Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dharmapala Weituo

Dharmapala Weituo
(Image: Original source unknown)

Weituo (韋馱) is a Dharmapala (護法神 Hufa Shen; guardian deity) in the Chinese Buddhist tradition. A Dharmapala can be either of two types: A heavenly deity, or a manifestation of an enlightened being (a buddha or bodhisattva) – that serves as a defender and protector of the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) in general, and of Buddhist monasteries and practitioners in particular. In the case of Weituo, he is generally regarded as a great heavenly general who fights malevolent forces and protects the sanctity of Buddhist monasteries. He is at times referred to as General Weituo (韋馱將軍 Weituo Jiangjun), but more commonly and respectfully as Bodhisattva Weituo (韋馱菩薩 Weituo Pusa). His full title is Dharmapala Weituo the Honored Celestial Being and Bodhisattva (護法韋馱尊天菩薩 Hufa Weituo Zuntian Pusa). Even though Weituo is generally regarded as a heavenly being but not yet a fully enlightened one, the term bodhisattva is appended to his name and title as an honorific.

In the Golden Light Sutra (金光明經 Jinguang Ming Jing; Suvarnaprabhasa Sutra), Weituo is listed as one of the twenty-four heavenly deities that guard the Buddhist teachings (also discussed here).

Chinese Buddhist depiction of Weituo
(Image: Original source unknown)

Weituo also appears in two revelatory texts authored by the famous 7th century Vinaya (monastic discipline) master Daoxuan (道宣). One is the Record of Spiritually Miraculous Transmissions to Vinaya Master Daoxuan (道宣律師感通錄 Daoxuan Lushi Gantong Lu), and the other is the Narrative of Spiritually Miraculous Transmissions on Matters of Monastic Discipline (律相感通傳 Luxiang Gantong Zhuan). According to the revelations, Weituo is a heavenly general under the authority of Virudhaka (增長天王 Zengzhang Tianwang), the southern heavenly king in the group of Dharmapalas known collectively as the Four Heavenly Kings (四大天王 Sida Tianwang). In another place however, it is also indicated that Weituo is an eighth-level bodhisattva (Note: There are ten levels of bodhisattvahood until one reaches the complete enlightenment of a buddha).

In the Chinese Buddhist tradition, Weituo is depicted as a young man with martial valor attired in the uniform of a military general who holds a vajra sword that is used to subdue demonic forces.

Chinese Buddhist depiction of Weituo
(Image: Original source unknown)

In the traditional standard layout of a Chinese Buddhist monastery, the shrine of Weituo is always located right behind the shrine of Maitreya Buddha – the first shrine inside the Heavenly Kings Hall (天王殿 Tianwang Dian) that one encounters when first entering a monastery. The shrine of Weituo always faces inwards towards the main prayer hall – the Precious Hall of the Great Hero (大雄寶殿 Daxiong Baodian) which enshrines the central image of Shakyamuni Buddha.

A statue of Dharmapala Weituo
(Image: Original source unknown)

On some shrines dedicated to Shakyamuni Buddha, or any other buddhas or enlightened bodhisattvas, the statue of Weituo is also commonly seen in a pair with Guan Yu (關羽), also known in Chinese Buddhism as Dharmapala Sangharama Bodhisattva (護法伽藍聖眾菩薩 Hufa Qielan Shengzhong Pusa). In this type of layout, both Dharmapala figures flank the central image of worship as guardian warriors.

In the Chinese Buddhist tradition, the Holy Day of Weituo (韋馱聖誕 Weituo Shengdan) is observed on the 3rd day of the 6th Chinese lunar month.

Research on a pre-Buddhist antecedent for Weituo shows that he is associated with, and in all probability, derived from the Indian war god Skanda – the leader and commander of the mighty celestial armies. In the Indian Vedic tradition, Skanda is also known by his alternate names Kartikeya, KumaraMurugan, Subramanya, and many more others.

Traditional Indian depiction of Murugan, a deity associated with Skanda/Weituo
(Image: Original source unknown)

The Lord Murugan Statue at the Batu Caves in Selangor, Malaysia
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In some other sources, Weituo is also connected with Vajrapani (金剛手菩薩 Jingang Shou Pusa; Vajra Scepter Holding Bodhisattva), a deity that is further associated with many other different identities in various Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

Homage to Dharmapala Weituo Bodhisattva! May you always protect and defend the precious Buddhadharma.

Text © 2016 Harry Leong

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Twenty-four Solar Terms

Diagram showing the points along the earth’s orbital path that mark the 24 Solar Terms
(Image: Original source unknown)

The Twenty-four Solar Terms (二十四節氣 Ershisi Jieqi), also translated as the Twenty-four Seasonal Division Points or the Twenty-four Fortnightly Periods, is an important element of the traditional Chinese calendar.

The traditional Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar (陰陽合歷 Yinyang He Li). In other words, it combines elements of both the lunar and solar calendars.

The Chinese solar calendar is based on the division of the entire year separated into 24 periods, with each period correlating to an important astronomical phenomenon, natural phenomenon, seasonal change, or climatic related change. These periods are the Twenty-four Solar Terms. Each one occupies 15 degrees of the ecliptic (the apparent path that the sun travels through in the sky from the perspective of the earth). Because China was traditionally an agrarian society, this type of calendar was very important and practical for agriculture and farming.

Here are the names of the 24 Solar Terms in the Chinese calendar:

1. Li Chun (立春 Start of spring)
2. Yu Shui (雨水 Rain water)
3. Jing Zhe (驚蟄 Awakening of hibernating insects)
4. Chun Fen (春分 Spring equinox)
5. Qing Ming (清明 Clear and bright)
6. Gu Yu (穀雨 Grain rain)
7. Li Xia (立夏 Start of summer)
8. Xiao Man (小滿 Lesser full grains)
9. Mang Zhong (芒種 Grain in ear/beard)
10. Xia Zhi (夏至 Summer solstice)
11. Xiao Shu (小暑 Small heat)
12. Da Shu (大暑 Great heat)
13. Li Qiu (立秋 Start of autumn)
14. Chu Shu (處暑 End of heat)
15. Bai Lu (白露 White dew)
16. Qiu Fen (秋分 Autumn equinox)
17. Han Lu (寒露 Cold dew)
18. Shuang Jiang (霜降 Frost descends)
19. Li Dong (立冬 Start of winter)
20. Xiao Xue (小雪 Small snow)
21. Da Xue (大雪 Great snow)
22. Dong Zhi (冬至 Winter solstice)
23. Xiao Han (小寒 Small cold)
24. Da Han (大寒 Great cold)

From the above list, the following solar terms are related to astronomical phenomena: Spring equinox, Summer solstice, Autumn equinox, and Winter solstice.

The following are related to natural phenomena: Awakening of hibernating insects, Clear and bright, Lesser full grains, and Grain in ear/beard.

The following are related to seasonal changes: Start of spring, Start of summer, Start of autumn, and Start of winter.

The following are related to climactic changes that include temperature and precipitation level changes: Rain water, Grain rain, Small heat, Great heat, End of heat, White dew, Cold dew, Frost descends, Small snow, Great snow, Small cold, and Great cold.

These solar terms are used in conjunction with the lunar phases to make up the traditional Chinese calendar.

Text © 2016 Harry Leong

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Ritual of Beating Petty Persons

Preface: This article is written solely for the purposes of education and cultural interest. I do not necessarily condone nor encourage anyone to partake in these kinds of rituals.

Cartoon depiction of a Beating Petty Persons Ritual
(Image: Apple Daily 蘋果日報)

Beating Petty Persons (打小人 Mandarin: Da Xiaoren; Cantonese: Da Siu Yun) is a form of southern Chinese folk sorcery that is popular in Guangdong province and Hong Kong. Da () means to beat or to hit, and a xiaoren (小人) literally means a small or petty person which refers to someone who causes grief, trouble, or anger to others. It is also sometimes translated as vile person or villian. A xiaoren could be an ordinary person like a personal rival, a problematic neighbor, a nasty boss, a backstabbing coworker, or an irritating customer. Or it could be somebody famous like an unpopular politician or a Public Enemy Number One.

The basic idea of the ritual is to use a shoe or other implement to beat a paper effigy representing a targeted person (the “petty person”) to bring him or her harm, so that the petty person no longer brings trouble to the one who requests the ritual. To put it another way, it is a form of Asian voodoo magic.

People who perform this folk ritual as a professional career are traditionally elderly women, although in recent times, a small number of younger women have also taken up this profession.

To perform the ritual, the professional petty person beater goes through the following general steps (with some variations depending on the individual practitioner):

1. Make Offerings to the Deity (奉神 feng shen)

Incense and candles are first offered to the deity installed in the practitioner’s shrine. This introductory act is to request and enlist the deity’s help in order to make the ritual successful.

In the case of streetside practitioners who offer their services at a public area out-of-doors, the shrine is usually a make-shift shrine consisting of a cardboard box containing a porcelain statue of any popular deity from Chinese folk religion. 

Makeshift shrines for the Beating Petty Persons Ritual
(Image: Original source unknown)

2. Make a Report/Petition to the Deity (稟告神明 binggao shenming)

The petty person beater gets the name and birth information of the client and writes it on a ritual paper.

She then asks the client to identify the targeted person (petty person). If the client has a particular person in mind, then that petty person’s identity is noted on a paper effigy, along with some or all of the following – name, gender, address, birth information, photo, and a piece of the person’s clothing.

If the client does not have anyone specifically in mind, then he or she is only seeking the ritual as a general blessing to keep away potential petty persons.

The petition is then presented to the deity in the petty person beater’s shrine.

A professional beater’s religious shrine
(Image: Ta Kung Pao News 大公报)
Important Sidenote: At this point, I feel that it is important to include a personal comment here. It is common to see an image of Bodhisattva Guanyin (觀音菩薩 Guanyin Pusa; Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) in the shrines used by petty person beaters. Bodhisattva Guanyin is a much beloved religious figure in Chinese religion. She is equally venerated by Buddhists, Taoists, and followers of popular folk religion as well. But her origin is from Mahayana Buddhism where she is regarded as a fully enlightened buddha. The compassion and wisdom of Guanyin is all-encompassing, so according to an orthodox Buddhist perspective, the inclusion of a Guanyin image (or any other Buddhist figure for that matter) in a ritual for bringing harm to others is definitely inappropriate and a badly-conceived concept. I believe it’s also safe to say the same thing for any other orthodox Taoist deity that might also be used. But I digress…

3. Beat the Petty Person (打小人 da xiaoren)

A set of petty person ritual papers (小人紙 xiaoren zhi) is prepared which will serve as an effigy for the targeted person (or the general idea of a petty person if there is no particular person specified).

The common set of effigy papers generally consists of a male petty person ritual paper (男小人紙 nan xiaoren zhi) and/or a female petty person ritual paper (女小人紙 nu xiaoren zhi) wrapped in a five ghosts ritual paper (五鬼紙 wugui zhi). 

A woman shows a set of petty person ritual papers
(Image: Apple Daily 蘋果日報)

The petty person beater places the paper effigy on a brick, and then uses a shoe, slipper, or some other form of symbolic weapon to repeatedly strike the paper effigy while reciting Cantonese rhyming verses that are vile and intended to send harm to the petty person. The brick is a very hard object, so by association, it brings more pain to the petty person. It is also said that a shoe or slipper that has been previously worn brings more power to the ritual.

A woman beating a petty person effigy with a slipper
(Image: Guangzhou Daily 廣州日報)

A professional petty person beater
(Image: Apple Daily 蘋果日報)

4. Offer Sacrifice to the White Tiger (祭白虎 ji baihu)

Raw fatty pork, sometimes dipped in pig’s blood, is offered to a paper effigy representing the malevolent White Tiger. Sometimes, grease from the fatty pork is also smeared on the paper tiger’s mouth.

In the foreground, representations of the White Tiger are offered raw fatty pork
(Image: Apple Daily 蘋果日報)

A paper effigy of the White Tiger is offered raw fatty pork
(Image: Oriental Daily News 東方日報)

This step is sometimes omitted, but it is especially important if the day happens to be Jingzhe (驚蟄), the third term of the Twenty-four Solar Terms (二十四節氣 Ershisi Jieqi) in the Chinese lunisolar calendar. 

Jingzhe−Insects awaken, the third of the Twenty-four Solar Terms
(Image: Original source unknown, edited by Harry Leong)

Jingzhe means Awakening of Hibernating Insects, and indicates when the spring weather is warming up. This day is when the sun reaches a celestial longitude of 345°. It falls on March 5th or 6th of the Western Gregorian calendar. According to legend, the first thunderstorm of the year will awaken hibernating insects on this day, as well as stirring up certain negative forces that are represented by the White Tiger. In ancient times, it was customary for people to offer religious sacrifice to the White Tiger spirit on this day to keep its forces at bay. The custom of offering sacrifice to the White Tiger and the practice of Beating Petty Persons were somehow gradually merged, and thus, Jingzhe also became the most popular day for people to request the Beating Petty Persons ritual. It is also believed that the ritual is most effective on this particular day.

5. Dispel Negativities (化解 huajie)

The petty person beater may scatter rice, beans, sesame seeds, or a combination of these, to get rid of negativities. She may also use a Talisman for dispelling a hundred obstacles (白解符 baijie fu) and wave it over the client’s body and burn it for removing obstructions.

A woman scatters sesame seeds and beans to get rid of negativities
(Image: Hong Kong Memory 香港記憶

An example of a Talisman for dispelling a hundred obstacles

6. Pray for Blessings (祈福 qifu)

A red Talisman of noble persons (貴人符 guiren fu) is placed into the hands of the client and then it is burned to attract helpful people.

An example of a Talisman of noble persons
(Image: Collection of Harry Leong)

7. Offer Treasures to the Deity (進寶 jinbao)

Joss paper representing gold and silver (金銀衣紙 jinyin yizhi) are burned as gifts of appreciation for the deity’s help.

8. Consult the Crescent Moon Divination Blocks (擲筊 zhi jiao / 打杯 da bei)

The petty person beater then uses the crescent moon divination blocks (筊杯 jiaobei) to ascertain if the ritual was successful or not. The crescent moon blocks are held and then dropped to the ground in front of the deity shrine. If the blocks land with one facing up and one facing down, then it is accepted as a positive response and the ritual is considered complete. But if the blocks land both facing up or both facing down, then it is a negative answer and the ritual procedure must be repeated again.

A set of crescent moon divination blocks
(Image: Original source unknown)

In Hong Kong, a well known hotspot where professional petty person beaters congregate and offer their services is underneath the Canal Road Flyover (堅拿道天橋 Mandarin: Jianna Dao Tianqiao; Cantonese: Gin Na Dou Tin Kiu) in Wanchai district. Locals call the flyover Goose Neck Bridge (鵝頸橋 Mandarin: E’jing Qiao; Cantonese: Ngor Geng Kiu). The area underneath the flyover is at the intersection of several roads, which feng shui deems the ideal place for dispersing negative energies.

Underneath the Goose Neck Bridge (Canal Road Flyover) in Wanchai, Hong Kong
(Image: Original source unknown)

A professional petty person beater underneath the Goose Neck Bridge
(Image: Oriental Daily News 東方日報)

There are two main views concerning the nature and efficacy of the ritual that are shared even by the professional beaters themselves. One view is that the ritual merely serves as a psychological outlet for people who feel anger towards their enemies. The performance of the beating ritual helps them release this anger and provides them with a renewed sense of confidence for dealing with difficult people. The other view, held by those that take the ritual seriously, is that it really does have the power to inflict harm and stop troublesome people in their tracks. 

A client watches on as a professional beater performs the ritual
(Image: Apple Daily 蘋果日報)

The Ritual of Beating Petty Persons has become so famous that according to Time magazine’s The Best of Asia 2009, the ritual was described as the “best way to get it off your chest.”   

In 2014, the Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau officially released its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Hong Kong (香港非物質文化遺產 Xianggang Feiwuzhi Wenhua Yichan) which included the Beating Petty Persons Ritual because it is considered to be a part of Hong Kong’s ancient traditions and living culture.

Text © 2016 Harry Leong