The Daoist Jiao, a Festival of Return to the Dao Click here to return to The Jiao Video

Jiao,醮 an ancient Chinese word  for offering wine and incense to spirits, evolved over two millennia of Daoist practice, to become a rite for renewing and re-uniting humans with the gestating presence of Dao in nature.

To create a liturgy demonstrating this renewal, a physical as well as spiritual experience of Dao as a gestating 元, nourishing亨, harvesting利, and physically present force in nature貞, requires more than 20 years contemplative and liturgical preparation, for the Daoist master, man or woman, to perfect.

Daoists must first master the classic Yijing (I-ching) 易經 “Book of Change and non change,” and the “Yin-yang Five Element” 陰陽五行 philosophy, demonstrating nature’s eternally recycling changes, to be accepted as novices.

The 81 Chapters of Laozi’s Daode Jing, and the Zhuangzi Inner Chapters must be interiorized, until they became an essential part of the Daoist’s daily meditation.

Then all of these elements, literate as well as folk culture in origin, are combined into a dramatic liturgy, so the men and women of China’s towns and villages can see and understand their meaning.

In the Daoist Master’s meditative vision, the spirits who rule over nature, from highest to lowest, parallel the visible world of mandarin officials and a supreme earthly ruler — The “Jade Emperor” rules in the northern heavens, with military and literary officials to the left (west) and right (east) respectively. The scrolls showing this appear in Step One of the video.

The Daoist Master, with his/her cantors and acolytes, sings, dances sacred steps, and meditates in the very center of the “Tan” 壇 cosmic altar during the Jiao festival. The meditations of inner alchemy accompany the Master’s liturgy.

The lay people in the temple, the “orphan souls,” and the unrefined, even impure spirits of the folk religion, watch from the south of the sacred Tan altar.

The Jiao rituals are shown here in a bare, extremely simplified outline, in 6 “five minute” video segments.  They are as follows:

1.) Rites of entrance: Announcing (fa biao發表) by memorializing the spirits of the 3 realms, heaven earth, and underworld, that a Jiao rite of renewal will take place. Inviting (qing shen清神) the spirits to be present; and purifying the sacred Tan cosmic altar (jin tan 禁壇) using esoteric “5 Thunder-Vajra” chants 五雷法 and the sacred “pacing the void” 步虛 dance .

2.) Planting the 5 Lingbao Sacred writs, (An Lingbao zhenwen) 按靈寶五真文 ritual to renew the “5 Elements” in the cosmos. This classic liturgy uses the Ming tang 明堂 ancient Confucian “Book of Rites”, Monthly Commands chapter (Li Ji Yueling 禮記月令) as its model, for which reason Daoists were always appointed to the Board of Rites, to perform the Ming Tang rite for the emperors 5 times a year. The Daoist name for the Rite is “Su Qi” 宿啟 to hide its imperial origins from scholars and mandarins.

3a.) Fen Deng 分燈 “Lighting the (3) lamps with a new fire,” the Daoist master chants the 42nd chapter of the Lao-zi, “The Dao gives birth to the One” (lights first candle); “One gives birth to Two” (2nd candle); “Two gives birth to Three” (3rd candle); ”The 3 (feminine Dao, water, womb) gives birth to the Myriad Creatures.” At this point all of the lights in the temple are turned on; the brass bowl (yang) and wooden fish (yin) are sounded separately, then in union, rebirthing the world. The Dao of Wu Wei, now present, grants inner audience to the meditating Daoist.

3b.) The following day, during the Morning, Noon, and Night audiences, (not seen) (zaochao, wuchao, wanchao 早朝,午朝,晚朝) the Daoist Master refines primordial breath, spirit, and intuitive essence (qi, shen, jing 炁,神,精), in the upper, middle, and lower cinnabar fields ( 上丹田,中丹田,下丹田 head, chest, belly), bringing all 3 into awareness of “Dao Presence,” in the body as well as the temple “Center” while cantors and acolytes perform the external rites.

4.) Sending off the ShuWen 疏文 “memorial-Rescript” to the “Jade Emperor” in the Heavens (玉皇大帝),and to the “Three Pure Ones” (San Qing 三请) i.e., Dao as Gestating, Mediating, and Indwelling. Daoist and Confucian court ritual are analogous; just as the mandarins at the Imperial Court in Beijing, Changan, or Luoyang, brought memorials to the Visible Emperor on Earth, the “Son of Heaven,” so the Daoist acts as the mandarin of the Highest Heavens, bringing the people’s petitions to the Jade Emperor, and to the Three Highest Daoist spirits in Daoist Heaven. In the present video, the late 64th generation Celestial Master is seen performing the ritual; Zhuang A-Him meditates while using the drum; the drum beats represent the “Taiji” (太極), “Youwei” 有為之道 , the stringed instruments are Yang, and the hollow wind instruments are “Yin.”

5) Floating the Lanterns 放水燈 This colorful “folk religion” ritual is shared by Buddhists as well as Daoists throughout East Asia, including Japan, all of China, Korea, and the Chinese of Southeast Asia. The souls of the deceased released from the punishments of the Buddhist – Daoist underworld, are gathered and invited to bring colorful lanterns, each lit by a candle or small oil lamp, and floated out to sea. The Daoists wait for the tide to be going out to sea, with the trade winds blowing from the northeast (the Gate of Demon, trigram “gen” 艮) to begin the rite. But to the amazement of the onlookers, the floating lanterns went upstream, against the prevailing wind and the current, toward the Chinese cemetery, from whence they circled around, and came back downstream, as if symbolizing the success of the rite to “free all souls” into the “Western Heavens.” The lanterns that came ashore were gathered up, and burned as a send off, by the evening trade winds.

6) The Dao Chang or Zheng Jiao 道場正醮 . The climax and meditative conclusion to the 3 day Jiao liturgy is the “Mandala of the Dao,” or “True Offering,” which completes the meditative process of “returning to the Dao.” In step 1 the Daoist Master consecrated the sacred area by dancing the 9 steps of the “Magic square.” In step 2, the Su Qi , the Five sacred Writs were planted in the five central organs of the body. In step 3, “the morning, noon, and night” audiences,” the 5 elements were one-by-one refined into the 3 “primordials,” the Dao as gestating (Qi), mediating (shen), and indwelling (jing). Now in the final step, these 3 primordials are refined in the alchemical furnace of the belly, the “lower cinnabar field.” The Daoist sees the “3” transform into the “1”, i.e., the Dao as an infant, a “hierophant,” indwelling as a child within the very center of the cosmos. Union with the Dao is now achieved. A sacred rescript (shuwen) is carried down from the heavens by the “Du Jiang” Chief Cantor, and presented to the Master, who performs the sacred dance called “Pacing the Void” Bu Xu 步虛. The video shows the “fa lu” 發爐 “lighting the incense burner /alchemical furnace” in the belly. All spirits, energies, images, are sent out of the body (watch the Daoist do this by pressing the joints on the left hand, with the left thumb). Zhuangzi’s words “heart fasting, sitting in forgetfulness” 心齋坐忘, cause 於道合真 “One with Dao” to be realized.”

7) The concluding rites of the Jiao, not shown in the video, can be seen in printed form and pictures, (to be published on the website). The “Pu Du” rite, freeing all souls from hell-purgatory, “Thanking the spirits,” and “Seeing off the spirits of the 3 realms, heaven, earth and underworld,” (the reverse of Step One), bring the Jiao ritual to a conclusion. This classical manner of performing the Jiao, is found in the 6th century “Wushang Biyao,” and the Zhuang Lin Supplement to the Daoist Canon. This 25 volume text, now being scanned, will be available on the web.

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