Myths and Legends of China

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yang, the two great principles of nature.

The Taoist Triad

The Taoist Triad

In the third Heaven, T’ai Ch’ing, the Taoists place Lao Page 125Tzŭ, the promulgator of the true doctrine drawn up by Ling-pao T’ien-tsun. He is alternatively called Shên Pao, ‘the Treasure of the Spirits,’ and T’ai-shang Lao-chûn, ‘the Most Eminent Aged Ruler.’ Under various assumed names he has appeared as the teacher of kings and emperors, the reformer of successive generations.

This three-storied Taoist Heaven, or three Heavens, is the result of the wish of the Taoists not to be out-rivalled by the Buddhists. For Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood they substitute the Tao, or Reason, the Classics, and the Priesthood.

As regards the organization of the Taoist Heavens, Yü Huang has on his register the name of eight hundred Taoist divinities and a multitude of Immortals. These are all divided into three categories: Saints (Shêng-jên), Heroes (Chên-jên), and Immortals (Hsien-jên), occupying the three Heavens respectively in that order.

The Three Causes

Connected with Taoism, but not exclusively associated with that religion, is the worship of the Three Causes, the deities presiding over three departments of physical nature, Heaven, earth, and water. They are known by various designations: San Kuan, ‘the Three Agents’; San Yüan, ‘the Three Origins’; San Kuan Ta Ti, ‘the Three Great Emperor Agents’; and T’ai Shang San Kuan, ‘the Three Supreme Agents.’ This worship has passed through four chief phases, as follows:

The first comprises Heaven, earth, and water, T’ien, Ti, Shui, the sources of happiness, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from evil respectively. Each of these is called King-emperor. Their names, written on labels and offered to Heaven (on a mountain), earth (by burial), and Page 126water (by immersion), are supposed to cure sickness. This idea dates from the Han dynasty, being first noted about A.D. 172.

The second, San Yüan dating from A.D. 407 under the Wei dynasty, identified the Three Agents with three dates of which they were respectively made the patrons. The year was divided into three unequal parts: the first to the seventh moon; the seventh to the tenth; and the tenth to the twelfth. Of these, the fifteenth day of the first, seventh, and tenth moons respectively became the three principal dates of these periods. Thus the Agent of Heaven became the principal patron of the first division, honoured on the fifteenth day of the first moon, and so on.

The third phase, San Kuan, resulted from the first two being found too complicated for popular favour. The San Kuan were the three sons of a man, Ch’ên Tzŭ-ch’un, who was so handsome and intelligent that the three daughters of Lung Wang, the Dragon-king, fell in love with him and went to live with him. The eldest girl was the mother of the Superior Cause, the second of the Medium Cause, and the third of the Inferior Cause. All these were gifted with supernatural powers. Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun canonized them as the Three Great Emperor Agents of Heaven, earth, and water, governors of all beings, devils or gods, in the three regions of the universe. As in the first phase, the T’ien Kuan confers happiness, the Ti Kuan grants remission of sins, and the Shui Kuan delivers from evil or misfortune.

The fourth phase consisted simply in the substitution by the priests for the abstract or time-principles of the three great sovereigns of ancient times, Yao, Shun, and Yü. The literati, proud of the apotheosis of their ancient Page 127rulers, hastened to offer incense to them, and temples, San Yüan Kung, arose in very many parts of the Empire.

A variation of this phase is the canonization, with the title of San Yüan or Three Causes, of Wu-k’o San Chên Chün, ‘the Three True Sovereigns, Guests of the Kingdom of Wu.’ They were three Censors who lived in the reign of King Li (Li Wang, 878–841 B.C.) of the Chou dynasty. Leaving the service of the Chou on account of Li’s dissolute living, they went to live in Wu, and brought victory to that state in its war with the Ch’u State, then returned to their own country, and became pillars of the Chou State under Li’s successor. They appeared to protect the Emperor Chên Tsung when he was offering the Fêng-shan sacrifices on T’ai Shan in A.D. 1008, on which occasion they were canonized with the titles of Superior, Medium, and Inferior Causes, as before, conferring upon them the regencies of Heaven, earth, and water respectively.

Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun

Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun, or the First Cause, the Highest in Heaven, generally placed at the head of the Taoist triad, is said never to have existed but in the fertile imagination of the Lao Tzŭist sectarians. According to them Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun had neither origin nor master, but is himself the cause of all beings, which is why he is called the First Cause.

As first member of the triad, and sovereign ruler of the First Heaven, Yü Ch’ing, where reign the saints, he is raised in rank above all the other gods. The name assigned to him is Lo Ching Hsin. He was born before all beginnings; his substance is imperishable; it is formed essentially of uncreated air, air a se, invisible and without Page 128perceptible limits. No one has been able to penetrate to the beginnings of his existence. The source of all truth, he at each renovation of the worlds—that is, at each new kalpa—gives out the mysterious doctrine which confers immortality. All who reach this knowledge attain by degrees to life eternal, become refined like the spirits, or instantly become Immortals, even while upon earth.