Mind the Gap: The Three Homages

Ch.10 of my book is called Mind the Gap. My use of this classic London underground warning, I gladly concede, may well be less effective in Daoist ritual studies than that of the wonderful Bridget Christie for feminist comedy.

Anyway, I explore how rituals as performed don’t make a close fit with ritual manuals—apart from the fact that the latter are silent. Here’s an instance.[1]

The Li family makes four visits to the soul hall in the morning to Deliver the Scriptures (songjing 送經). The final one of these sessions is Presenting Offerings (shanggong 上供), parts of which are shown in my film, from 32’12”.

The Three Homages hymn (San guiyi, also known as Zan sanbao) is part of an unusual sequence in their current practice. This is another instance of the importance of using ritual performance rather than relying merely on ritual manuals. Finding the short text of The Three Homages in Li Qing’s hymn volume (and I haven’t yet found it elsewhere), we couldn’t know that each of its three verses (accompanied by shengguan) is preceded by a choice of solo shuowen recited introit (now commonly based on the Triple Libations of Tea). The first one commonly goes like this:

I hereby declare:
The lustre of time soon passes, life and death are hard to evade.
Don’t ask of the three sovereigns and five emperors, or cultivate the search of Qin and Han emperors most high.
Coveting Pengzu’s eight hundred years, or cultivating Yan Hui’s four hundred years.
Although old and young differ, they can’t help being equal in rank.
Burning incense in the golden incense-burner, jade cups full of tea,
With filial kin raising up the cups, the first libation of tea pouring.

Nor could we know that the hymn is followed by the fast tutti a cappella chanted Mantra to Smash the Hells (which appears not in the hymn volume but in the Bestowing Food manual):

mantra-to-smash-the-hells

In boundless Fengdu hell, the vastness of Mount Vajra.
Immeasurable light of the Numinous Treasure
thoroughly illuminating the woes of Scorching Pool.
The Seven Ancestors and all the netherworld souls
Bearing incense-cloud pennants,
Blue lotus flowers of meditation and wisdom,
Life-giving gods eternally in peace.

Nor yet could we imagine that the whole sequence then concludes with any short hymn from elsewhere in the hymn volume, like The Ten Redemptions of Sin (Shi miezui) or the Five Offerings (Wu gongyang), again with shengguan.

With its short verses, the tempo of The Three Homages is not as slow as most of the Li family’s hymns, so one might think it would be an easy-learning item, but it is still none too easy for the outsider to learn. Indeed, they don’t grade their learning like this—they just plunge in, picking up the hymns as they occur in ritual practice.

san-guiyi-for-book

San guiyi text.jpg

The text illustrates a system found in some other hymns, where the last words of each line are repeated to open the following line—as here, the first of three verses:

Homage to the Dao,
The Dao residing on Jade Capital Mountain.[2]
On Jade Capital Mountain preaching the dharma,
Preaching the dharma to deliver humans to heaven.

By the way: fa, commonly equated with the Buddhist “dharma”, is just as common in Daoism. I usually render it as “ritual,” only retaining “dharma” in a couple of biomes—like shuo fa here, and fayan “dharma speech”.

In sum, useful as it is to have collections of texts on the page, none of the efficacy of ritual in performance is contained there. All the segments of this Presenting Offerings ritual differ in style. To read them on the page, as ever, is quite inadequate.

[1] Adapted from my book, pp.208–9, 264.
[2] Li Qing’s manual gives Yuqing shan 玉清山, which I have (unusually) revised to the standard Yujing shan 玉京山.

6 thoughts on “Mind the Gap: The Three Homages

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