Worship and burning incense

Just a free writing, not a serious research report:

I am worshipping at the Dalongdong Baoan Temple (大龍峒保安宮) today, and there are fewer and fewer temples in Taiwan where people can worship the gods with burning incense . In fact, from the late Neolithic period of 6,000 years ago, when proceeding the ceremonial rituals, Chinese had divided the ritualistic devices into two communication categories: the medium devices (祭器) and the prayer devices (瑞器). Because Chinese ancestors thought that mortals could not communicate directly with the deities, they must use the medium devices so the gods could descend onto them for. The medium devices during Neolithic Age are jade bi (玉璧) and jade cong (玉琮), which was used by Liangzhu culture (良渚文化) and Longshan culture (龍山文化). The jade bi, the bionic jade animals of the Hongshan culture (紅山文化), the bronze ding or tripod (青銅鼎) of the Shang Dynasty (商朝) and Zhou Dynasty (周朝), and the ancestral jade tablet (Yugui 玉圭) or the god’s memorial tablet(神主牌) that was circulated before the Xia Dynasty (夏朝). The tablets or statues of Buddhism and Taoism, and even the psychics that modern Chinese are familiar with are all medium devices; and the other type of ritualistic devise are prayer devices, which must be worn by the witches or priests, either wearing on the head, or holding in hands. The prayer devices used to communicate with deities will sometimes be attached on the tip of a long pole to be held high from the ground level, which is somewhat like the antenna of radio communication. In the Neolithic Age, the Hongshan culture of Yuzhulong (玉豬籠), Gouyun-shaped Pei (勾雲形佩), Liangzhu culture’s ploughing shape (耘田器), Xia/ Shang/Zhou’s jade and various bird-types pei  have been used in the later dynasty.

jade cong of Liangzhu culture (Zhejiang Museum)

jade cong of Liangzhu culture 神祖獸面紋 (National Palace Museum)

the medium devices (bi) and the prayer devices (gui) .  (National Palace Museum)

I think that the incense we hold in our hands during worship ceremonies is an extension of the concept of prayer devices. When we worship in the temple, we hold incense in our hands, pray to the statues of gods, or pray to the incense burners. In such case, the statues of gods or the incense burners are medium devices where gods can descend upon. The concept of medium devices that represent the gods is similar. In the ancient court of the emperor, the emperor sat high on his dragon seat. He wore a crown with a chain of beads to cover his face. The minister was kneeling holding a report tablet. He was forbidden to look directly at the emperor who represented the gods, but he could talk through the tablet to communicate with the emperor. In fact, this concept is also an extension of the medium devices and prayer devices. I think the idea should be the same. In Taiwan, there are more and more temples don’t provide incense to worshipers now. However, if there is no radio, can the gods still receive our messages?

incense burner in Osaka, Japan

Burning incense to worship the Buddha. Is it the radio that communicates with the gods of heaven?

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