Rituals for Sending Petitions to the Heavens

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Rituals for Sending Petitions to the Heavens
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Origin of the Memorial-Presenting Rituals

Memorial-Presenting Rituals are the most important kind of Daoist Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao ). Memorials refer to the texts made and explained by Daoist priests for the worship of and praying to the lord. Through the rituals, the priests send the documents expressing their wishes to the Heavenly Court ( 天庭 Tainting ).


Prayers were already used in worship rituals in ancient China. It is recorded in the Rites of the Zhou ( 周禮 Zhouli ) that the Great Master of Sacrificial Rites ( 大宗伯 Dazongbo ) offered sacrifices to the great spirits and, according to the commentary, "asks the great prayer official to present the memorials". The memorials not only eulogize the deities, but also express prayers to them. In early Daoism, the Heavenly Repentances to the Three Heavenly Officials ( 三官手書 Sanguan Shoushu ) were often practiced, during which the names of the patients who prayed were written down to show their repentance. Daoist rituals became more and more complicated in the Southern and Northern Dynasties. According to Gentleman Lu's Daoist Rituals ( 陸先生道間科略 Luxiansheng Daomen Kelue ) by the eminent Daoist Lu Xiujing of the Southern Dynasty, "ten thousand" memorials were presented to over "one thousand two hundred heavenly officials" during the Fasting Rituals at that time. In The Great Collection of Daoist Rituals ( 道門科範大全 Daomen Kefan Daquan ), the eminent Daoist Du Guangting of the post-Tang Five Dynasties lists in detail the rituals for averting disasters by prayers, eliminating calamities, praying for pregnancy, prolonging life, registering Wenchang, praying for rain and snow, protecting houses, repentance, etc. Memorial presenting appears in many of these rituals. After the Song and Yuan dynasties, special memorial presenting rituals came into being with the development of Daoist rituals. Lü Yuansu of the Southern Song dynasty says in his Preface to the Established Daoist Rituals ( 道門定制序 Daomen Dingzhi Xu ) that "in ancient times, the documents of the Daoist fasts and offerings only involved talismans, seal characters and memorials in red ink. Other memorials and documents were added by people of later ages according to the man-made rites in society and the teachings of the classics. They were all established, with the advantage of being detailed and the disadvantage of being complex". The Memorial-Presenting Rituals were among those added in accordance with man-made rites.

Content

Memorial-Presenting Rituals are performed in the Daoist Fasting Rituals of the Golden Register, the Jade Register and the Yellow Register. In the rituals, the Daoists' memorials are presented to the heavenly court in order to report to heaven, invite the deities to come to the offering altars, and save the souls of the ancestors. The whole procedure generally consists of three parts, namely Ritual Commencement ( 啟請 Qitan ), Invoking the Sages ( 請聖qingsheng ), and Presenting Memorials ( 拜表 Baibiao ). During the ritual commencement, the Ritual Master ( 法師 Fashi ) and the servants enter the altar to burn incense and kneel down to pray. When invoking the sages, they arrange the deities of the five directions respectfully, invoke the spirits and make the sages descend. The ritual master burns incense before all the Heavenly Lords ( 天尊 Tianzun ) and prays for their longevity. In presenting memorials, the ritual master and the servants ask the three masters for help and ask them to descend to the Ritual Space ( 壇場 Tanchang ). The High Priest ( 高功 Gaogong ) recites the "incantations for burning incense" silently, and renders a cult to the Immortal Official in Charge of Memorials ( 司表仙官 Sibiao Xianguan ), asking him to send the memorials. He works his spirit to conduct the rituals, sending the spirits to protect the memorials up to heaven. Then the ritual master Seals the Memorials ( 封表 Fengbiao ) and sends them up. He Paces the Big Dipper ( 步罡踏斗 Bugang Tadou) on the Big Dipper Diagram ( 罡單 Gangdan ). As his Original Spirit flies to the heavenly court, he reads the memorials silently and reports to heaven. Then he takes back his Original Spirit. The ritual master and the servants give thanks to the deities, offer sacrifices, and take leave. Owing to the different lineages of Daoist Skills and the different types of social life, habits, and dialects prevalent in the areas where Daoism spread, the practice of Memorial-Presenting rituals is slightly different in different regions, but the basic framework is the same.