Taoist ceremony of repaying the debt

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Taoist ceremony of repaying the debt

Last week (on the 17th day of the fourth lunar month, 2018) took place at Zhenqing Temple (真庆观), the largest Taoist temple in Kunming and the best-preserved so far, the ceremony called «Repaying the Debt of Life».

That ceremony is based on the beliefs that each person, at birth, incurs a debt to the treasure of the other world, which must be paid before death, otherwise, his soul may be subjected to tortures in the other world, or be condemned to a negative reincarnation in his next existence. That is why it is most often performed once a person has reached the age of 60 and has completed a life cycle of his existence. But sometimes it is paid during funerals, after a person’s death, or when he suffers a serious illness.

They believe that the debt is recorded in the infernal bureaucracy (tiancao 天曹) that works parallel to that of the earth, and that they can determine the length of the life. In a 12th century scripture, it is said, “All living beings of the ten directions in their fate depend on the officials of heaven; in their bodies they are subject to the administration of earth. The day anyone receives a human body, he or she is registered with the administration of the earth. The underworld officials at this time lend him or her a sum for receiving life, a loan from the Celestial Treasury. The more people save on their account in the underworld, the richer and nobler they will be on earth” (Kohn ed. 1993, 344-45).

That is why it is considered that after paying the debt, there is a change of course in the march of life, which becomes simpler and easier to achieve fortune. On the other hand, 18 misfortunes have been described that usually happen to people while they are in debt to the heavenly government, which disappear after paying it.

The debt is paid, naturally, in paper money, which must be burned so that its smoke reaches the celestial deities¸ but also by performing good deeds and promoting religious activities.

During the morning, the main ceremony consists of the material payment of the debt, for which huge amounts of red paper money that have been prepared during the previous days are taken to the courtyard, piled up at a prudent distance from the most important buildings, and while the priests chant their prayers, they are burned for the gods.

Chanting is usually the recitation of the precious scriptures or baojuan.

After a break for lunch, the ceremony resumes in the afternoon. At that time three Taoist masters in ritual costumes perform a series of ceremonies to expel evil spirits and to bring good luck to the people.

They are accompanied by a number of other attendants, eight musicians who accompany the masters’ prayers with their sound, and other ritualists who make offerings to the celestial deities.

To learn more:

Rostislav Berezkin. The Ritual of «Repaying the Loan for Life» and Telling Scriptures in Changshu, China.

Kohn, Livia, ed. 1993. «The Taoist Experience: An Anthology». Albany. State University of New York Press.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Taoist ceremony of repaying the debt," in Ethnic China, 2 junio 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/taoist-ceremony-of-repaying-the-debt/.
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