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worldly affairs, and devote himself entirely to meditation on divine things.
In one of the Sacred Books brought by the ambassadors, Bouddha is understood to refer to a master more ancient than himself, called by the Chinese Om-i-to, and by the Japanese Am-i-da. It is said this name, in Sanscrit, sig. nifies The Infinite. It is apparently a variation of Om, which Hindoos hold so peculiarly sacred as the Word which issued from the mouth of Brahma, and produced all things. In China, it is written thousands and thousands of times on all their holy places. In their prayers, they pronounce it with Fo, believing they can thus obtain remission of sins.
Phu-sa, a follower of Bouddha, who lived early in our fourth century, is worshipped in China, as one of those saints who had become a Spirit of Light, and voluntarily descended to earth again from motives of benevolence. He is called “The son of Bouddha, born of his mouth," because his allegorical writings are supposed to have perfected the doctrines of his master. Bodhidhorma, another of his followers, who fled from persecution in Hindostan, in our fifth century, took refuge in China, where he was received with distinguished favour by the emperor, and became his spiritual teacher. His name is held in religious veneration, and his office of imperial counsellor was the origin of an order of priests still existing, called Spiritual Princes of the Law.
The emperors of the Tartar dynasty have all embraced Lamaism, a branch of Buddhism, which will be presently explained. But whatever may be their personal predilections, the law obliges them to conform to the rites and ceremonies prescribed in the ancient Sacred Books of China, in common with all magistrates and public officers. The festivals of the old religion are scrupulously observed. Every new emperor guides the plough with his own hands, to raise grain for an offering to Chang-ti. At the winter solstice, the last week in December, and the summer solstice, the last week in June, all the shops are shut up, the courts are closed, and no person is permitted to begin a long journey. The religious solemnities celebrated at those seasons are called Festivals of Gratitude to Tien. At the spring equinox, they set apart a day to implore the blessing of Tien on the fruits of the earth. At the autumnal equinox, they offer the first-fruits of the harvest, and return thanks.
Though the worship of Fo has been the prevailing religion of all parts of the Chinese empire for more than fifteen hundred years, it has never gained favour with a majority of their learned men, who are mostly of the school of Confucius. One of them argues thus: “This person, so cried up, who has come out of the West into China, passed, as they say, nine years on a mountain, in continual contemplation. He remained immoveable, with his eyes fixed upon the wall, without changing his position. Suppose every private person should take it into his head to follow this example, who would take care of cultivating the fields, and making the useful products of the loom? Whence would they have garments, and food to support life? Can it be imagined that a doctrine whose practice, if it were universal, would put the whole empire in confusion, is the true doctrine?" A letter from one of them, addressed to the emperor, says: “If the worship of Fo is tolerated, the people will go by hundreds to give their money and clothing to the priests; and I fear that young and old will finish by entirely neglecting their occupations. If you do not forbid these things, there will soon be persons who will mutilate their members to offer them to Fo, thus destroy. ing our morality, and exciting the ridicule of people around us.” Another writes thus to a believer in the popular doctrines: “If you do not burn paper in honour of Fo, if you do not place offerings upon his altar, he will be angry with you, and make punishment fall on your heads. Your god Fo must then be a miserable creature.”
But these are merely the opinions of the learned. The populace have always been so attached to the religion of Fo, that the Court of Rites have deemed it prudent to exVOL. I.-19
press no opinion against it. When they meet annually at Pekin, they merely condemn heresy in general terms, and leave the people free to follow their own opinions, provided they do not infringe upon any of the established laws of the empire. Many, who consider themselves disciples of Confucius, have mixed his maxims with various ideas borrowed from the Sacred Books of Fo. The women are almost universally attached to the popular worship. They have an altar in the most honourable part of the 'house, covered with gilded images of gods and saints; and not unfrequently husbands, who profess the old conservative faith of China, are seen bowing the knee to these household deities. One of the most universal of these images is that of Shing Mou, the Mother Goddess; the same title bestowed by ancient Egyptians on Isis with her infant Horus. It represents a woman with a glory round her head, and a babe in her arms, or seated on her knee. Tradition describes her as a virgin, who conceived by simple contact with a water-lily. The child, exposed in his infancy, was found and brought up by poor fishermen. He became a great man, and performed wonderful miracles. In wealthy houses, the sacred image of the Mother Goddess is carefully kept in a recess behind the altar, veiled with a silken screen.
Every Chinese believes he has an attendant Spirit, his own peculiar guardian. An image of it is kept in the house and worshipped three times a day, with prayers, and the fragrant incense of sandal wood. Sun, moon, fire, water, earth, and every department of nature, has a presiding deity. So has each trade and profession. Homage is often paid to some high mountain, or remarkably large tree, from the idea that a powerful Spirit resides therein. The image of a great Dragon, or monstrous Serpent, occurs everywhere in their temples, and on domestic altars. They say it lives in the sky, and has great influence over the affairs of men. Originally it doubtless represented the constellation of the Serpent, and they preserve this fragmentary form of the old astronomical religion of India, Chaldea, and Egypt, without understanding the idea it embodied.
According to the statements of Jesuit missionaries in China, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls sometimes manifests itself in singular results. Father Le Comte says: “One day two priests of Fo passing the dwelling of a rich peasant saw three large ducks before the door. They immediately stopped before the house and began to weep bitterly. The peasant's wife came out to inquire the cause of their grief. They replied: 'We know that the souls of our fathers have passed into those creatures, and the fear that you may kill them renders us wretched.' The woman promised they should be carefully tended, and neither killed nor sold.But they answered: 'Perhaps your husband may not be so compassionate as you are; and if any accident should happen, it would be a great affliction to us.' After some further conversation, the woman felt such sympathy with their filial anxiety, that she gave them the ducks."
The same writer says: “They called upon me one day to baptize a sick person, an old man of seventy, who lived upon a small pension given him by the emperor. When I entered his room, he said: 'I thank you, Father, that you are going to deliver me from a heavy punishment.' I replied: "That is not all. Baptism not only saves people from hell, but conducts them to a life of blessedness.' 'I do not comprehend what you say,' rejoined the invalid; and perhaps I have not sufficiently explained myself
. I have for some time past lived on the emperor's benevolence. The priests, who are well acquainted with what happens to the soul after death, assure me that I shall be obliged to repay the emperor's generosity by becoming a post-borse to bring despatches from the provinces to court. They exhort me to perform my duty well, when I assume this new form of being, and to take care not to stumble, or wince, or bite. They tell me if I travel well, eat little, and am patient, I may by that means excite the compassion of the deities, who often convert a good beast into a man
of quality, and make him a considerable Mandarin. I cannot think of all this without trembling. Sometimes I dream that I am barnessed, and ready to set out at the first stroke of the rider. I then wake in a sweat, and am very unhappy, not being able to determine whether I am a man or a horse. Alas! what will become of me, when I shall be a horse in reality? They tell me, Father, that people of your religion are not subject to such miseries; that men continue to be men in the next world, as they are in this. I beseech you to receive me among you. I am ready to embrace your religion ; for, whatever it may cost me, I had rather be a Christian than become a beast." The Jesuit Father baptized him, and the poor old man departed from this life happy in the belief that he should not be obliged to reappear on earth in the form of a posthorse.
In some places assemblies of women are held, to perform certain religious ceremonies as a preparation for death. A venerable old priest comes to preside over the meeting. He arranges the sacred images, and covers the walls of the house with paintings representing the various torments of the wicked after they leave the body. He sings anthems to Fo, while the women strike small kettles at intervals, and devoutly repeat the names of Omi-to and Fo. These festivals continue seven days, during which their principal care is to prepare and consecrate treasures for the other world. They build small houses with paper, and fill them with a great number of boxes painted and gilded. In these boxes they put hundreds of little rolls of gold and silver paper. They secure them with padlocks of paper, and fasten the house carefully. When the person who made the house dies, they burn it, with all its chests and keys, with many solemn ceremonials, for which the priests are paid. They believe the house will become a real house in the other world, and the rolls of paper will become genuine ingots of gold and silver. In the house they expect to reside, and with the treasures they hope to propitiate the eighteen guardians of souls in the regions of the dead.