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Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, [1893], at

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Yü-lan-hwei, "Association for giving food to the dead"—Worship of ancestors—Liturgical services in the houses of the rich, for the liberation of the souls of the dead from hell—Village processions—Based on the old rural processions of classical times—Masquerades—Plays—Pilgrimages to Miau-feng shan—Pilgrims wearing iron chains—Supposed efficacy of the prayers of the priests—Zeal of the laity in promoting pilgrimages to celebrated shrines.

A STRIKING example of the popular influence of Buddhism is found in the associations called Yü-lan-hwei. The day for feeding hungry ghosts, the professed object of this association, is the 15th of the seventh month. The original hungry ghosts were the Hindoo Pretas. In China the hungry ghosts are the spirits of the dead, especially of ancestors. Buddhists are appealed to on behalf of the dead who have no descendants to worship them, and feed them by sacrifices. Thus the sentiment of compassion for the neglected dead and of ancestors is ingeniously made by Buddhism into an instrument for promoting its own influence among the people.

The belief in the metempsychosis among the Hindoos connected itself with the Chinese sacrifices to ancestors. The two things combined formed an engine of great power for affecting the public mind.

When the rich die in Peking, priests are invited to read liturgies for three days in their houses. Eight men are

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sent. A priest told me that they read five books in particular on one occasion recently, when I made inquiry. They were the Leng-yen-king, the Kin-kang-king, the Fa-hwa-king (Lotus of the Good Law), the Ti-tsang-king, and the Ta pei-ch‘an, a Tantra of the T‘ang dynasty. They read for about six hours each day, with a particular intonation, which is determined by a certain musical notation and is learned specially. They took with them candlesticks, a picture of Buddha, and the wooden fish, and had no musical instruments. Their object was by prayers to liberate as early as possible the soul of the dead from misery. Buddhism found village processions of a religious character already existing in the country, and accepted them so far as seemed fitting. When it is considered that in the old religion of Greece and Rome, rural processions were in those countries a favourite amusement mixed with religious ideas, the examination of similar customs in China is of special interest.

In the discourses of Confucius it is said, that when the agricultural labourers came out to drink wine, or to perform a ceremony intended to drive away pestilential diseases, and the old men appeared leaning on their crooks, Confucius himself also came from his house in his court robes and stood on the east side on the stone steps. This was an indication of his desire to conform to the habits of the country. He abhorred all irregularity. The play or spectacle here alluded to was a procession of singers. It was called No.

The custom at present representing the ceremony of the No is called Yang-ko. The performers, about ten in number, go about the villages and hamlets on high stilts in fancy costumes. One is a fisherman, another is a wood-gatherer called Chai-wang, "Prince of fuel." There is a "begging priest," or ho-shang, and an old woman called tso-tsï, and some others. They sing as they go. The word ko is "song," and yang is "to raise." The "stilts" are called kau-k‘iau. These processions are seen in the

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country at the end of February. The old custom of Confucius’ age has died out, to be revived afresh in this modern form with a Buddhist priest as one of the performers. It is regarded by the literati as a mere theatrical performance and an amusement of the rural population. Some trace it to the son of Lieu Pei, who reigned in Sï-ch‘wen, A.D. 280. But then there were few priests, which is an objection to this view.

In the Cheu-li, the ancient sovereigns of China or their deputies are represented as performing certain ceremonies for the removal of pestilential diseases four times in the year—once for each season. The view then held was that the wen-yi or "sickness," prevailing at certain times of the year, is caused by demons called li or dit.

These customs could only be introduced on their present basis at a time when Buddhism was rife and shorn priests were found in every village. Probably they are earlier than the T‘ang dynasty. Some natives think they belong to the Sung, because it is customary to represent in masquerade the robbers of the novel called Shuî-hu, the scene of which is laid at the mountain Liang-shan in Shan-tung. These robbers all at last submit to control, and are made officers of the government, which was that of the Sung dynasty, when Pien-liang was the capital. But the main object of these village amusements being religious, it is perhaps better to regard them as Buddhist, and as parallel with the theatrical shows of the lamas in their monasteries in Peking and Mongolia.

Buddhist nunneries in Peking have theatrical shows once a year. A large mat shed is erected, and play actors are invited to perform an ordinary play. The nuns wait on the spectators of the play, and the money collected helps to defray the expenses of the nunnery for the current year. Plays are considered religious, because they are supposed to be performed to amuse the gods in whose temples they are performed.

Every year, in the third and ninth months,—our April

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and October,—a procession is organised in Peking to Miau-feng shan, a Buddhist place of pilgrimage; the journey to which by the pilgrims occupies three, four, or five days. Money is subscribed, and is placed in the hands of a committee who erect lofty mat sheds on the line of route for the entertainment of the pilgrims. The worship consists of bowings, kneelings, head-knockings, burning incense, and offering of money to the attendant priest. Large pits are filled with copper money to a depth of two, three, or five feet. With the money thus obtained the priests return to their monasteries, leaving this particular temple shut up and unoccupied at the end of the season, till the time of pilgrimage comes round again, six months later, in the autumn or spring as the case may be. The chief divinity is Pi-hia Yuen-chiün, a Tauist personage, but the temple is cared for by Buddhist priests. It is placed among the mountains to the north west of Peking.

On one occasion I passed a pilgrim going from Peking to Miau-feng shan to fulfil a vow. He was a Manchu of twenty-seven years of age. He had been ill, and while ill had vowed to walk in chains to the temple and back. An iron chain bound his feet and hands. It was borrowed from a temple where such gear is kept for the occasional use of pilgrims.

The next day I met another such pilgrim returning, but stronger in body and livelier in appearance than the one I conversed with the day before. Both were attended by a companion, and both wore a red dress in token of their being malefactors; for the pilgrims style themselves on these occasions criminals, and the chain is a sign of voluntary bondage undertaken in the spirit of confession of demerit. They at first look like prisoners in charge of police, but their submissive air and the red dress show that they are devotees.

Three sisters, called the three niang-niang, are worshipped at Miau-feng shan. The second of the three is chiefly

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worshipped there. The eldest is honoured at some place in Shan-tung with special reverence.

The prayers of the ho-shang are supposed to have the power to break open the caverns of hell. They chant together in the houses of the rich to which they are invited, proceeding through a selection of favourite liturgical books. This is called tso-kung-te, "performing meritorious acts." Every act of merit is a fu-yuen, "cause of happiness." There never yet was a good man whose goodness was left without reward. The prayers of the priest must have their effect. The chanting of the books cannot fail to bring happiness. Such is the operation of the karma, or "moral necessity."

I conversed, in the spring of 1879, with a woman who brought a sick member of her family to Peking to be under the care of Dr. Dudgeon, at the London Mission Hospital. They stayed for some days, and learned Christian doctrine from a Bible-woman. The woman had been an organiser of Buddhist pilgrimages to a monastery called Si-yü sï in the mountains west of Peking. She lives at a small town in the country two days’ travelling from the monastery. Every spring she has exerted her influence for many years past to persuade her neighbours to go together to this monastery to worship. She headed the arrangements. The procession usually consisted of mule carts to the number of about fifteen. She expressed her determination to give this up and become a Christian.

Lay Buddhists appear to be far more active in stirring up the people to go on pilgrimage to mountain temples than the priests themselves. When money is to be collected for the repair of temples, the priests take the lead; but in voluntary associations for a religious jaunt in spring or autumn weather, the zeal of the laity is much more conspicuous.

Next: Chapter XVII. Buddhist Literature