Saturday, April 30, 2011

Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak

The Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak, aka Lord of Mount Tai
(Image: Source unknown)

According to the Taoist tradition, the Birthday of the Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak (Mount Tai) (泰山東嶽大帝聖誕) is observed on the 28th day of the 3rd Chinese lunar month.  

The Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak (Mount Tai) (泰山東嶽大帝 Taishan Dongyue Dadi) is the great mountain god of Mount Tai located in Shandong province that is in charge of overseeing the life and death of mortal beings on earth. He is also known as the Lord of Mount Tai (泰山府君 Taishan Fujun). It is believed that the registers of life and death are administered by him and his divine assistants [One of his assistants, the General of the Five Paths, is discussed in another post found here]. According to the Taoist scheme of the Five Sacred Mountains (五嶽 Wuyue), there is a mountain corresponding to each of the five directions (east, south, west, north, center) and the five elements/energy phases (metal, wood, water, fire, earth) in Chinese metaphysics. Of the five, Mount Tai is considered the most important because it is located in the east. Because the eastern direction is where the sun rises, it is considered the place where all birth begins and where all things must return after death in the cycle of continual renewal. It is the boundary at where the forces of Yin and Yang (the negative and positive principles) converge and transform.

A colored ink painting of Mount Tai (Taishan)

When things are born, the Yang principle is strong and vibrant. As things age, the Yang is slowly depleted and the Yin becomes gradually more dominant. When things finally end in death, the Yang is totally exhausted and only the Yin abides. Things are then reborn and the cycle repeats again, just like the passing of the seasons. When Yin reaches it extreme, it transforms into Yang, and when Yang reaches its extreme, it transforms into Yin. This is a natural law that is true for all universal phenomena.

A contemporary tourist map of Mount Tai (Taishan) in Shandong province
(Image: Source unknown)

In the Chinese psyche, Mount Tai is considered the greatest of all mountains, and it is perceived as symbolically being the pathway to heaven. Emperors have made imperial pilgrimage to this mountain for centuries, and countless numbers of poets, politicians, and commoners have also scaled its height because it has always been a place of artistic inspiration and an important center of religious activity for both Buddhist and Taoist followers. The greatness of the mountain is reflected in the common Chinese saying “You have eyes, yet you do not recognize Mount Tai.” The Chinese idiom “Mount Tai and Big Dipper” refers to a person of high acclaim. And the famous Chinese historian Sima Qian (司馬遷) once said “Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather.”

In the scheme of the Ten Kings of the Underworld Courts, the Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak is also the supreme magistrate in charge of the seventh court where particular punishments are meted out to those that have committed certain sins (also mentioned in a previous post found here).

A scroll painting depicting the Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak
as supreme magistrate of the 7th Court of the Underworld/Purgatory
(Image: Source unknown)

Text © 2011 Harry Leong

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