The Great Jade Emperor
Origin of the Jade Emperor
The Great Jade Emperor ( 玉皇大帝 Yuhuang Dadi ) is often simply called the 'Jade Emperor', as well as the 'Most Venerable Jade Emperor of the Heavenly Golden Palace' ( 昊天金闕至尊玉皇大帝 Haotian Jinque zhizun Yuhuang Dadi ) and 'Lofty Jade Emperor of the Mysterious Heaven" ( 玄穹高上玉皇大帝 Xuanqong Gaoshang Dadi ). In the Song Dynasty, Emperor Zhen honored him with the holy title 'Supreme Jade Emperor, Creator of Heaven, Holder of Talismans, Imperial Timesetter, Container of Perfection, and Embodiment of Dao"( 太上開天執符御歷含真體道玉皇大帝 Taishang Kaitian Yuli Hanhen Tidao Yuhuang Dadi ). Emperor Hui honored him as 'Supreme Highest Jade Emperor of the Heavens, Creator of Heaven, Holder of Talismans, Jade Timesetter, Container of Perfection, and Embodiment of Dao' ( 太上開天執符御歷含真體道昊天玉皇大帝 Taishang Kaitian Zhifu Yuli Hanzhen Tidao Haotian Yuhuang Dadi ). His complete name in Daoist scriptures is 'Most Venerable Highest Jade Emperor of All-Embracing Sublime Spontaneous Existence of the Heavenly Golden Palace" ( 昊天金闕無上至尊自然妙有彌羅至尊玉皇上帝 Haotian Jinque Wushang zhizun Ziran Miaoyou Miluo Zhizun Yuhuang Dadi ). According to the Original Deeds of the Lofty Jade Emperor ( 《高上玉皇本行經》 Gaoshang yuhuang Benxing Jing ), the Great Jade Emperor is the son of the King of the Pure Blissful Kingdom of Lofty Heavenly Lights and Ornaments ( 光嚴淨樂國王 Guanglian Jingle Guowang ) and of the Empress of Precious Moonlight ( 寶月光皇后 Bao Yueguang Huanghou ). At birth, the precious light of his glorious flames filled the country. He was smart and wise when young, and kind and benevolent when grown up. He devoted the entire state treasury to all sentient beings, the poor and suffering, the deserted and single, the hungry and disabled. After the death of the King of Pure Bliss ( 淨樂王 Jingle Wang ), he ruled ably as crown prince and told his ministers that, feeling merciful for all sentient beings, he would abandon the throne and cultivate Dao on the Mountain of Universal Light and Fragrant Rocks ( 普明香嚴 Puming Xiangyang Shan ). After 3200 aeons, he attained to the station of Golden Immortality ( 金仙 Jinxian ) and was called 'Emperor of Spontaneous Enlightenment" ( 自然覺皇 Ziran Jue Huang ). After another billion aeons, he ascended to the station of Jade Emperor.
Emperor of Ten Thousand Spirits
The Jade Emperor is the emperor of all heavens, king of all Immortals, lord of saints, the highest divinity of the ten thousand spirits in the three realms and of all Immortals of the Three Grottoes ( 三洞仙真 Sandong Xianzhen ). He has the power to order the Immortals of the Nine Heavens and to invoke the spirits of the four seas and five sacred mountains. All the spirits follow and attend to him in queue, just like the emperor and his ministers in the human world. A poem of Bai Juyi says: "Immortals such as Anqi and Xianmen attend to him in queue like ministers. To his holy majesty I look up and bow to pay my sincere respect."
In Charge of the Dao of Heaven
The Jade Emperor is an avatar of the Three Pristine Ones. The relationship between them is like Emptiness ( 虛無 Xuwu ) preceding Subtle Being ( 妙有 Miaoyou ), Infinity ( 無極 Wuji ) preceding the Supreme Ultimate ( 太極 Taiji ), Non-Interference ( 無為 Wuwei ) preceding Interfering Action ( 有為 Youwei ). Therefore, the Jade Emperor is the master of the three fundamentals in charge of the pivot of Heaven, Earth and Man. The Jade Emperor sends the Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety ( 紫微北極大帝 Ziwei Beifi Dadi ) to administer the longitudes and latitudes of Heaven and Earth; the Great Emperor of the Highest Palace of Polaris ( 勾陳上宮大帝 Gouchen Shanggong Dadi ) to administer the Three Powers of Heaven, Earth, and Man and to control wars; and the Imperial God of Earth ( 后土皇地祇 Houtu Huang Di Qi ) to administer births, land, and rivers. In general, all things, Heaven, Earth, Yin and Yang, and creation, are in the charge of the Jade Emperor.
Worship in Temples
The holy birthday of the Jade Emperor is the 9th of the first month of the lunar calendar. On this day, Daoist temples hold a Golden Register Ritual Offering ( 金籙齋儀 Jinlu Zhaiyi ) called 'Jade Emperor Ritual' ( 玉皇會 Yuhuang Hui ). The attendants, Daoist or laymen, worship the Jade Emperor with the "Offering to Heaven" ( 齋天大禮 Qitian Dadi ) rite, to pray for Luck and Longevity. Folk people in Taiwan and Fujian, calling the Jade Emperor "Grandpa Heaven" ( 天公 Tiangong ), worship him on the 9th of the first lunar month. All members of the family, after fasting and bathing, burn incense, prostrate, offer food, and recite scriptures. In some places, operas are performed to please the deity. In north China, sacrifices to the Jade Emperor were held in the past, where an image of the Jade Emperor was paraded around the village. The 25th of the twelfth month is the legendary day when the Jade Emperor descends and inspects the human world; folk people and temples all welcome and see off the Jade Emperor by burning incense and reciting scriptures.
Welcoming the Jade Emperor
The Great Jade Emperor( 玉皇大帝 Yuhuang Dadi ) is one of the major Daoist deities. According to the Original Deeds of the Lofty Jade Emperor ( 高上玉皇本行集經 Gaoshang Yuhuang Benxing Jijing ), after the Supreme Sovereign of the Great Dao ( 太上大道君 Taishang Dadaojun ) gave an infant to the Empress of Precious Moonlight ( 寶月光皇后 Baoyueguang Huanghou ), the latter bore a son. When he grew up, he declined the throne and renounced his family for cultivation. Having cultivated for 3,200 kalpas, he attained Golden Immortality ( 金仙 Jinxian ). He taught various Buddhas to understand the orthodox Great Vehicle and approach the empty sublime Dao. After cultivating for another 100 million kalpas, he was ranked as the Jade Emperor. In the Daoist pantheon of Immortals, the Jade Emperor is inferior to the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清 Sanqing ) and leads the Four Heavenly Ministers ( 四御 Siyu ) (consisting of the Jade Emperor, the Great Heavenly Emperor Gou Chen ( 勾陳天皇大帝 Gouchen Tianhuang Dadi ), the North Pole Emperor of Purple Subtlety ( 北極紫微大帝 Beiji Ziwei Dadi ), and the Earth Emperor ( 后土皇地 Houtu Huangdi )), or is superior to the Four Heavenly Ministers (consisting of Gou Chen, the Purple Subtlety Constellation ( 紫微 Ziwei ), the God of Earth ( 后土 Houtu ) and the Great South Pole Emperor of Longevity ( 南極長生大帝 Nanji Changsheng Dadi )). The common people do not quite know the origin of the Jade Emperor. They just regard him as the dominator of Heaven and a most honorable spirit, so worshipping him is indispensable.
The ninth day of the first lunar month is said to be the birthday of the Jade Emperor. Usually in temples a grand Ritual Assembly ( 法會 Fahui ) is held to celebrate it while the people gather to burn incense. This ceremony is called the Jade Emperor Assembly. It can be very lively, since the Jade Emperor holds a very high position in Heaven, and therefore a large number of other divinities can be worshiped while worshipping him. One year before the Opium War started, Gong Zizhen, the well-known writer of the Qing dynasty, passed Zhejiang on his trip to the south. There he witnessed the local cult of the Jade Emperor and of the Wind Spirit ( 風神 Fengshen ) and Thunder Spirit ( 雷神 Leishen ), and saw ten thousand worshiping temples. Some Daoists asked him for petitions (documents for the worship of major lofty spirits, a special Daoist literary style in fixed form). Inspired, he wrote the Miscellaneous Poems of the Jihai Year ( 己亥雜詩 Jihai Zashi ), a masterpiece in the history of modern literature. It says, "Only in wind and thunder can the country show its vitality. Alas, the ten thousand horses are all muted! O Heaven! Bestir yourself, I beseech you, and send down men of all talents." "Send down men of all talents" is no doubt the call of the time, but it is also an inspiration from the magnificent spectacle of worshiping the Jade Emperor.
Though spectacular and extremely lively, the Jade Emperor Assembly is usually held at the hall of the Jade Emperor, and can hardly become a national festival. As for most of the people, they welcome the Jade Emperor once a year on Chinese New Year's Eve. It is said that the Great Jade Emperor makes an inspection tour every New Year's Eve and rewards or punishes people who do good or evil. Hence on that day, all families place incense tables and give offerings of vegetarian food to welcome the Jade Emperor's carriage. This custom is called Welcoming the Jade Emperor. As the people regard the Jade Emperor as the supreme venerable divinity in Heaven and some even directly call him Heavenly Grandpa ( 天公 Tiangong ), this activity is called Offering to Heaven ( 齋天 Zhaitian ) in the south of Jiangsu.
Concurrently with the folk activities of welcoming the Jade Emperor, there are conventional rituals of welcome and worship in Daoist temples. For example, in the White Cloud Temple ( 白雲觀 Baiyun Guan ) of Beijing, there is the Ritual to Welcome the Lord of Heaven ( 接天尊板 Jie Tianzun Ban ), which is a ritual for welcoming the Jade Emperor on New Year's Eve.