The Daoist Jiao Rite of Cosmic Renewal, by Michael Saso
(revised, from the article submitted to the Journal of Daoist Studies)
The following analysis of Daoist jiao 醮liturgy is based on the oral teachings of Daoist masters in Hsinchu, Taiwan (1955-1976, 2008-2013), and Mainland China (1986-2013). The primary written sources for the rituals listed here were published in the 25-volume Zhuanglin Xu Daozang 庄林续道臧 (Taipei: Chengwen Press, 1972). A second volume, Dokyo Hiketsu Shusei道教秘诀集成 (Tokyo: Ryukei Press), containing the esoteric mijue oral teachings reserved for the use of Daoist masters, appeared in 1978. Audio and video productions of the entire jiao festival were made in 1969, 1972, and 1980. Readers may access them online, via YouTube, and the blogsite www.michaelsaso.org. Printed source materials are also available in CD and DVD format, making once overly expensive sources readily accessible. On-going field research, continuing to the present day, brings a much deeper understanding of the role of women Daoists in the meditative and liturgical traditions of mainland China. Men and women equally share, and perform the Daoist rituals described in this article
The word jiao in pre-imperial China (before 221 BCE), meant the ritual offering of wine and incense to the invisible spiritual forces that govern nature (Karlgren 1923, #1065-66). When China was united under a single visible emperor, during the Qin-Han dynasties, concepts of the spirit world, internal cultivation, and “rites of passage,” were unified through the acceptance of Yin-Yang Five Phases陰陽五行 theory by the so-called New Text (Jinwen今文 ) school as governing the rites of passage (see Liji礼记, Yili义礼). The expression “three teachings, one culture” (sanjiao guiyi 三教歸一) was later used to describe this unifying of China into a single socio-cultural system. Confucian teachings (rujiao 儒教) codified ethics for human relationships. Buddhism (fojiao 佛教), imported from India and altered substantially in China, was successful only after it provided ritual for pacifying the souls of ancestors and other “daemon” spirits in the afterlife. Daoism (daojiao 道教) provided a ritual system to mediate changes in nature, and relations with the spirit world. Daoists, from the period of division (3rd – 6th c.) by imperial order were graded or classified into nine ranks of perfection, as were the grades given to officials in the Confucian mandarin system. Daoists of Grade Five and above (wupin 五品以上) were given higher grades because they were able to practice internal cultivation (neigong 內功) as a part of formal ritual observances (keyi 科仪). Daoists were not trained in neigong were given Grade Six (liupin 六品) or lower. The title of “Three-Five Surveyor of Merit” (sanwu dugong 三五度公) was, and still is, used to name Grade Six, and lower Daoists (Dokyo Hiketsu Shusei, p. 33b).
During the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), Daoists adopted jiao from Confucian liturgical sources and used it for a specific kind of “ritual of renewal.” Anna Seidel and various Japanese scholars, including Kubo Noritada, have attributed this phenomenon partially to the conversion of New Text scholars, rejected by the dominant “Old Text” (Guwen 古文) school of the Later Han dynasty to Zhengyi 正一or Orthodox Unity Daoism. The Hetu河圖 (River Chart) and Luoshu 洛書 (Writ of the Luo) texts of the apocrypha (gu weishu 古緯書) were among its original sources. They show a strong influence of the Yijing 易经 (Book of Changes) and the Laozi as well as their various apocryphal commentaries on (e.g., 有易，老子与已经) (see also Seidel 1983).
Three kinds of jiao rituals appear in today’s Daozang 道臧 (Daoist Canon): Golden Register Jiao (jinlu jiao 金籙醮) for village and temple renewal; Yellow Register Zhai (huanglu zhai 黃籙齋) for burials; and Jade Register Jiao (yulu jiao 玉籙醮) for imperial court and state rituals. Due to its colorful liturgies, Daoism was called the weft (wei 緯) and Confucianism the warp (jing 經), together forming the very fabric of Chinese society.
Confucianism, as the “warp” or vertical threads of Chinese society, provided the classical Chinese source for texts defining socio-political relationships. These texts were the basis for entrance by imperial examination into the upper strata of Chinese political bureaucracy. Daoism as the “weft” or horizontal threads of Chinese society provided rituals to keep people in harmony with cosmic changes and the seasons of nature. The four seasons, life cycles, and human connections with the invisible spiritual powers that affect us were the focus of Daoist ritual. Buddhism, imported from South Asia, provided subtle colors, painted on the surface of the Chinese social fabric, offering philosophical debates for the intellectual, and afterlife salvation for the masses. Thus, the phrase “three teachings one culture” defined China’s perennial culture.
The Daoist jiao ritual draws from all three of these Han-dynasty teaching systems to bless and renew Chinese family and village life, without any boundaries of social status, wealth, or political power. An analysis of the Jiao festival shows in fact a three-fold structure, which I term “A”, “B” and “C,” based on sources familiar to the people.
The Threefold Structure of the Jiao
“A” or Confucian shared rituals, derive from New Text models. They are used to purify the sacred ritual area, announce the coming of the Heavenly Emperor and his court, invite spirits to be present, present a memorial to the Heavenly Emperor, receive back an Imperial Rescript (shuwen 書文), thank the heavenly rulers, and send them off. Cooked, or ready to eat foods are used during the Jiao rituals, as offerings to the Heaven and Earth spirits, to be presented during their ritual presence.
“B” style chants, as also in Buddhist rituals, are called “texts of merit and litanies of repentance” (jingchan 经忏). They are used to free souls from the sufferings of an afterlife in hell or purgatory. As an aside, let me note here that, to the Chinese, only politicians stay eternally in hell; all others are released due to the prayers and merits of the living. Souls confined to the underworld receive raw, uncooked food, during the jiao, to be taken away, prepared in another place, after which they are “seen off” or freed to enter a Buddhist shared Pure Land.
“C” style rituals begin by acting out Laozi 42, “Dao brings forth the One; the One brings forth the Two; the Two bring forth the Three; and the Three give rise to the myriad creatures.” This ritual is called Dividing the Lamps (fendeng 分燈). Three lamps are lighted, one for each line of the 42nd chapter, thereby to celebrate the Dao’s gestation of all nature. Then, the Daoist master reverses this gestation process (huiyuan fangen回源反根). He or she proceeds from the “myriad creatures” of nature back to an audience with the transcendent Dao, by moving from nine, to five, three, two and one, from the immanent, gestating female Dao (youwei zhidao有为之道) to the eternal transcendent Dao (wuwei zhidao无为之道), which is neither “he” nor “she, without image or title.
To do this, the high priest begins by performing the ritual of the nine-stage magic square mandala of the Luoshu, called “Purifying the Altar” (jintan 禁坛). The rite closes the Gate of Demons in the northeast, and opens the Gate of Heaven in the northwest, applying imagery drawn from the Eight Trigrams of the Yijing.
Next, a five-stage circular mandala along the lines of the Hetu is physically and meditatively built in a ritual called Nocturnal Announcement (suqi 宿启) or Hall of Light (mingtang明堂). In this ritual, the five Lingbao Talismans are placed in five bushels of rice, while the Daoist master recites the Lingbao wu zhenwen 灵宝五真文 (Five True Writs of the Lingbao liturgy) and meditates on the five phases, thereby renewing the five inner organs of the human body and the entire cosmos. These rites are performed on the first day of the jiao.
On the second day, the Daoist high priest reverses the Dao’s birthing process, refining “Three-Two-One,” i.e., qi, shen, jing 炁神精, back into primordial chaos (hundun 混沌) or the state of the Great Ultimate (taijji 太極), the visible female Dao that gives birth to nature. These rites are called “Morning Audience, Noon Audience, and Night Audience” (caochao早朝, wuchao午朝, wan chao晚朝). The text and music of all three rites are analogous, but the internal meditation of the Daoist used during each rite is quite different, and may not be shared with scholars or laity who are non-Daoist in belief or practice or who promote or even mention the “bedchamber arts” (fangzhong 房中), or other actions considered immoral. The Daoist ordination manual used at Longhu shan 龙虎山, Gezao shan 阁早山, and Maoshan 茅山 states specifically that only those “pure in heart and mind” may be taught the third, “C” level of Daoist internal meditation practice (p. 33).
Rites in Sequence
In the Daoist esoteric (mijue秘诀) or orally transmitted (koujue口诀) system, the blue-green wood of the east and the red fire of the south are refined into primordial qi, here written as wu 无 with the fire radical huo 火underneath. The aura, which can be seen by those who actually know how to practice the ritual, produced in the Daoist’s meditation, is a deep purple, descending from the pineal gland, and stored in the lower elixir field (xia dantian 下丹田), i.e., the actual physical center of the Daoist’s body.
The earth in the center, taken from the “spleen,” is refined in the alchemical fire of the belly into a bright gold, primordial spirit (shen 神) and stored in the belly during the Noon Audience.
The white metal of the west and the dark water of the north, finally, are refined into primordial essence (jing 精) during the Night Audience. The master stores them also in the belly. He envisions purple qi as a shell enfolding yellow spirit and bright white essence in the physical center of gravity. This is located between the kidneys and lined up with the fifth lumber vertebrae, three inches below the navel. These meditations are described in the Qing-dynasty works of Liu Yiming 刘一明 (Liu Peiyuan 刘陪元), and still taught today at the Yuan Xuan Hui Yuan 原玄会院 in Hong Kong, as well as on Longhu shan, Maoshan., and by the nuns of Wudang shan 武当山道姑 and Qingcheng shan 青城山道姑.
On the third and last) day of the jiao, the Daoist master meets the transcendent Dao in an “audience” (daochang 道場), which takes place both with within the sacred Daoist altar area (tan 坛) and in his personal wisdom center, the lower elixir field in the abdomen, also the physical center of gravity. During this ritual, the master meditatively sees primordial qi, spirit, and essence refined into the hierophant, a ruddy infant, and from there into the Great Ultimate. In the final stages of the meditation, all Daoist images are seen to burn off: nothing is left, except the unnamed, unseen Dao with whom the Daoist now has an “awareness-of-presence” audience. After this, a shuwen Rescript from the Dao of Heaven, which answers the people’s prayers, is carried into the sacred altar area. Here it is presented to the Daoist high priest by the deacon (dujiang 督讲). Next, the high priest dances the sacred nine-stage Steps of Yu (Yubu 禹步), rejoicing that the people’s petitions have been granted and the cosmos undergone full renewal.
On the afternoon of the third day, the high priest and his assistants further perform the Requiem (pudu 普度) rite for freeing all souls from the underworld. An effigy of Horse head Guanyin 马头观音is used to protect humans from unrequited souls freed from hell. The image is afterwards burned, together with folded gold and silver paper money, as a way of sending off the prayers and merits of the living, which will free all souls, bless humans, and benefit all nature. All images must be burned off or eliminated completely; all merit must be given away. Nothing can be kept for the self, lest the jiao ritual cannot succeed.
The jiao ritual ends with a rite to thank the spirits of heaven, earth, and the underworld and see them off. It is interesting to note that, from the Tang through the end of the Ming dynasty, the head of the Confucian Board of Rites, an official appointed directly by the Emperor, was always a Daoist who had both passed the Jinshi doctorate of Confucian classical studies and received a high “Grade Five” rank Daoist ordination. This is because the Hall of Light court ritual, which had to be performed five times each year, and the Daoist Nocturnal Announcement ritual used in the jiao, were analogous, if not identical. Only Daoists of Grade Five and above, from the Orthodox Unity, Clear Subtlety (Qingwei 清微), or Highest Clarity (Shangqing 上请) traditions were deigned spiritually and liturgically able and trained well enough to perform the classical ritual. The manner of performing the five basic jiao rites of renewal, i.e., the Nocturnal Announcement plus the audiences of Morning, Noon, Night and with the transcendent Dao, may not be fully explained to scholars or non-Daoists, foreign or Chinese, by order of strict Daoist precepts. The Daoist transmits the internal meditation aspects of these rituals only to one son or daughter plus to one disciple during the week before his passing. 
Jiao Rituals Used by all Daoist Schools and Ranks (Grades Nine through One)
Fabiao 发表 announce — Qingshen 请神invite spirits — Jintan 禁坛 purify altar — Wuhong 午洪Noon offering — Songbiao 送表 send off a memorial to the Emperor of Heaven — Shuwen 疏文 receive back a rescript from Wuwei Dao, answering the petitions; Xieshen 谢神 thank the spirits — Songshen 送神 see the spirits off
Jiao and Zhai Rituals Modeled on Buddhist and Other Shared Rituals
Nian wei gongde念为功德chant scriptures of merit — Songchan recite litanies of repentance, including lists of Daoist and “shared” spirits’ names — Fang shuideng 防水灯 float lanterns in a nearby stream or the ocean to send ancestral and other local spirits off to “western” heavens — Pudu菩度or Pushi菩饰 “feed” the hungry spirits with raw food, asking them to take the offerings away and cook elsewhere
Daoist Rites with Internal Meditation, Performed by Daoists of Grade Five or Higher
Jintan 禁坛 purify the sacred area, using the Luoshu or Eight Trigrams in the posterior heaven arrangement, then changed into the Prior Heavens format — 先天河图八卦 meditatively sealing the Gate of Demons (gan 乾) in the northwest, using the Qingwei Thunder-Vajra mudra and mantra (wulei shouyin zhouwen 五雷手印，咒文 ), then opens the Gate of Heaven in the northwest — he then performs the Suqi宿启 / Mingtang明堂 rite, implanting the five Lingbao talismans into five bushels of rice, positioned in the five directions of the sacred area — after this, the Zaochao早朝, Wuchao 午朝, & Wanchao 晚朝 rites refine the five phases into primordial qi, spirit, and essence, the three principles of gestation and renewal, are thus sent to the lower elixir field —finally, the Daochang 道场 internal alchemy meditation is performed on the morning of the third day, refining Dao into the transcendent Wuwei level, made present within — at this point the Shuwen 疏文, a rescript from transcendent Dao is sent into the world — while using the Yubu 禹步 Steps of Yu to show joy in Dao’s birthing and renewing the cosmos. Inner alchemy is thus combined with ritual in the Grade 5 and above Jiao festival.
Saso, Michael. 2013. The Teachings of Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd edition. Los Angeles: Oracle Bones Press.
Saso, Michael. 2014. Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest. Los Angeles: Oracle Bones Press, fall publication).
Seidel, Anna. 1983. “Imperial Treasures and Taoist Sacraments: Taoist Roots in the Apocrypha.” In Tantric and Taoist Studies, edited by Michel Strickmann, 291-371. Brussels: Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises.