical Warring States period as a reformer of the religious tradition inherited from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. His elaboration of ancient theology gives centrality to self-cultivation and human agency, [74] and to the educational power of the self-established individual in assisting others to establish themselves (the principle of 愛人 àirén, "loving others"). [122]

Philosophers in the Warring States compiled in the Analects, and formulated the classic metaphysics which became the lash of Confucianism. In accordance with the Master, they identified mental tranquility as the state of Tian, or the One (一 ), which in each individual is the Heaven-bestowed divine power to rule one's own life and the world. Going beyond the Master, they theorised the oneness of production and reabsorption into the cosmic source, and the possibility to understand and therefore reattain it through meditation. This line of thought would have influenced all Chinese individual and collective-political mystical theories and practices thereafter. [123]

Fu Pei-Jun characterises the Heaven of ancient Confucianism, before the Qin dynasty, as "dominator", "creator", "sustainer", "revealer" and "judge". [124] The Han-dynasty Confucian scholar Dong Zhongshu (179–104 BCE) described Heaven as "the supreme God possessing a will". [125] In the Song dynasty, Neo-Confucianism, especially the major exponent Zhu Xi (1130–1200), generally rationalised the theology, cosmology and ontology inherited from the foregoing tradition. [126] Neo-Confucian thinkers reaffirmed the unity of the "heavenly city" and the earthly "divine city" the city that the God of Heaven morally organises in the natural world through humanity is not ontologically separate from Heaven itself, [127] so that the compound "Heaven-Earth" ( 天地 Tiāndì) is another name of the God of Heaven itself in Neo-Confucian texts. [128] Heaven contains Earth as part of its nature, and the myriad things are begotten (生 shēng) by Heaven and raised up ( 養 yǎng) by Earth. [129] Neo-Confucians also discussed Heaven under the term 太极 Tàijí ("Great Pole"). [130]

Stephan Feuchtwang says that Confucianism consists in the search for "middle ways" between yin and yang in each new configuration of the world, to align reality with Heaven through rites. The order of Heaven is emphasised it is a moral power and fully realises in patriarchy, that is to say the worship of progenitors, in the Han tradition in the male line, who are considered to have embodied Heaven. This conception is put into practice as the religious worship of progenitors in the system of ancestral shrines, dedicated to the deified progenitors of lineages (groups of families sharing the same surname). [120] The philosopher Promise Hsu identifies Tian as the foundation of a civil theology of China. [131]

Three models Edit

Huang Yong (2007) has discerned three models of theology in the Confucian tradition: [132]

  • (i) Theology of Heaven as discussed in the Confucian canonical texts, the Classic of History, the Classic of Poetry and the Analects of Confucius, as a transcendent God similar to the God of the Hellenistic and Abrahamic traditions
  • (ii) Theology of Heaven in contemporary New Confucianism, represented especially by Xiong Shili, Mou Zongsan, and Tu Weiming, as an "immanently transcendent" God, the ultimate reality immanent in the world to transcend the world
  • (iii) Theology of Heaven in Neo-Confucianism, particularly the Cheng brothers in the Song dynasty, as the wonderful life-giving activity transcending the world within the world.
Canonical theology Edit

The supreme power in Confucianism is Tian, Shangdi or Di in the early or classic Confucian tradition, later also discussed in its activity as 天理 Tiānlǐ or 天道 Tiāndào, the "Order of Heaven" or "Way of Heaven" by Neo-Confucians. [133] [134] A number of scholars support the theistic reading of early Confucian texts. [135] In the Analects Heaven is treated as a conscious and providential being concerned not only with the human order in general, but with Confucius' own mission in particular. [133] Confucius claimed to be a transmitter of an ancient knowledge rather than a renovator. [136]

In Confucianism, God has not created man in order to neglect him, but is always with man, and sustains the order of nature and human society, by teaching rulers how to be good to secure the peace of the countries. [137] The theistic idea of early Confucianism gave later way to a depersonalisation of Heaven, identifying it as the pattern discernible in the unfolding of nature and his will (Tianming) as peoples' consensus, culminating in the Mencius and the Xunzi. [138]

Immanent transcendence Edit

Contemporary New Confucian theologians have resolved the ancient dispute between the theistic and nontheistic, immanent and transcendent interpretations of Tian, elaborating the concept of "immanent transcendence" ( 内在超越 nèizài chāoyuè), contrasting it with the "external transcendence" ( 外在超越 wàizài chāoyuè) of the God of Christianity. While the God of the Christians is outside the world that he creates, the God of the Confucians is immanent in the world to call for the transcendence of the given situation, thus promoting an ongoing transformation. [139]

The first theologian to discuss immanent transcendence was Xiong Shili. According to him, noumenon ( 体 ) and phenomenon ( 用 yòng) are not separate, but the noumenon is right within the phenomenon. At the same time, the noumenon is also transcendent, not in the sense that it has independent existence, separated from the "ten thousand things", but in the sense that it is the substance of all things. As the substance, it is transcendent because it is not transformed by the ten thousand things but is rather their master: it "transcends the surface of things". [140] By transcending the surface, one realises the self-nature ( 自性神 zì xìng shén) of himself and of all things to the extent that a thing has not fully realised its own self-nature, God is also that on which any particular thing or human being depends ( 依他神 yī tā shén). [141]

According to the further explanations of Xiong's student Mou Zongsan, Heaven is not merely the sky, and just like the God of the Judaic and Hellenistic-Christian tradition, it is not one of the beings in the world. However, unlike the God of Western religions, the God of Confucianism is not outside the world either, but is within humans—who are the primary concern of Confucianism—and within other beings in the world. [142] Tian is the ontological substance of reality, it is immanent in every human being as the human nature (ren) however, the human being on the phenomenal level is not identical with its metaphysical essence. [142] Mencius stated that «the one who can fully realise one's heart–mind can understand one's nature, and the one who can understand one's own nature can know Tian». This means that Tian is within the human being, but before this last comes to realise his true heart–mind, or know his true nature, Heaven still appears transcendent to him. Mou cites Max Muller saying that «a human being itself is potentially a God, a God one presently ought to become», to explain the idea of the relationship of God and humanity in Confucianism and other Eastern religions. What is crucial is to transcend the phenomenon to reach Tian. [142]

Mou makes an important distinction between Confucianism and Christianity: the latter does not ask one to become a Christ, because the nature of Christ is unreachable for ordinary humans, who are not conceived as having a divine essence by contrast, in Confucianism, sages who have realised Tian teach to others how to become sages and worthy themselves, since Heaven is present in everyone and may be cultivated. [142] Mou defines Confucianism as a "religion of morality", a religion of the "fulfillment of virtues", whose meaning lies in seeking the infinite and the complete in the finitude of earthly life. [142]

Tu Weiming, a student of Mou, furtherly develops the theology of "immanent transcendence". By his own words: [143]

A person is in this world and yet does not belong to this world. He regards this secular world as divine only because he realizes the divine value in this secular world. Here the secular world in which the divinity is manifested is not a world separate from the divinity, and the divinity manifested in the secular is not some Ideal externally transcendent of the secular world.

According to Tu, the more man may penetrate his own inner source, the more he may transcend himself. By the metaphorical words of Mencius (7a29), this process is like "digging a well to reach the source of water". [143] It is for this emphasis on transcending the phenomena to reach the true self, which is the divine, that Tu defines Confucian religiosity as the "ultimate self-transformation as a communal act and as a faithful dialogical response to the transcendent" Confucianism is about developing the nature of humanity in the right, harmonious way. [143] Tu further explains this as a prognosis and diagnosis of humanity: "we are not what we ought to be but what we ought to be is inherent in the structure of what we are". [143]

Heaven bids and impels humans to realise their true self. [144] Humans have the inborn ability to respond to Heaven. [144] One may obtain knowledge of divinity through his inner experience (tizhi), and knowledge, developing his heavenly virtue. This is a central concern of Tu's theology, at the same time intellectual and affectional—a question of mind and heart at the same time. [144]

Theology of activity Edit

Huang Yong has named a third approach to Confucian theology interpreting the Neo-Confucianism of the brothers Cheng Hao (1032–1085) and Cheng Yi (1033–1107). Instead of regarding the divinity of Tian as a substance, this theology emphasises its creative "life-giving activity" (生 shēng) that is within the world in order to transcend the world itself. [145] Also in the works of Zhou Xi, Heaven is discussed as always operating within beings in conjunction with their singular 心 xīn ("heart–mind"). [41]

Neo-Confucians incorporated in Confucianism the discussion about the traditional concept of 理 , variously translated as "form", "law", "reason", "order", "pattern", "organism", and most commonly "principle", regarding it as the supreme principle of the cosmos. [145] The Chengs use Li interchangeably with other terms. For instance, discussing the supreme principle, Cheng Hao says that it "is called change ( 易 ) with respect to its reality is called 道 dào with respect to its li is called divinity ( 神 shén) with respect to its function and is called nature ( 性 xìng) with respect to it as the destiny in a person". Cheng Yi also states that the supreme principle "with respect to li it is called Heaven ( 天 Tiān) with the respect to endowment, it is called nature, and with the respect to its being in a person, it is called heart–mind". As it appears from these analogies, the Li is considered by the Chengs as identical with Heaven. [145]

By the words of the Chengs, Huang clarifies the immanent transcendence of the Li, since it comes ontologically before things but it does not exist outside of things, or outside qi, the energy–matter of which things are made. In Chengs' theology the Li is not some entity but the "activity" of things, sheng. Explaining it through an analogy, according to the Shuowen Jiezi, Li is originally a verb meaning to work on jade. [146] The Chengs further identify this activity as the true human nature. [147] Sages, who have realised the true nature, are identical with the Li and their actions are identical to the creativity of the Li. [148]

Generally, in Confucian texts, 功 gōng ("work", "work of merit" or "beneficial work") and 德 ("virtue") are frequently used to refer to the ways of becoming an honourable man of Heaven, and thus they may be regarded as attributes of Heaven itself. Zhu Xi himself characterises Heaven as extremely "active" or "vital" (jiàn 健 ), while the Earth is responsive ( 顺 shùn). [149]

Humanity as the incarnation of Heaven Edit

The relationship "between Heaven and mankind" (tiānrénzhījì 天人之際 ), that is to say how Heaven generates men and how they should behave to follow its order, is a common theme discussed in the Confucian theology of Heaven. [134] Generally, Confucianism sees humanity, or the form-quality of the human being, 仁 rén (translatable as "benevolence", "love", "humanity"), as a quality of the God of Heaven itself, and therefore it sees humanity as an incarnation of Heaven. [150] This theory is not at odds with the classical non-Confucian theology which views Huangdi as the incarnated God of Heaven, since Huangdi is a representation of nobility and the pursuit of Confucianism is to make all humans noble (jūnzǐ 君子 ) or sages and holy men ( 圣人 shèngrén).

According to Benjamin I. Schwartz, in the Xunzi it is explained that: [151]

[Dissonances] between man and Heaven [are] only provisional . the human intellect which brings order to chaos is itself an incarnation of the powers of Heaven. Heaven's working in the non-human sphere is described in a language which can almost be described as mystical. Once the normative human culture is realized, man is aligned with the harmonies of the universe.

In the "Interactions Between Heaven and Mankind" ( 天人感应 Tiānrén Gǎnyìng) written by the Han-dynasty scholar Dong Zhongshu, humanity is discussed as the incarnation of Heaven. Human physiological structure, thought, emotions and moral character are all modelled after Heaven. In the Confucian discourse, ancestors who accomplished great actions are regarded as the incarnation of Heaven, and they last as a form shaping their descendants. [152] Rén is the virtue endowed by Heaven and at the same time the means by which man may comprehend his divine nature and achieve oneness with Heaven. [153]

Discourse about evil, suffering and world renewal Edit

In Confucian theology there is no original sin, and rather humanity, as the incarnate image of Heaven's virtue, is born good ( 良心 liángxín, "good heart–mind"). [154] In Confucian theodicy, the rise of evil in a given cosmic configuration is attributed to failings in the moral organisation of qi, which depends on mankind's (or the "practising subject", shíjiàn zhǔtǐ 實踐主體 , in Zhu Xi) free will, that is to say the ability to choose whether to harmonise or not with the order of Heaven, which is part of the creature's ability to co-create with the creator. [155]

. each human activity, found in either the mind, the body, or in both of them simultaneously, either follows principles of the just Heaven, or is corrupted by selfish appetites.

Human qi, the primordial potential substance, organises according to the yin and yang polarity in the two facets of 形 xíng ("body") and 神 shén ("soul"). [157] Qi is open to both disorder (yin) and order (yang), bodily and heavenly appetites. [158] While other creatures have a limited perfection, the human being alone has an "unlimited nature", that is to say the ability to cultivate its qi in amounts and directions of its own choice, either yin or yang. [159] While Confucians prescribe to be moderate in pursuing appetites, since even the bodily ones are necessary for life, [160] when the "proprietorship of corporeality" (xíngqì zhīsī 形氣之私 ) prevails, selfishness and therefore immorality ensue. [161]

When evil dominates, the world falls into disaster, society shatters up and individuals are hit by diseases, giving the way for a new heavenly configuration to emerge. By the words of Zhu Xi: [162]

Once [Heaven] sees that human beings' immorality comes to its apex, it will crush everything up. What will be left is only a chaos, wherein all humans and things lose their being. Subsequently, a new world will emerge.

Sufferings, however, are also regarded by Confucians as a way of Heaven to refine a person preparing him for a future role. According to Mencius: [163]

When Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, harden his nature, and supplies his incompetencies.

Helplessness, poverty, adversity, and obstacles can strengthen one's will, and cultivate his humanity (ren).


In theory human beings who had led exemplary lives had a chance to become gods in the afterlife. After being escorted to the Underworld by the local City God and standing in judgment before one of the ten Magistrates of Hell, an exemplary soul could be released from the Underworld and choose to cross the Silver Bridge into Heaven, which would mean that he or she would be reborn as a god. It was generally understood, however, that very few people ever had the opportunity to leave the Underworld this way.

___ Taoism, Daoism (Chinese: 道教 pinyin: Dàojiāo)

Taoism, also known as Daoism, arose about the same time as Confucianism. Laoze (Chinese: 老子 pinyin: Lǎozǐ, also Laotzi, Laotse, Lao-Tse, Lao-tzu, Lao Zi or Lão Tu), is considered to have written a book of 81 chapters, named Tao Te Ching, also Daodejing (trad. Chinese: 道德經 simpl. Chinese: 道德经 pinyin: Dàodéjīng), a classical Chinese text, mainly concerning 道 tao/ dào "way," and 德 te/dé "virtue”, life, strength.

Taoist thought focuses on genuineness, longevity, health, immortality, vitality, wu wei (non-action, a natural action, a perfect equilibrium with tao), detachment, refinement (emptiness), spontaneity, transformation and omni-potentiality.

This religious and philosophical tradition of Taoism had its roots in the nature worship and divination of the earliest Chinese people.

The word ‘Tao’ 道 (or Dao) translates into "path", ”method”, “principle” or "way", the character 教 translates into ‘”teach” or “class” and Taoist belief is based on the idea that there is central or organizing principle of the Universe, a natural order or a "way of heaven", Tao, that one can come to know by living in harmony with nature and hence with the cosmos and the Universe.

The philosophy of Tao signifies the fundamental or true nature of the world, it is the essential, unnameable process of the universe. Tao both precedes and encompasses the universe.

Nothing in the Universe is fixed, static or non moving per se everything is transforming all the time.
The flow of ‘chi’ energy, as the essential energy of action, existence and active principle forming part of any living things, is compared and believed to be the influence that keeps the universal order of Tao balanced.

Analogies exist between all levels of existence: the Universe, the cosmos, Earth and mankind are structured analogically and are equal in detail, forming an interconnected whole.
Through an understanding of natural laws, an individual can be one with the Tao by living in accordance with nature (cosmos/ Universe) and all its transformations and changes, adopting and assimilating to these, and hence can gain eternal life.

With and due to the transformations and changes of the phenomena everything and every being spontaneously, by intuition and in impulse establishes its own ‘way’.

From an ethical point of view it is considered correct not to interfere with the spontaneity or alter it by any means, expressed by ‘wu wei’ (chin. 無爲 / 无为, wúwéi or also in Chinese: 爲無爲 / 为无为, wéi wúwéi, non- action as in abstention of any action opposing nature).

All things with their transformations and changes are considered to be self regulating, self expressing in their natural form.

‘Wu wei’ does not signify not acting at all, but rather not forcing things on their way. Wu wei signifies that the action should be immediately in accordance with the Tao, hence the necessary will be done without exaggeration, hyperbole or overeagerness as these are considered obstructive, though rather in an easy, facile, non disturbing way, leading to overall harmony and balance. It is a state of inner tranquillity, which will show the right effortless action at the right time.
(i.e. the harmonious complexity of natural ecosystems- the tao- works well without man made changes- wu wei.
Wu wei could be characterised by the adaptability of the flow of water in a stream. I.e. Water flows without awareness, or naturally, downriver (principle of tao). It might be blocked by an object (branch or stone), though without contriving to do so, finds it way around the object. Water acts without motive, it acts with wu wei.
If one wants to travel on water, one will use a boat or ship, since it is suitable as she moves around adequately on water. If one wants to walk on land, a boat is not suitable to move around. One will only be annoyed and only have difficulties, not gaining anything but inflicting damage to oneself.)

Taoism does not identify man's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that man must place his will in harmony with the natural universe.
Taoist philosophy recognizes that the Universe already works harmoniously according to its own ways if a person exerts his will against or upon the world he would disrupt the harmony that already exists, he would go ‘against the flow of life’. (i.e. the harmonious change of seasons of summer, autumn, winter, spring - the tao- works well, though through man made global warming, the harmony is disordered. Damming rivers might result in devastating flooding- unwanted by mankind, though produced by the same.
On the other hand, the yearly flooding of the river Nile provides the soil with natural fertiliser. Damming the river would result in less fertilised soil, hence weaker crops, less harvest, less income, more hunger.)

The return to tao, the return to the interconnected whole and unity, can only be accomplished if dualistic thoughts are abolished and acts are conducted naturally and spontaneously.
Completeness in Taoism is thought of as empty, soft and spontaneous, and likewise should be the action: without the interference or intervention of a dualistic intellect, intuitive and adapting to a situation. The completeness or perfection of any act detects by intuition the best way to proceed, and it is considered absurd to put one’s energy into an unfruitful, unsuccessful act just in order to act at all and hence exhaust and diminish one’s energy. Any act should be in accordance with the surrounding, circumstances and means. In this manner, wu wei is ‘not interfering’ or ‘action through non acting’ and can be considered as creative passivity.
Resulting from this attitude of ‘letting it happen’ results consequently as well the approach of non violence and lack of resistance.

The wu wei is characterised by an activity undertaken to perceive the Tao within all things and to conform oneself to its "way."
The practice and efficacy of wu wei are fundamental in Taoist thought.
The goal of ‘wu wei’ is alignment with Tao, revealing the soft and invisible power within all things.

When following the ‘wu wei’, the goal is called ‘pu’ (simplified Chinese: 朴 traditional Chinese: 樸 pinyin: pǔ, pú lit. "uncut wood", translated as "uncarved block", "unsewn log", or "simplicity"), representing a passive state of receptiveness. It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge or experiences. Pu is a symbol for a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice, without illusion.
Pu describes an aimless action, because with a goal, one would develop anxiety about this goal. Pu describes the ‘just being’ without the aim of being.
(i.e.: Playing an instrument just for playing, not thinking about the playing, since otherwise one will get in ones own way and interfere with one’s own playing.)

The ‘te’ (Chinese: 德 pinyin: dé, "power virtue", ‘”heart”, "inherent character, personal character inner power inner strength integrity") is the manifestation of the Tao within all things, the active expression, the active living, or cultivation, of the "way" Tao, the implementation and manifestation of the Tao through undesigned actions.
The Tao implements and manifests itself through undesigned actions.
If Tao is honoured and if ‘te’ is considered precious, than there is no need for any regulations: all is working durable by itself. Therefore, allow Tao to create, generate, nourish, proliferate, accomplish, ripen, mature, foster and protect produce without owning, affect without keeping, increase without domineering: that is secret Tao.
Thus, to possess the fullness of te means to be in perfect harmony with one's original nature.

All things in the Universe, including mankind, are a microsomes of the Universe, to which all natural laws such as The Five Elements Theory, Feng Shui, the concept of the bagua and especially the the yin - yang philosophy, being an important concept of taoism since yin and yang emerge from the tao- apply.
‘The way of life’, rituals, certain foods (Five Elements), meditation, visualisation, imagination, mystical worlds, qigong, t'ai-chi-ch'uan, certain techniques of breathing, sexual practices (spiritual and cosmic pursuit, maintaining health, enhance one’s lifespan) and substances and medicine effect the believers physical and mental health, as well as the knowledge of nature with its natural herbs, traditional chinese medicine and knowledge of alchemy does.

By understanding himself, man may gain knowledge of the universe, and vice versa.

In Laotzi’s definition, tao is considered to be the pervasive principle of all things in the universe, being the highest reality and the highest mystery, the primordial originality and unity, a cosmical law and an absolute. From the tao diverted the ‘ten thousand things’, namely the cosmos, as well as the order of thing, similar to a law of nature. But tao itself is not an omnipotent being, but the genesis, the source and the alliance, the conjunction of opposites and as such not definable.

Tao is ‘the nameless', because neither it nor its principles can ever be adequately expressed in words.

From a philosophical point of view tao can be seen apart and beyond from all defining abstract concepts, because it is the reason for and the reason of being, the transcendental origin and transcendental philosophy and as such incorporates all, including the antipode of being and non being.

Based on that, nothing can be said referring the tao, because every single definition would impose a restriction. But tao is both, unlimited transcendency as well as the immanent principle of the cosmos and the universe.

The effects of tao create the genesis by generating duality, yin and yang, light and shadow, since every action creates a counter-action as a natural, unavoidable movement within manifestations of the Tao. From the metamorphosis, movement, motion, flow, interaction and interplay of the duality emerges and arises the world.

The ‘Three Jewels of Tao’ (Chinese: 三寶 pinyin: sānbǎo) refer to the three virtues of taoism:
1) compassion, kindness, love
(Chinese: 慈 pinyin: cí literally "compassion, tenderness, love, mercy, kindness, gentleness and implies the term ‘mother’, ‘mother’s/ parental love’)

2) moderation, simplicity, frugality
(Chinese: 儉 pinyin: jiǎn literally "frugality, moderation, economy, restraint, be sparing")
When applied to the moral life it stands for the simplicity of desire.

3 ) humility, modesty
The third treasure is a six-character phrase instead of a single word: Chinese 不敢為天下先, Bugan wei tianxia xian, "not dare to be first/ahead in the world", referring to the taoist way to avoid premature death.

Taoist Deities
Taoist deities include nature spirits, ancient legendary heroes, humanized planets and stars, Hsien (humans who became immortal and achieved divinity through Taoist practices and teachings, see: 8 Immortals), ancestor spirits (see: Ancestor Worship in Taoism, Joss paper) and animals such as dragons (see: dragon dance), tigers, phoenixes, snakes (see: Animal symbolism) and lions (see: lion dance). All human activities—even such things as drunkenness and robbery—are represented by deities as well.

Heaven, the pantheon (of which the Chinese taoist culture has over 30) mirrored the political system of China at that time with all of its civil servants, bureaucrats, having an army, a royal family, parasitical courtiers, higher or lower ranking deities, who could be promoted or demoted according to their actions (see: 8 Immortals, Chang’e,
Guan Yu (revered as Saintly Emperor Guan), Guan Yin, Jade Emperor, Kitchen God, Tsai Shen Yeh). Reflecting the order of the Chinese political system, each single department of the pantheon is overseen by a particular deity, spirit or god.
The highest Taoist deity, Yù Huáng -ti (see: Jade Emperor), is associated with the ancient Chinese god Shang Di, ruler over all Heaven, Earth and the Underworld/ Hell.
The Jade Emperor, also referred to as Yù Huáng -ti, adjudicates and metes out rewards and remedies to actions of saints, the living, and the deceased according to a merit system loosely called the Jade Principles Golden Script.

The seven brightest stars of the constellation are Ursa Major, the Great Bear, also called the Big Dipper.
In Eastern Asia, these stars compose the Northern Dipper. They are colloquially named "The Seven Stars of the Northern Dipper" (Chinese: 北斗七星 pinyin: běidǒu qīxīng).
Taoist believe that this star constellation is the seat of the celestial bureaucracy of the gods.
Sometimes there are said to be nine stars - two invisible "attendant" stars, one on either side of the star Alkaid.

The Dipper Mother, Dou Mu (斗母 - dǒumǔ), a star deity and a Taoist adoption of the Tantric deity Marici, is the mother of the stars of Ursa Major, the Big Dipper and is considered to be a personification of light and dawn.
As a saviour and healer, she is invoked through visualizations that unite the adept with cosmic light and “oneness with cosmic principles”. As the cosmic mother of the nine star-gods of the dipper and supposed to be in charge of all star deities, she nurtures and instructs, but the Dipper Mother also maintains her own salvific powers and authority.

Thought to derive from one of the devas (inhabitants of the heavenly realms) of Buddhism, she is associated with healing and childbirth. Often she is depicted as sitting on a lotus throne and wearing a crown. She has a third eye in her forehead, and her eighteen arms hold a variety of sacred weapons and vessels.

Legend has it that many ages ago, a great queen vowed to give birth to children who would help to guide the movements of the Tao. One fine spring day, she disrobed and entered a pool to bathe. Suddenly, she felt "moved," and nine lotus buds rose from the pond. The lotus, a symbol borrowed from Buddhism, signifies purity and spiritual enlightenment since it rises from the mud (representing the physical impurities of the world) to become a brilliant flower. Each of these lotus buds opened to reveal a star, including the seven stars of the Northern Dipper (Big Dipper), one of the most important constellations in Taoism. Subsequently, this queen was deified, becoming known as the "Dipper Mother."

(Note: Chinese Buddhism, which when first introduced into China, was largely interpreted through the use of Taoist words and concepts.)

In contrast to the Confucian program of social reform through moral principle, ritual, and government regulation, the true way of restoration for the Taoists consisted in the banishment of learned sageliness and the discarding of wisdom. "Manifest the simple," urged Lao-tzu, "embrace the primitive, reduce selfishness, have few desires."

As the Tao operates impartially in the universe, so should mankind disavow assertive, purposive action. The Taoist life is not, however, a life of total inactivity. It is rather a life of nonpurposive action (wu-wei). Stated positively, it is a life expressing the essence of spontaneity (tzu-jan, "self-so").

The Sacred Taoist Wudang Mountains

Have you ever dreamed of escaping urban life, at least temporarily, to a secluded mountain? A place where you can feel at one with nature. Where your heart can regain tranquility. Sounds nice, doesn&rsquot it?

Well, some of the world&rsquos most mystical, picturesque, cloud-shrouded, high-altitude mountains are found in China. At the ancient center of Taoism and tai chi is one such mountain range known as Wudang.

Located in central China&rsquos Hubei&rsquos province, the Wudang Mountains and their timeworn temples have long been home to those who devote their lives to the Tao, or the Way.

Tai Chi&rsquos Immortal Founder

Once upon a time, well before throngs of avid pilgrims began trekking up endless stone staircases to Wudang&rsquos magnificent peaks, lived a legendary man named Zhang Sanfeng.

Master Zhang was born in the twelfth century during the Southern Song Dynasty, and it is believed that he lived to be over 130 years old. Nobody knows when exactly he &ldquodisappeared,&rdquo but he is said to have achieved immortality in his lifetime.

According to the official work The History of Ming, Zhang was a towering 7-foot tall man with a noble posture. He wore the same Taoist robe year-round. He abandoned his secular life, wealth, property&mdasheven his worldly desires&mdashand opted to live the life of a hermit. After wandering for some time, he finally settled down in the Wudang Mountains.

&ldquoThis mountain will one day become very famous,&rdquo he declared.

Master Zhang was an unparalleled martial artist who was adept at Shaolin kung fu, the Chinese straight sword, and many other styles of martial arts.

And yet he also mastered the internal martial arts, and, most famously, is credited with founding the slow-moving tai chi spiritual discipline.

As legend has it, one night Master Zhang was visited in a dream by the Taoist deity the Jade Emperor. The Great Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven, taught Master Zhang the secrets of the Tao. Upon waking, he was inspired to establish a martial arts practice based on internal energy, as opposed to physical strength a martial art in which yielding overcomes aggression, and softness overpowers toughness.

And thus tai-ji-quan, or tai chi, was born.

Master Zhang&rsquos tai chi was put to the test when he was attacked by a gang of bandits. No amount of punches or kicks could land on Master Zhang (If you&rsquove ever seen the movie Kung Fu Hustle, you may be familiar with how elusive a tai chi master can be.). As he kept evading his attackers, they eventually became exhausted, and he then struck them down with ease.

When the Emperor Writes

Although tai chi is mostly known today as a soft martial arts form that can improve your health, in reality the practice has strayed far from its original purpose over the centuries. What Master Zhang first founded was intended as a practice of self-cultivation, or spiritual elevation.

&ldquoWhat is essential to the practice of the Tao,&rdquo Master Zhang is quoted as saying, &ldquois to get rid of cravings and vexations. If these afflictions are not removed, it is impossible to attain stability. It is like a fertile field. Until the weeds are cleared, it cannot produce good crops.&rdquo

&ldquoCravings and ruminations are the weeds of the mind,&rdquo he said. &ldquoIf you do not clear them away, concentration and wisdom do not develop.&rdquo

Being the sage that he was, many emperors sought him for advice on state and military affairs. But Master Zhang mostly proved hard to find.

Emperor Yongle, the Ming Dynasty&rsquos third emperor, was lucky, however, and received a reply to his letter. Master Zhang knew that the emperor had everything except longevity, and so he responded by writing to the emperor that the key to longevity is to attain a peaceful heart by relinquishing worldly desires.

The emperor was so grateful for the advice that he declared Wudang a royal mountain, and ordered the construction of 9 palaces, 72 temples, and 36 nunneries on Mt. Wudang as a way to further promote the Tao.

This is why the Wudang temple structures seen today are reminiscent of fifteenth century Ming Dynasty architecture.

Master Zhang&rsquos prediction proved true&mdashWudang became very famous.

The Old Sage

Some 2,500 years ago, at roughly the same time Buddha Shakyamuni taught on the Indian subcontinent, Laozi (Lao Tzu) and Confucius were teaching in China.

The Records of the Grand Historian tells of how Confucius sought the great Taoist Laozi to learn from him. The encounter left Confucius profoundly dumbstruck for three days. In other words, there was no &ldquoConfucius says&rdquo for three whole days.

When Confucius finally broke his silence, he said: &ldquoI know how a bird can fly. I know how a fish can swim. But I do not know how Laozi could rise and fly like a sublime dragon riding on clouds in the sky.&rdquo

Before Laozi departed China through the Western Gate never to be seen again, he left behind his teachings, written in 5,000 Chinese characters&mdasha book now known as Tao Te Ching. Though Laozi is not recorded as having travelled to the Wudang Mountains, his Tao did.

Surviving the Cultural Revolution

Taoism played such a central role in traditional Chinese culture and thought that it became a target during Mao Zedong&rsquos Cultural Revolution (1966&ndash1976). The Chinese Communist Party&rsquos materialistic, ultra-leftist ideology left no room for the Tao, the Way of the universe, or the law of nature.

Instead, the Party taught generations of Chinese to &ldquostruggle against heaven and earth,&rdquo to quote Mao. At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Mao&rsquos Red Guards murdered Taoist monks and nuns, forced them to marry, and sent them to labor camps. They burned their sacred books and razed Taoist temples across China.

They also set out to destroy the historic temples of Wudang.

But greeting the Red Guards on the front steps of a temple was a 100-year-old Taoist nun, Li Chengyu. She had sealed her lips with glue before sitting on the temple&rsquos steps to meditate without stop for several days as a form of non-violent protest.

The Red Guards were amazed by her determination and spared her. The temples in the area were saved, and several Taoists were allowed to remain.

Inner Peace

Whether you are seeking the Tao, searching for a quiet place to search for tranquility, or just looking for spectacular scenery, adding Wudang to your bucket list might be a good idea.

It is a deeply spiritual experience to walk among cloud-wrapped temples as curls of incense smoke waft through the air, colorful prayer flags flutter in the crisp mountain breeze, and formations of martial artists perform slow, fluid movements before a breathtaking mountain backdrop.

Shen Yun&rsquos 2020 dance Taoist Destiny is set deep in the Wudang Mountains, where a Taoist master trains his disciples, and one warrior takes a leap of faith.

Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor (Chinese: 玉皇 pinyin: Yù Huáng or 玉帝 Yù Dì), is the Taoist ruler of Heaven and all realms of existence below including that of Man and Hell according to a version of Taoist mythology. He is one of the most important gods of the Chinese Taoist pantheons.
The Jade Emperor is known by many names including Heavenly Grandfather (天公 Tiān Gōng) which is used by commoners, the Pure August Jade Emperor, August Personage of Jade (玉皇上帝 Yu Huang Shangdi or 玉皇大帝 Yu Huang Dadi), the Xuanling High Sovereign, and his rarely used formal title, Peace Absolving, Central August Spirit Exalted, Ancient Buddha, Most Pious and Honorable, His Highness the Jade-Emperor, Xuanling High Sovereign .According to the books Understanding Heaven and Hell (洞冥寶記) and The Feast of Immortal Peaches (蟠桃宴記), the Jade Emperor is selected by a panel of deities who had to pass a test by his predecessor.

There are many stories in Chinese mythology involving the Jade Emperor.
It was said that the Jade Emperor was originally the crown prince of the kingdom of Pure Felicity and Majestic Heavenly Lights and Ornaments. At birth he emitted a wondrous light that filled the entire kingdom. When he was young, he was kind, intelligent and wise. He devoted his entire childhood to helping the needy (the poor and suffering, the deserted and single, the hungry and disabled). Furthermore, he showed respect and benevolence to both men and creatures. After his father died, he ascended the throne. He made sure that everyone in his kingdom found peace and contentment. After that, he told his ministers that he wished to cultivate Tao on the Bright and Fragrant Cliff. After 1,550 kalpas, each kalpa lasting for 129,600 years, he attained Golden Immortality. After another one hundred million years of cultivation, he finally became the Jade Emperor. (Using the given figures, this period before his becoming the Jade Emperor lasted for a total of about 200,880,000 years.)
Vanquishing evil
There is a little known myth which tells of how the Jade Emperor became the monarch of all the deities in heaven. It is one of the few myths in which the Jade Emperor really shows his might.

In the beginning of time, the earth was a very difficult place to live a much harsher place to live in than it is now. Men were having tremendous difficulty coping with existence not only did men have to deal with harsh conditions, but also with all kinds of monstrous beings. At this time, there were also not many gods or deities to protect men. Furthermore, a lot of powerful, evil demons were defying the immortals of heaven. The Jade Emperor was still at the time an ordinary immortal who roamed earth to help as many people as he could. He was, however, saddened by the fact that his powers were limited and could only ease the sufferings of men. He decided to retreat in a mountain cave and cultivate his Dao. He passed 3,200 trials, each trial lasted for about 3 million years.

Unfortunately, a powerful, evil entity a demon of sorts, which dwelt on earth had the ambition to conquer the immortals and gods in heaven and proclaim sovereignty over the entire universe. It went into retreat later than the Jade Emperor. This evil entity retreated itself too and went into meditation to expand its power. He passed through 3,000 trials each trial lasting for about 3 million years too. After it passed its final trial, it felt confident that no one could defeat it anymore. It re-entered the world again, and recruited an army of demons with the purpose of attacking heaven.

The immortals being aware of the threat gathered themselves and prepared for war. The gods were unable to stop the powerful demon and all were defeated by it. The Three Pure Ones were leading the celestial beings at the time.

Fortunately, the Jade Emperor finished his cultivation in the midst of this war. He was changing the land to make it more liveable for men and repelling all kinds of monstrous beasts. Suddenly, he saw an evil glow emitting from heaven and knew something was amiss. He ascended and saw that a war was going on, he saw that the demon was too powerful to be stopped by any of the gods present. He went up and challenged the demon, and a battle ensued between them. Mountains shook and rivers and seas toppled however, the Jade Emperor stood victorious due to his deeper and wiser cultivation, not for might but for benevolence. After totally annihilating the demon, all the other demons were scattered by the gods and immortals.

Because of his noble and benevolent deeds, the gods, immortals and mankind proclaimed the Jade Emperor the supreme sovereign of all.
The world started with 無極 (wuji: nothingness) according to the Chinese creation story, Jade Emperor was the head of the pantheon but not responsible to the creation process itself.

According to another version of creation myth, the Jade Emperor fashioned the first humans from clay, but as he left them to harden in the sun, it rained, misshaping some of the figures, thus explaining the origin of sickness and physical abnormalities(The most common alternative Chinese creation myth states that human beings were once fleas on the body of Pangu.)

The story above is also told as Nüwa who fashions humans out of the mud from the Yellow River by hand. Those she made herself became the richer people of the earth. After getting lazy she used a rope and swung it around. The drops that fell from the rope became the poorer humans.
In The Journey to the West
In the popular novel by Wu Chengen, The Jade Emperor is featured many times in the story.
The princess and the cowherd
In another story, popular throughout Asia and with many differing versions, the Jade Emperor has a daughter named Chih'nü (simplified Chinese: 织女 traditional Chinese: 織女 pinyin: zhī nǚ literally: weaver girl). She is most often represented as responsible for weaving colorful clouds in the heaven, in some versions she is instead a seamstress who works for the Jade Emperor. Everyday Chih'nü descended to earth with the aid of a magical robe to bathe. One day, a lowly cowherd named Niu Lang (Chinese: 牛郎 pinyin: niú láng) spotted Chih'nü as she bathed in a stream. Niu Lang fell instantly in love with her and stole her magic robe which she had left on the bank of the stream, leaving her unable to escape back to Heaven. When Chih'nü emerged from the water, Niu Lang grabbed her and carried her back to his home.

When the Jade Emperor heard of this matter, he was furious but unable to intercede, since in the meantime his daughter had fallen in love and married the cowherd. As time passed, Chih'nü grew homesick and began to miss her father. One day, she came across a box containing her magic robe which her husband had hidden. She decided to visit her father back in Heaven, but once she returned, the Jade Emperor summoned a river to flow across the sky (the Milky Way), which Chih'nü was unable to cross to return to her husband. The Emperor took pity on the young lovers, and so once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, he allows them to meet on a bridge over the river.

The story refers to constellations in the night sky. Chih'nü is the star Vega in the constellation of Lyra east of the Milky Way, and Niu Lang is the star Altair in the constellation of Aquila west of the Milky Way. Under the first quarter moon (7th day) of the seventh lunar month (around August), the lighting condition in the sky causes the Milky Way to appear dimmer, hence the story that the two lovers are no longer separated in that one particular day each year.

The seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is a holiday in China called Qi Xi, which is a day for young lovers much like Valentine's Day in the West in Japan, it is called Tanabata (star day), and in Korea, it is called Chilseok. If it rains on that day, it is said to be Chih'nü crying tears at being reunited with her husband
The zodiac
There are several stories as to how the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were chosen. In one, the Jade Emperor, although having ruled Heaven and Earth justly and wisely for many years, had never had the time to actually visit the Earth personally. He grew curious as to what the creatures looked like. Thus, he asked all the animals to visit him in heaven. The cat, being the most handsome of all animals, asked his friend the rat to wake him on the day they were to go to Heaven so he wouldn't oversleep. The rat, however, was worried that he would seem ugly compared to the cat, so he didn't wake the cat. Consequently, the cat missed the meeting with the Jade Emperor and was replaced by the pig. The Jade Emperor was delighted with the animals and so decided to divide the years up amongst them. When the cat learned of what had happened, he was furious with the rat and that, according to the story, is why cats and rats are enemies to this day.
His predecessor and successor
The Jade Emperor was originally the assistant of the Divine Master of the Heavenly Origin, Yuan-shi tian-zun. Yuan-shi tian-zun is said to be the supreme beginning, the limitless and eternal creator of Heaven and Earth, who picked Yu-huang, or the Jade Emperor, as his personal successor. The Jade Emperor will eventually be succeeded by the Heavenly Master of the Dawn of Jade of the Golden Door. The characters for both are stamped on the front of the arms of his throne.
Worship and festivals
The Jade Emperor's Birthday is said to be the ninth day of the first lunar month. On this day Daoist temples hold a Jade Emperor ritual (拜天公 bài tiān gōng, literally "heaven worship") at which priests and laymen prostrate themselves, burn incense, and make food offerings.

Chinese New Year's Eve is also a day of worship as it is said to be the day the Jade Emperor makes his annual inspection of the deeds of mortals and rewards or punishes them accordingly. On this day incense is burned in the home and offerings are made to the Jade Emperor and also to Zao Jun, the god of kitchen who reports to the Emperor on each family.

A temple in Hong Kong is located at A Kung Ngam and is also called "Yuk Wong Po Tin" (玉皇寶殿 Yu Huang Bao Dian). In the mid 19th century, people from Huizhou and Chaozhou mined stones in the hill for the development of the central urban area. They set up a shrine to worship Yuk Wong. At the beginning of the 20th century, the shrine was developed into a small temple and was renovated many times. The latest renovation was in 1992.
In popular culture

In the television series Stargate SG-1, the Goa'uld System Lord Yu is presumably based on the Jade Emperor, though whether Lord Yu is supposed to be the originator of the related myth, or merely impersonated the deity among the ancient Chinese (as was the case with several other Goa'uld, who impersonated Egyptian gods, among others) is unclear.
Akito Sohma, the antagonist of the anime and manga Fruits Basket, is based on the Jade Emperor.
In the manga Fushigi Yūgi, the identity of Tai Yi-Jun (aka Tai Itsuken), the oracle who created the Universe of the Four Gods, is eventually revealed to be the Jade Emperor.
In the 2008 film,The Forbidden Kingdom, featuring Jet Li and Jackie Chan, is based on the Journey to the West and includes the Jade Emperor.

Who is the Jade Emperor?

The Jade Emperor is the head honcho of the divine Daoist pantheon. Perhaps he’s the Dao given human form, or the mysterious “Lord of Heaven” (天公 tiān gōng), a vague guiding entity awarding dynasties with the “Mandate of Heaven.”

He holds court from his majestic “Purple Palace” in the sky (from which Beijing’s Forbidden City — 紫禁城 zǐ jìn chéng, literally “Purple Forbidden City” — gets its name). He’s the head of a bureaucratic system just like his earthly counterpart, with 36 ministers all reporting to him, in turn commanding an army of celestial clerks. The lesser gods send him annual reports of their dealings, and the Kitchen God brings records of the deeds of every household at New Year — virtue rewarded, sins punished.

But the higher someone is, the funnier to see them fall. The Jade Emperor has been plagued by mockery, his history a strange combination of majesty and comedy, pathos and bathos, inscrutable as the bureaucracy he heads and just as inept.

As the Ruler of Heaven, his face adorns so-called “Hell Money” (冥币 míng bì), fake cash burned for ancestors at Qingming Festival (a.k.a., Tomb-Sweeping Day). But the image is based on an actor who is typecast in China for playing the Jade Emperor, appearing as him in numerous TV shows since 2000. The actor in question was upset to see his face hubristically adorning the currency of the gods:

Depending on who you believe, the Jade Emperor — a.k.a., “The True Lord of Heaven, Earth and Mankind, in all areas and of the Mystical Spirits” — is either a Christ-like being of destiny or a jumped-up office worker.

A Fujianese legend says his parents, the King of Pure Virtue and Queen of Gilt Moonlight, yearned for a child. One night the Queen dreamt of an august god descending from the sky, babe in arms. “This is no ordinary child,” the god said. “One day he will attain the highest level of Dao. You must take good care of him.” The Queen became pregnant soon afterwards.

But a Ming Dynasty text tells it very differently: When the Prime Minister of Zhou was filling roles in the heavenly host around 1180 B.C., he left the post of Supreme Deity vacant. Secretly he meant it for himself. When offered the post at a meeting, he behaved with great dignity, stolidly asking them to “wait a second” (“Deng Lai”) while he pretended to mull over this great responsibility. But a minor courtier named Zhang Deng Lai, thinking he heard his name, stepped up and thanked him for the honor of being the Jade Emperor. Quietly gnashing his teeth, the prime minister had no choice but to appoint the man.

The Ming didn’t treat the Jade Emperor with much reverence. Many in China know him through adaptations of the Chinese classic Journey to the West, written under the Ming. The Jade Emperor (“of the Azure Vault of Heaven”) is dutiful and works hard in his “Golden-Gated Cloud Palace” surrounded by his ministers in the “Hall of Miraculous Mist.” Despite the grand set-up, he’s flighty, and a blinkered, impetuous decision-maker, no match for the sheer power of the almighty Buddha, who holds the universe in the palm of his hand. The Jade Emperor is far short of omniscient, giving the mischievous Sūn Wùkōng 孙悟空 (the “Monkey King”) the job of guarding the heavenly peach orchard to keep him out of trouble. But in Chinese culture, asking a monkey to guard peaches is about as safe as asking a bear to guard honey. The peaches are devoured.

But legend describes the Jade Emperor as brimming with wisdom and grace, a prince of the heavens who abdicated his throne and headed to the mountains. There he meditated for eons (103,200 kalpa, to be exact — one “kalpa” being the time it takes for a universe to begin and end) to save his people from the endless cycle of death and reincarnation — parallels with the story of the Buddha abound. Eventually he gains enough virtue to be worthy of sitting upon the throne of Heaven.

Like the Chinese emperor, even the Jade Emperor has someone to answer to — he’s not the highest in heaven. That honor goes to the “Three Pure Ones,” beings who were created in chaos and created the world in turn.

No one’s sure when his cult of worship began, but it was definitely grassroots, incorporated by Daoists into their divine hierarchy (perhaps as a response to the popularity of the Buddha ). He was enthroned by Song Dynasty Emperor Zhēnzōng 真宗, who in 1013 ordered his court to worship the deity, stating this was the god they had been praying to all these years in the sacrosanct Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

A prayer to him was heavy with significance. The earthly emperor would kowtow for rain at the top of Coal Hill (immediately north of the Forbidden City) during long droughts, or give thanks on the summit of Tai Shan on the very rare occasion when China was prosperous within, at peace without, and blessed with a ruler of exceptional charisma or achievement. He was a figure so grand that even if you passed a sign bearing his name, you had to give 27 kowtows.

His family has made a splash in Chinese legend, too. There’s his daughter, the weaver girl (Zhī Nǚ 织女), who fell in love with a woodcutter, her disapproving father separating them at either end of the Milky Way except for one night each year — now known as the Qixi Festival.

A Daoist shyly asks his favor as a last resort, when all lesser gods have been exhausted, even then only for something like fortune telling. But offerings can be freely given on his birthday, which falls on the 9th day of the first lunar month, during Chinese New Year. It’s celebrated across Southeast Asia. Incense is burned, and food offered — but red pork must be included if you want to avoid divine displeasure.

Either as a transcendent cosmic judge or mirror image of flawed human rulers, the Jade Emperor still rules his Azure Vault, long outliving those who created or mocked him.

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