Morning and Evening Rites
The Origin of Morning and Evening Rites
Morning and Evening Rites are one of the main forms of religious practice for Daoists at temples. The " Rites" refer to reading aloud Daoist scriptures, one of the routine assignments. They require the Daoists to read aloud the texts of the scriptures in the hall of the temple both in the morning and in the evening. No record was left about Morning and Evening Rites in early Daoism. In the Northern and Southern dynasties, Daoists at temples practised the Rites of Routine Practice ( 常朝儀 Changchaoyi ), as mentioned in On Conducting the Pervasive Mystery Numinous Treasure Three Grottoes Rituals and Commandments for Worshipping the Dao ( 《洞玄靈寶三洞奉道科戒營始》Dongxuan Lingbao Sandong Fengdao Kejie Yingshi ): "The rites and commandments of the Four Assemblies and Three Grottoes can be practiced daily, so they are called the Rites of Routine Practice." The core of the rites is to be courteous to the Ten Directions, which differs from the Morning and Evening Rites at later times, which mainly consist in reading aloud Daoist scriptures, exhortations, and incantations. But the forms of the two were quite similar to each other. No scriptures mentioned the Morning or Evening Rites in the Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Era or in the Supplementary Daoist Canon of the Ming Dynasty. In the Essential Books of the Daoist Canon ( 《道藏輯要》Daozang Jiyao ) compiled in the Qing Dynasty, there are two scriptures about them. One is the Pristine Subtlety Daoist Rites of the Great Discipline ( 《清微宏範道門》 Qingwei Hongfan Daomen Gongke ), the other is the Book of the Supreme Daoist Rites ( 《太上玄門功課經》Taishang Xuanmen Gongke Jing ). From the title we can see that it was handed down from the Daoists of the Pristine Subtlety sect, and was probably written before the Qing Dynasty. It was not until the Ming Dynasty that the system of Morning and Evening Rites was formed in Buddhist temples. And then the temples of the Complete Perfect Tradition followed suit. So it can be estimated that the Morning and Evening Rites of Daoism came into being in the middle or late Ming dynasty. Until the end of the Ming Dynasty or early Qing Dynasty, the main temples of Daoism adopted Morning and Evening Rites as a form of practice.
The Contents and Functions of Morning and Evening Rites
Daoists usually do the same thing during the daily Morning and Evening Rites, mostly reading incantations, scriptures, and mandates. However, the Rites are slightly different from sect to sect and from place to place. For example, in the Morning Rites of the Complete Perfect Tradition, the Daoists would read aloud the Exhortations from the Five Patriarchs of the North ( 《北五祖誥》 Beiwuzu Gao ), the Exhortations from the Five Patriarchs of the South ( 《南五祖誥》 Nanwuzu Gao ), and the Exhortations from the Seven Perfect Ones ( 《七真誥》 Qizhen Gao ). In the Evening Rites of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition, the Daoists would read the Treasure Exhortations of the Celestial Master ( 《祖天師寶誥》Zutianshi Baogao ) and the Treasure Exhortations of the Celestial Master of Emptiness ( 《虛靖天師寶誥》Xujing Tianshi Baogao ). At the Evening Rites of the Daoists of the Mt. Mao sect, the Treasure Exhortation from the Perfect Sovereign of Mt. Mao ( 《三茅真君寶誥》Sanmao Zhenjun Baogao ) would be read. The procedures of the Morning and Evening Rites for all Daoists were similar to one another as well. They usually began with the Rhymes for Opening the Scriptures ( 《開經偈》 Kaijing Ji ) or with the Odes for Offering Incense ( 《香讚》 Xiangzan ) and ended with the Twelve Wishes ( 《十二願》 Shi’Er Yuan ) and the Three Conversions.
The Morning Rites consist of three parts:
- Incantations (e.g. the Divine Incantation for Purifying the Heart) ( 淨心神咒 Jingxin Shenzhou ),
- Scriptures (e.g. the Sublime Book of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign's Teachings on Eternal Purity and Tranquility) ( 《太上老君說常清靜經》Taishang Laojun Shuo Changqingjing Jing ), and
- Exhortations (e.g. the Treasure Exhortation of Jade Clarity) ( 玉清寶誥 Yuqing Baogao ).
The Evening rites have two parts: scriptures (e.g. The Sublime Book of the Supreme Numinous Treasure Pervasive Mystery for Saving from Distress in the Ten Directions) ( 《太上洞玄靈寶十方救苦妙經》Taishang Dongxuan Lingbao Shifang Jiuku Miaojing ) and exhortations (e.g. the Treasure Exhortation of the Big Dipper) ( 斗姆寶誥 Doumu Baogao ).
One of the aims of Morning and Evening Rites is to cultivate Dao. Liu Shouyuan stated in the preface to the Pristine Subtlety Daoist Rites of the Great Discipline that the Golden and Jade Books of Daoism are the access to the Dao while the treasure exhortations and the books of elixirs are the access to Immortality. If one finds the right way of practice, one can renew one's original and perfect nature and refine one's eternal body. Thus living in temples, Daoists attend to the incense by reading Daoist scriptures from morning till night and practicing wherever they are. They practice from morning till night, expecting to ascend to Fairyland and approach the Sages and Perfect Men, and pray sincerely for the blessing of the state. Another aim is to nourish life. Liu Shouyuan said: "How can one nourish the Original Vital Breath of harmony if not by practicing daily?"
Daoists often practise the Morning Rites from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. when the Yang Vital Breath ( 陽氣 Yangqi ) is rising and the Yin Vital Breath ( 陰氣 Yinqi ) is inactive. At that time no food is taken and the Vital Breath is not in disorder. Conducting the morning rites will contribute to peace of mind and clear the pulse as well as the apertures. The evening rites are often conducted from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. when people feel tired. At this time the Yang breath weakens whereas the Yin breath becomes strong with unhealthy breath idling about. Conducting the Evening Rites can make you relaxed, renew your energy, improve your sleep, and make you calm down. Therefore Liu Shouyuan said: "If one can concentrate on practicing daily with perseverance, one will be strong enough to approach Immortality. One can be free from worldly troubles, even if one lives in the human world. Then one can enjoy longevity and happiness, for one can go in and out of emptiness, at peace with the world and oneself. Since one has realized that there is no birth or death, one can transcend the Three Worlds, immune to any desire except for one's perfect heart. If one can give up worldly desire, one can be free from all the misfortune in the world. Thus saved from the abyss of misery, one can be on the grand way to longevity. Disasters will be dispelled and blessings will befall as one wishes. No request would be discarded. There will always be communication with spirits."