Offerings for Prolong Life

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Conducting longevity offerings ( 打延生醮 Da Yansheng Jiao ) is a popular folk activity. Its earliest origin can be traced back to the worship of the Big Dipper. The ancient Chinese believed that the Southern Dipper ( 南斗 Nandou ) was in charge of life and the Big (Northern) Dipper was in charge of death. In order to live longer, one needed to pray to the Stellar Sovereign of the Big Dipper to take one's name off the Death Registration ( 死籍 Siji ). In early times, Daoism practiced various kinds of star worship. In the Three Kingdoms period, Lu Meng, senior general of the Wu Kingdom, was seriously ill. Sun Quan asked a Daoist priest to plead on Lu Meng's behalf in front of the Big Dipper ( 北斗星君 Beidou Xingjun ). Later scriptures and Offering ceremonies for longevity were related to the East, South, West, North and Central dippers - the constellations of the five directions ( 五方星斗 Wufang Xingdou ), but the Big (Northern) Dipper was the most important. The Perfect Book of Fundamental Destiny and Prolonging Life of the Supreme Mysterious Soul ( 太上玄靈北斗本命延生真經 Taishang Xuanling Beidou Benming Yansheng Zhenjing ) states that the Big Dipper is capable of dispelling any type of adversity. If entangled with disasters, how can one be rescued? " Hasten to the Big Dipper, give offerings to thank the Perfect Sovereign, turn to the true scriptures, identify one's Stellar Sovereign of Fundamental Destiny. Doing so, one can attain safety and even health and fame." By chanting this scripture frequently, worshipping the stellar gods and giving litanies ( 禮懺 Lichan ), one can protect one's life and achieve longevity. This is a common understanding of believers in Daoism and in folk religions. That's why Longevity Offerings are usually addressed to the Big Dipper.

Longevity Offerings are rich in content and diversified in form.

As far as their content is concerned, Longevity Offerings are described in the Book of the East Dipper in Charge of Lifespans ( 東斗主算經 Dongdou Zhusuan Jing ), the Book of the Big Dipper in Charge of Fundamental Destiny and Prolonging Life ( 北斗本命延生經 Beidou Benming Yansheng Jing ), the Book of the Big Dipper in Charge of Fundamental Destiny and Longevity ( 北斗本命長生經 Beidou Benming Changsheng Jing ), the Book of the South Dipper's Six Offices in Charge of Longevity and Salvation ( 南斗六司延壽度人經 Nandou Liusi Yanshou Duren Jing ), the Heart Book of the Big Dipper in Charge of Fundamental Destiny and Longevity ( 斗姆本命延生心經 Doumu Benming Yansheng Xinjing ), etc. As for form, there are general offering rituals as well as lantern rituals. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms ( 三國演義 Sanguo Yanyi ) recorded that when Zhu Geliang was seriously ill, he himself arranged a lantern ritual. But Wei Yan unexpectedly stepped on the lantern of his fundamental sovereign. Zhu Geliang could not do anything to undo the misfortune, so he died in the army. Though this is a fictional novel, it has its archetype in real social life. Daoist priests commonly hold longevity lantern rituals among the masses. The Daoist Canon contains the "South Dipper Longevity Lantern Ritual" and "Big Dipper Longevity Lantern Ritual".

Longevity Offerings are frequently conducted for folk believers; they satisfy peoples' longing for longevity, health and peaceful life.

The Chinese have a strong sense of the joy of life. The ancient classic Hong Fan proposed five happinesses; the first of them is long life. So the eminent Daoist Priest and famous doctor Sun Simiao stated that long life was superior to the other four happinesses. Daoism regards life as most important. As a life-cherishing religion, it has whole system of methods to pursue long life, including popular rituals for praying to the stars in order to lengthening one's life span. When common people reach an advanced age or don't feel good, they will think of this special Daoist skill and invite a Daoist priest to conduct offerings for themselves and their relatives.

Nowadays, after several decades of social turbulence, people look forward to stability. Enjoying good health, peace, longevity, and getting rid of illnesses are wishes of people. Those who believe in Daoism regard offerings as significant. Generally speaking, there are two occasions when people conduct offerings ( 打醮 Dajiao ). Firstly, when people get sick, or feel aged and weakened, they go to the temple for offerings. Secondly, when people celebrate their birthdays, they will invite Daoist priests to conduct offerings for them. As modern society is changing rapidly, longevity offering rituals have correspondingly been simplified, and chances for Longevity Lantern Rituals are reduced. The Longevity Lantern Ritual is often conducted at night; it is not convenient to have it done in the cities. There are occasions when people still make longevity lanterns, but move the activity to the daytime.

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