Great Ritual Offerings to the Overarching Heaven

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Great Ritual Offerings to the Overarching Heaven
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Origin of the Great Ritual Offerings to the All-Embracing Heaven ( 羅天大醮LuoTian Da Jiao )

The Great Ritual Offerings to the All-Embracing Heaven is the name for a large-scale comprehensive Daoist ritual. The All-Embracing Heaven refers to the extreme heights beyond the Three Realms ( 三界Sanlie ). The Essential Secret of the Most High ( 《無上秘要》Wushang Miyao ) says, "Beyond the Three Realms is the endless All-Embracing Heaven." Conducting the ritual in the name of the All-Embracing Heaven reveals the great number and high positions of the invoked spirits; the large scale, the long duration, and the many aims of this offering; as well as the great number of Daoists and laymen attending the ritual. The term ' Offering' originally referred to a sacrificial rite. Song Yu's Ode of Gaotang says, "praying to the stars, sacrificing to deities, and worshiping the great oneness ( 太乙Taiyi )." "Sacrificing to deities" means giving offerings to deities. Between the two Jin dynasties, Fasts were mentioned as different from Offerings. The Book of Divine Incantations of the Supreme Pervasive Abyss ( 《太上洞淵神咒經》Taishang Dongyaun Shenzhou Jing ) says, "practicing Fasts while setting up Offerings contravenes the fixed rituals." After the Tang Dynasty, the terms of Fasts and Offerings were commonly used together to refer to Daoist rituals. Therefore, the term Offering is a name for Daoist rites of worship. The Most High Efficient Fasting Ritual of the Yellow Register ( 《無上黃籙大齋立成儀》Wushang Huanglu Dazhai Licheng Yi ) says, "The term Offering refers to rituals for invoking perfect spirits and begging blessings". After the Ming Dynasty, Daoists and folk people usually replaced Fasts with Offerings, and thus the name of the Great Ritual Offerings to the All-Embracing Heaven spread widely.

Contents and Characteristics of the Great Ritual Offerings to the All-Embracing Heaven

The ritual literature collected in the Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Era ( 《正統道藏》Zhengtong Daozang ) includes Instructions for Conducting Great Ritual Offerings to the All-Embracing Heaven ( 《羅天大醮設醮儀》Luotian Daojiao Shejiao Yi ), Three Audiences of the Great Offerings to the All-Embracing Heaven ( 《羅天大醮三朝儀》Luotian Dajiao SanChao Yi ), the Superior Subtle Book of the Great Offering Ritual to the All-Embracing Heaven Uttered by Supreme Heavenly Lord of Pervasive Mystery and Numinous Treasure ( 《太上洞玄靈寶天尊說羅天大醮上品妙經》Taishang Dongxuan Lingbao Tainzun Shuo Luotian Dajiao Shangpin Miao Jing ), etc. According to the Instructions for Conducting the Great Ritual Offering to the All-Embracing Heaven, the deities invoked in the Great Offering involve all the spirits between Heaven and Earth, including "the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清Sanqing ), the Lofty Saints of the Ten Directions, the Heavenly Lord and Perfect Man of the Jade Capital and Gold Palaces, the Masters of the Ten Directions, the Officials of the Three Realms, and all the mighty souls."

The Purposes of the ritual include "peace of the state and security of the people, repentance of sins, prayer for longevity, salvation of the dead and ancestors, etc." As a large-sized ritual, the Great Offering of All-Embracing Heaven lasts a fairly long duration of three, five or even seven days. The rituals differ from day to day, so the contents are very rich. In the Song Dynasty, the Great Ritual Offering to the All-Embracing Heaven was also called the Great Ritual Offering to the Cosmos ( 周天大醮Zhoutian Dajiao ) or the Great Ritual Offering to the Universal Heaven ( 普天大醮Putian Dajiao ). According to the Established Regulations of Daoism ( 《道門定制》Daomen Ding Zhi ), the Great Ritual Offering to the Cosmos worships 2400 deities; while the Great Ritual Offering to the Universal Heaven 3600. "Only the royal court, or ministers for the state, have the right to hold these two kinds of rituals. Common people are not allowed to practice them." The Pure Offering for Supreme Peace ( 太平清醮Taiping Qingjiao ) and the Pure Offering for Security ( 乞安清醮Qi'an Qingjiao ) now often held in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao are actually, according to their contents, the Great Ritual Offering to the All Embracing Heaven held by Daoists under the invitation of local people.