Chinese Religion

Introduction Beliefs History Holidays Rituals Symbols Timeline

Article Info

published: 1/18/05

Taoist Deities

Traditional/Folk Deities

One common type of Chinese deity is the "place god" or T'u-ti (Pinyin: Tudi). The primary characteristic of a place god is the limitation of his jurisdiction to a specific location, like a bridge, home, street, or field. A T'u-ti is always subject to the Ch'eng Huang, the spiritual magistrate of the city.

A T'u-ti is often a deified historical person who had assisted a specific community during his lifetime. It is believed that if the person is deified and sacrificed to, he will be moved to continue his assistance from the spirit world. If misfortunes occur in a location dedicated to a T'u-ti, the T'u-ti is believed to have lost interest and a new patron is chosen.

Ghosts and Spirits

In Chinese thought, the world is populated by a vast number of spirits, both good and evil. Such spirits include nature demons (kuei-shen), goblins, fairies and ghosts. Because demons are believed to avoid light, many rituals involving fire and light have developed, such as bonfires, firecrackers, and torches.

Body and Soul

The ancient Chinese believed in a dual soul. The lower, sensitive soul disappears with death, but the rational soul (hun) survives death and is the object of ancestor worship.

Perhaps the most important Chinese concept related to the body and soul is the idea of ch'i. At its simplest, ch'i means breath, air or vapor, but in Chinese religious belief it is life energy or life-force. It is believed that every person is allotted a specified amount of ch'i and he or she must strengthen, control and increase it in order to live a long life. Many Taoist exercises focus on regulation and increase of one's ch'i. In the west, the most well-known example of such a practice is T'ai chi.

Afterlife

The Chinese conception of the afterlife is based on a combination of Chinese folk religions, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism.

At the moment of death, it is believed that one's spirit is taken by messengers to the god of walls and moats, Ch'eng Huang, who conducts a kind of preliminary hearing. Those found virtuous may go directly to one of the Buddhist paradises, to the dwelling place of the Taoist immortals, or the tenth court of hell for immediate rebirth.

After 49 days, sinners descend to hell, located at the base of Mount Meru. There they undergo a fixed period of punishment in one or more levels of hell. The duration of this punishment may be reduced by the intercession of the merciful Ti-ts'ang. When the punishment is complete, the souls in hell drink an elixir of oblivion in preparation for their next reincarnation. They then climb on the wheel of transmigration, which takes them to their next reincarnation, or, in an alternative account, they are thrown off the bridge of pain into a river that sweeps them off to their next life.

 

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