« ZurückWeiter »
religion of the Grand Lama, and the Japanese, enables us to ascertain with tolerable accuracy, what are the general views on this most important of all subjects.
In strict propriety, the Chinese religion cannot be fairly ranked with that of gross idolatry.
The primitive worship of the Chinese, that is, of the most enlightened amongst them, has continued, like their dress, invariably the saine through a long succession of ages down to the present time. We are informed by one of the most learned and respectable French Jesuits, who took great pains in investigating the Chinese religion, “ that the Chinese are a distinct people, who have preserved the characteristic marks of their first origin, whose primitive doctrine will be found to agree, in the essential parts, with that of the chosen people the Jews, before Moses had consigned the explanation of it to the sacred records, and whose traditional knowl. edge may be traced back even to the renewal of the human race by the sons of Noab.”
The canonical books of the Chinese set forth the idea, and enforce the belief of the Supreme Being, the creator and preserver of all things. They mention him under distinct names, corresponding to those which we use when we speak of God, the Lord, the Almighty, and the Most High. These books assert that the Supreme Being is the principle of every thing that exists ; that he is eternal, unchangeable, and independent, that his power knows no bound ; that his knowledge comprehends the past, present, and future ; and that he is the witness of whatever passes in the recesses of men's hearts. They acknowledge his universal providence, his approbation of virtue and goodness, and his abhorrence of vice, which he punishes with parental compassion to induce his creatures to reform and amend their lives.
Upon these general principles the Chinese refer every remarkable event to the appointment and dispensation of the Deity. If destruction threatens their crops, or alarming sickness endangers the life of a virtuous emperor, sacrifices and prayers are offered up to God. If a wicked prince has been suddenly taken away by accident, they attribute it to his just and avenging arm. Upon these same principles one of the ancient emperors gave his orders to the priest ; "the Supreme Being,” says he, “ is entitled to our homage and adoration. Compose, therefore, a catender, and let religion receive from man those times and seasons which are its just due."
Another emperor, when he was invested with his office,
and had distributed the various employments to the persons under him, exhorted them to a faithful discharge of the duties incumbent upon them, and concluded with these words : “Never shut your ears against the voice of religion : let every moment redouble your diligence in serving God.” And a priest, addressing himself to an emperor, said, " Think on eternity, if you are desirous of improving your mind, and of adding new virtue to it.”
In another period of Chinese history we are told, that the fear of the Supreme Being was alone sufficient to restrain all the subjects of the empire, and to confine them within the bounds of duty. Honesty was so prevalent at that time, that it was not necessary to intimidate the people by exercising the severity of penal laws. Imprisonment was the only punishment inflicted on the guilty. The doors of the gaols were thrown open in the morning : the prisoners went out to labour, and they returned again thither in the evening without compulsion.
These facts, and they might be multiplied, almost without end, will go to prove that the religion of China is founded on the belief of the existence and attributes of the Supreme Being; and it is asserted, upon good authority, that there is not to be found a single vestige of idolatry upon their most ancient monuments.
The first sacrifices of this people were instituted in honour of the Supreme God, and were offered on the tan, or heap of stones, in the open fields, or upon some mountain. Around the tan was raised a double fence, composed of turf and branches of trees; and between the fences were erected two smaller altars, upon which, after the greater sacrifice, they offered others in honour of superior spirits of every rank, and of their virtuous ancestors, among whom was Confucius. To the sovereign alone it was permitted to sacrifice on the tan; to the Supreme Deity they offer their prayers, but from their ancestors and superior spirits they only seek for protection and mediation.
In the early ages of the empire a single mountain was set apart for sacrifices ; afterwards there were four consecrated to those purposes, to which the prince went successively every year. "To the first he repaired at the vernal equinox, to entreat heaven to watch over the seed committed to the earth. At the summer solstice he went to the second, to ask for the warmth and heat necessary to bring forward the crops. He sacrificed on the third at the autumnal equinox, in the hope of averting blights, excessive moisture, winds, and injuries from the air, which might destroy the rising hopes of the labourer. And on the fourth mountain he sacrificed at the winter solstice, in gratitude for all the mercies of the past year, and to solicit a continuance of them through that which was about to commence.
This institution, which subjected the emperor to regular journies, was attended with many inconveniences. Sometimes important deliberations required his attendance in the city when he was performing sacrifice at a distance from it. At other times old age, severe weather, and bad roads, were great obstacles to the business. Means were therefore de. vised to obviate these difficulties, by erecting a temple in the city, where these sacrifices might be offered up.
The principal Chinese temple contained within its circumference five separate halls, appropriated for different purposes. They had neither paintings nor ornaments of any kind; one of them was the place of sacrifice : the other four contained all those things which were necessery for the ceremony.
The edifice had four gates covered with fine moss, representing the branches of which the double fence about the tan was made. This vine moss covered also the ridge of the roof, and the whole building was encompassed by a canal, which was filled with water at the time sacrifices were offer. ed.
Pekin contains two principal temples, in the construction of which the Chinese have displayed all the elegance of their architecture. These are dedicated to the Deity under different titles ; in the one he is adored as the Eternal Spirit; in the other, as the Spirit that created and preserves the world. The ceremonies with which modern sacrifices are accompanied are greatly multiplied, and nothing can exceed the splendour and magnificence with which the emperor is surrounded when he performs the solemn part of his duty, which he does in the name of all his people. Some time before the day fixed for this important business, the monarch, and all persons qualified to assist him, prepare themselves by retirement, fasting, and continence. During this period the emperor gives no audience, the tribunals are all shut; mar. riagcs, funerals, and festivals of all kinds are then prohibited. On the day appointed for sacrifice; the emperor appears with all the pomp and magnificence of power, to which every thing in the teinple corresponds. All the vessels are of gold, and never used in any other place. Notwithstanding this grandeur the monarch appears to the last degree humble and dejected. He rolls in the dust, and applies to himself
terms of the most abject submission, thereby exhibiting, in the most striking manner, the infinite distance there is between the Supreme Being and man.
Another religious ceremony performed by the emperor, is that of ploughing the earth with his own hands. By some writers this act has been thought merely political for the sake of encouraging agriculture. But in one of the canonical books it is asserted, that he tills the earth to the Deity, that he may have it in his power to present a part of the grain to him in sacrifice. The empress and princesses manage silk worms, in order to make vestments for sacrificing in. Therefore, if the emperor and princes till the gronnd, or the empress breeds silk.worms, it is to shew that respect and veneration which they entertain for the spirit who rules the universe.
Staunton, in his narrative of Lord Macartney's embassy to China, asserts that there is no state religion acknowledged or encouraged in China. The faith of most of the common people is that of Fo; many of the Mandarins have another, and that of the emperor different from theirs. But the temples, consecrated to religious worship, are scarcely distinguishable from common dwelling-houses. The circular lofty structures, called by Europeans Pagodas, are of various kinds, appropriated to various uses, but none for religious worship. In many instances there is a similarity in the exterior forms of the religion of Fo, and that of the Roman church. Upon the altars of the Chinese temples were placed behind a screen, an image of Shin-moo, or the holy mother, sitting with a child in her arms, in an alcove, with rays of glory round her head, and tapers constantly burning before her.
The temples of Fo contain more images than are met with in most Christian churches. There was one female figure particularly prayed to by unmarried women who desire a husband, and by married women who wish for children. But as the doctrine of Fo admits of a subordinate deity, propitious to every wish that can be formed in the human mind; as the government of the country never interferes with mere opinions, nor prohibits any belief which may not affect the peace of society; it is no wonder it should spread among those classes of the people who are dissatisfied with the opdinary events of nature. Thus from extreme superstition, the temples are particularly frequented, and the superintendant deity first consulted, previous to the undertaking of any thing of importance; whether it be to enter into the matrimonial state, to set out on a journey, to make or conclude a bargain, or any other momentous event. There are various methods of doing this, one of which is a piece of wood, of six or eight equal sides or surfaces, each having its particu. lar mark, is thrown into the air; the side which is uppermost, after reaching the ground, is examined and referred by the priest to its correspondent mark on the book of fate. If the first throw accord with the wishes of him who made it, he prostrates himself in gratitude, and cheerfully undertakes the business. If the throw be unpropitious he makes a second trial; but the third throw must decide the question. The temples are always accessible to consult the will of heaven ; and their adoration consists more in giving thanks than effering prayers.
THE RELIGION OF THIBET,
Or the Grand Lama; And also of the Heathen Tartars in general.
The name of the Grand Lama is given to the sovereign pontiff, or high priest, of the Thibetian Tartars, who resides at Patoli, a vast palace on a mountain near the banks of Baram
poter, about seven miles from Lahassa. The foot of this mountain is inhabited by twenty thousand lamas, or priests, who have their separate apartments around the mountain; and according to their respective qualities, are placed nearer, or at a greater distance from, the sovereign pontiff. He is not only worshipped by the Thibetians, but also is the great object of adoration for the various tribes of heathen Tartars who roam through the vast tract of continent which stretches from the banks of the Wolga to Correa, on the sea of Japan. He is not only the sovereign pontiff, the vicegerent of the Deity on earth, but the more remote Tartars are said to absolutely regard him as the Deity himself, and call him God, the everbusting Father of heaven. They believe him to be immortal, and endowed with all knowledge and virtue. Every year they come up from different parts to worship, and make rich offerings at his shrine.
Even the emperor of China, who is a Manchou Tartar, does not fail in acknowledgements to him in