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

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National festivals—Festivals in honour of celestial beings—In honour of the Buddhas and Bodhisattwas—In honour of characters in Chinese Buddhist history—Supplemental anniversaries—Singhalese Buddhists keep a different day for Buddha's birthday—In the T‘ang dynasty Hindoo astronomers reformed the calendar—Gaudamsiddha—The week of India and Babylon known to the Chinese—Word mit for Sunday—Peacock Sutra—The Hindoo Rahu and Ketu.

ONE of the most instructive illustrations of a religion is its calendar. Not only do the fasts and festivals kept by a people point out in succession who are the personages held by them in the highest honour; they also contain an epitome of the history and doctrines of the religion they believe, and especially aid in opening to observation the popular religious life.

The work called Ts‘ing-kwei, "Regulations of the Priesthood," contains instructions for the observance of all fasts and festivals through the year. From it are extracted the following details of anniversaries:—


Emperor's birthday.—The ceremonial for this anniversary lasts a week, embracing three days before and three after the day in question. It is called Sheng-tsie, "Sacred festival."

Empress's birthday.

Day of receiving an imperial message at the monastery.—Six persons are sent out "five li" (nearly two miles) to

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meet it. On its approach, the monks, headed by their chief, issue from the monastery, and bow their foreheads to the ground three times.

Four monthly feasts.—These are at the new and full moons, and on the 8th and 23d of the month. They are called Kin-ming sï-chai, "The four feasts illustriously decreed." The last two words refer to a decree of an emperor of the Sui dynasty in A.D. 584, requiring the special observance of the monthly feasts in the 1st, 5th, and 9th months; because then the great Southern continent was prayed for, in which China is included.

Anniversaries of emperors’ deaths.—Those of the present dynasty only are included.


Day of worshipping the Devas (Kung-T‘ien).—All the chief personages, whether Devas, spirits, demons, Asuras, Rakshas, &c., of the Hindoo older mythology, are worshipped on this occasion. This observance rests for its authority on the Kin-kwang-ming-king, "The Bright Sutra of Golden Light."

Eclipses of the Sun and Moon.—In the services for these days, the sun and moon are addressed as "Bodhisattwas" (P‘u-sa), and the power of Buddha is invoked to deliver them. Hence the name of the service, Hu-jï, Hu-yue, "Delivering the sun and moon." The prayers offered for them are considered as gratitude for their light.

Sacrifice to the Moon, 8th month, 15th day.—The ground for this observance is that this day is, according to national tradition, the moon's birthday. As in the service for eclipses, Namo, "Honour to," the introductory formula of worship, is used in addressing the moon. She is called in full Yue-kung-t‘ai-yin-tsun-t‘ien-p‘u-sa, "The moon in her mansion, luminary of night, honoured Deva and Bodhisattwa."

Prayer for fine weather.—Prayer to various Buddhas, and other divinities.

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Prayer for rain.—Worship is performed towards the East, and prayers offered to the Dragon king, the various Buddhas, &c.

Prayer for snow.—Ditto.

Prayer against locusts.—To various Devas and spirits.

Prayer to Wei-to (Veda).—The Deva Wei-to is the protector of the Buddhist religion. When the supplies of the monastery fail, he is prayed to, to replenish them. He is chief general of the army of the four Mahadevas.

Birthday of Wei-to, 6th month, 3d day; according to some the 13th day.—Wei-to is a deity of Hindoo mythology, who protects three of the four continents into which the world is divided. (See Remusat's Notes to Foĕ kouĕ ki.)

Birthdays of the divine protectors of the monasteries.—They are three:—(1.) Hwa-kwang, 9th month, 28th day; (2.) Lung-wang, or Naga-raja, the "Dragon King;" (3.) Kwan-ti, the "God of war," 5th month, 13th day, according to the common account; but according to his biography in the national annals, 6th month, 24th day. These three personages take the place of eighteen worshipped in India. One of them is the well-known hero of the "Three Kingdoms." They receive the same honours that are awarded to Wei-to.

Birthday of the Kitchen god, 6th month, 24th day, 8th month, 3d day, and 12th month, 24th day.—The Buddhists say, to excuse themselves for adopting a Tauist superstition, that the Kitchen god they worship is not the Tsau-kiün venerated commonly by the people, but a king of the "Kinnaras" (a fabulous race of celestial beings), who became a Chinese priest in the T‘ang dynasty, and was appointed at death to preside over the vegetarian diet of the monks. This is a lame defence of what is evidently a self-interested accommodation to popular notions.


Birthday of Shakyamuni, 4th month, 8th day.—He is also called Buddha, "Tathâgata" or Julai, and Gautama,

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and is revered as Pun-shï, the "Teacher of the world during the present kalpa."

Anniversary of Shakyamuni's elevation to the rank of Buddha, 12th month, 8th day.—The phrase in use is Ch‘eng-tau, "Attained the summit of knowledge and virtue."

Anniversary of Buddha's entrance into the Nirvâna, 2d month, 15th day.

Birthday of Yo-shï Fo (The Buddha who instructs in healing, Bhaishajyaguru Buddha), 9th month, 30th day.—The world governed by this Buddha is in the East.

Birthday of O-mi-to Fo or "Amida" (Amitabha) Buddha, 11th month, 17th day.—The Buddha who rules in the universe to the west of that governed by Shakya, and grants the request of all those who pray to him to admit them to the Western heaven.

Birthday of Mi-li Fo (Maitreya Buddha), 1st month, 1st day.—The Buddha who is to succeed Shakyamuni in the government of the world. Maitreya was visited in one of the paradises by Shakyamuni, and foretold his destiny.

Birthday of the female Buddha, Chun-ti, 3d month, 6th day.—Great powers of sorcery are attributed to this personage.

Birthday of "Wen-shu p‘u-sa" (Manjusiri Bodhisattwa), 4th month, 4th day.—One of the Bodhisattwas of Northern Buddhism.

Birthday of "P‘u-hien p‘u-sa" (Samantabhadra), 2d month, 21st day.—A fictitious Bodhisattwa of Northern Buddhism.

Birthday of "Kwan-shï-yin p‘u-sa" (Avalôkitêshwara), 2d month, 19th day.—This fabulous Bodhisattwa has in China been usually represented with female attributes. In the Fa-hwa-king, Kwan-yin is described as being able to assume any form at pleasure, whether that of Buddhas, Devas, men, or others, and as being guided in such voluntary metamorphoses by a constant desire to proclaim the Buddhist doctrine to those who need it, in the form most likely to effect the object. Kwan-yin is thus able to save

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any of the inhabitants of the Saha (or Saba) world, i.e., the present race of mankind. When Kwan-yin is translated, not inappropriately, "Goddess of mercy," it should be remembered that female attributes are only temporarily assumed by the Bodhisattwa in question. (See the "Kwan-yin" section, near the end of the Fa-hwa-king.)

Birthday of Ta-shï-chï p‘u-sa, 7th month, 13th day.—The position of this Bodhisattwa is to the right of Amitabha Buddha, while Kwan-yin takes the left. They are styled together, "the Three Sages of the West" (Si-fang-san-sheng).

Birthday of Ti-tsang p‘u-sa, 7th month, 30th day.


Anniversary of the death of "Bodhidharma" (Ta-mo), 10th month, 5th day.—The first of the six patriarchs.

Death of Pe-Chang, 1st month, 19th day.—He was a teacher of Bodhidharma's system in the T‘ang dynasty. He wrote the work Ts‘ing-kwei from which these notices of fasts and festivals are taken.

Death of Chï-k‘ai, 11th month, 24th day.—The founder of the T‘ien-t‘ai school.

Death of Hien-sheu, 11th month, 14th day.—A founder of a school bearing his name, and advocating the "Great Development" system (Ta-ch‘eng).

Death of Tau-siuen, 10th month, 3d day.—A founder of the Discipline school.

Death of Hwei-yuen, 8th month, 6th day.—A founder of the Tsing-tu school.

Death of the founder of the monastery,—also of a priest's own religious instructor, of the priests who admitted him to the vows, and of his parents.


Commencement of summer (Li-hia), 4th month, 16th day.—This anniversary is traced to the usage of the earliest Hindoo Buddhists, who, when summer arrived, came together

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and remained associated under strict monastic rule during the hot months. This period over, they began their begging excursions afresh.

"Yü-lan-p‘en" (U-lam) ceremony, for feeding hungry ghosts, 7th month, 15th day.—The authority for this festival is the Yü-lan-p‘en Sutra, translated into Chinese about A.D. 270. It terminates the summer, as the preceding began it.

End of summer, 7th month, 16th day.

Commencement and end of winter (Li-tung, Kiai-tung), 10th month, 15th day, and 1st month, 15th day.

First day of the year.—Special worship.

Birthday of Shakra, 1st month, 9th day.—Shakra, or Indra, god of the atmosphere, is, in the modern editions of Pe-chang-ts‘ing-kwei, "Manual of Buddhist Regulations and Festivals," identified with the well-known Tauist divinity Yü-ti. Oriental religions are so mutually complimentary, that they sometimes adopt each other's divinities without scruple. The Sanscrit 'Indra Shakra' is rendered in Chinese Ti-shï (formerly shak).

Birthday of "Yo-wang p‘u-sa" (Bhâishajyarâja), "Medical king and Bodhisattwa," 4th month, 15th day.

Birthday of the Bodhisattwa "Lung-shu" (Nagarjuna), or "Dragon-tree," 7th month, 25th day.—He was the fourteenth patriarch, and author of the "Hundred Discourses," one of the most noted of the Buddhist Shastras.

Birthday of the ancient Buddha Jan-teng, "Light lamp" (Dipankara Buddha), 8th month, 22d day.—Shakyamuni in a former kalpa was a disciple of this Buddha.

Winter solstice.—Special worship.

Birthday of the Bodhisattwa Hwa-yen, 12th month, 29th day.

The method of observing these anniversaries, and the prayers to be used, are very minutely detailed in the book from which these notices are translated.

The dates are those of the lunar months of the Chinese national almanac.

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It may be doubted whether more than a very few of them are identical with the festivals of the Southern Buddhists, viz., those of Ceylon, Siam, and Birmah, there being several of the great Bodhisattwas who are not mentioned in works by foreign authors treating of the Buddhism of those countries.

In Ceylon the prevalent legend of Gautama's life states that he was born on the day of the full moon in the second month of spring. This differs irreconcilably.

In this popular calendar, there is no mention of anything astronomical; yet in the T‘ang dynasty Buddhist calculators from India were invited to undertake the improvement of the imperial calendar.

Gaudamsiddha, in the eighth century, published a work called Kieu-chï-li. It is a translation from a Hindoo original. In it the days of the week are apportioned among the planets in the following order: Yung-hwo, "Mars;" Ch‘en-sing, "Mercury;" Sui-sing, "Jupiter;" T‘ai-pe, "Venus;" Chen-sing, "Saturn." 1

These planets, with the sun and moon, form the ts‘i-yau, "seven bright celestial objects." They constitute the mythological week of seven days, which sprang up in Babylonia, and spread to India, and also to Europe in the days of the Roman empire.

Some Chinese almanacs call Sunday the day of Mit, the Persian "Mithras," a name for the sun. Mit is spoken of as a Hwei-hwei word. This term Hwei-hwei is one of the names for the Persian language among the Chinese. It is the word ouighour.

In the Kung-ch‘io-king, "Peacock Sutra," the days of the week are also given. This work is a translation by a Chinese priest named Yi-tsing. When Mr. Wylie was visiting Peking on one occasion, he went with me to a monastery to consult the "Peacock Sutra" in the library.

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[paragraph continues] We were courteously received, and allowed to take it home with us for a few days.

Many superstitious beliefs and observances native to India were imported to China by the Hindoo Buddhists. They taught much that was not at all purely Buddhist. The education they received embraced a wide range. Metaphysics, astronomy, medicine, and other subjects were taught in India in the old times of Buddhist prosperity, probably much as they are now in the lamaseries of Mongolia.

Thus the ascending and descending nodes of the moon's orbit were known as two monsters, called "Rahu" and "Ketu," in modern Chinese, Lo-heu and Ki-tu. At eclipses, the Chinese story of a wild dog eating the sun and moon is derived from this piece of Hindoo mythology. In native almanacs these names are preserved in the nomenclature of astrology, and the conception is encouraged that the earth's shadow crossing the moon is a dark heavenly body, and a sort of planet of a dark nature, becoming risible only at eclipses.

The Indian year of three seasons is described, but no attempt has been made to interfere with the Chinese seasons of three months each. The Buddhists have arranged their calendar of festivals and fasts to suit the Chinese months.


211:1 See Chinese Recorder, 1872. Mr. Wylie, "On the Knowledge of a weekly Sabbath in China," pp. 40-45. But add to Mr. Wylie's very full and interesting statements, that Mit is "Mithras" here, and in page 8.

Next: Chapter XI. Relation of Buddhism to the Older Hindoo Mythology