Origin of Using Tablets in Daoist Rituals of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao )
The Tablet, also called Hand Board, Jade Board or Audience Board, is a Magical Instrument ( 法器 Faqi ) often used in Daoist rituals. Tablets already existed in ancient China. The Interpretations of the Terms ( 釋名 Shiming ) says, "Tablet (hu) signifies carelessness. Subjects write sovereigns' teachings and orders and their own memorials on Tablets to avoid negligence". It means that Tablets were used by subjects when they had audiences with the sovereign. They treated Tablets as papers, and wrote directly on them in order to avoid forgetting things. The chapter Ornamental Strings of Jade ( 玉藻 Yuzao ) in the Book of Rites ( 禮記 Liji ) says, "to make Tablets, emperors use ball-shaped jade, dukes use ivories, senior officials use fish scales and asparagus ferns, and scholar-officials use bamboo roots and ivories." "Tablets are two chi and six cun long and three cun wide, and after being dried with fire, they shrink by one sixth". After the fourth Wude Year of the Tang dynasty (AD 621), officials above the fifth rank used Tablets made of ivory, and officials under the sixth rank used Tablets made of bamboo roots. Tablets used by officials above the third rank were coarse at the higher part and straight at the lower part. Tablets used by officials above the fifth rank were coarse at the higher part and flexible at the lower part, and later were changed into being round at the higher part and square at the lower part. Miscellaneous Matters Pertaining to Carts and Clothes ( 輿服雜事 Yufu Zashi ) says, "in ancient times, both noblemen and commoners held Tablets to write down the sovereign's government decrees. When necessary, they inserted the Tablets in their belts. Since the Five Dynasties, there have been only eight ministers who held Tablets. They tie white writing brushes to the top of the hand Tablets and wrap them with purple bags. Other dukes and officials just hold hand boards as a show of respect; they do not hold Tablets, in order to show that they are not officials in charge of records".
There was no rite of holding Tablets in early Daoist rituals, and Tablets began to be used under the influence of imperial audiences. In Daoist rituals today, Tablets are still used. Daoists' Tablets are mostly made of bamboo or wood, and only High Priests ( 高功 Gaogong ) or Ritual Masters ( 法師 Fashi ) still use Tablets made of ivory.
Daoist priests use Tablets in Audience Rituals ( 朝禮 Chaoli ). The Daoist Book of Accordance with Spirits ( 道書援神契 Daoshu Yuanshen Qi ) says, "all the dukes and marquis in ancient times held Tablets. The Rites of the Zhou ( 周禮 Zhouli ) records Tablets of permanence, Tablets of honesty and Tablets of respect. The Book of Rites says that officials hold fish scales, asparagus ferns, and wood Tablets". So the use of Tablets in Daoist rituals is only to show respect to spirits. "Even the nobleman should follow regulations, respecting emperors and revering the worthies. Using and making this tool is to avoid forgetting". A Daoist book says, "the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun ) orders Ling to inspect human beings when they receive instructions and demand them to kowtow and rise, to hold Tablets to the east of the door, and stand facing the west".