Gongde (merit) is a structured set of rites performed by Buddhist or Daoist ritual
specialists to deliver a soul from potential sufferings in purgatory or hell
and transfer it either to Amitabha Buddha’s Western Paradise or to a better
rebirth. It may be performed as part of
a funeral, or on any seventh day up to the forty-ninth day, and/or on the
hundredth day, and on first and third anniversaries after death. Lasting from half a day to seven days, the length
and scale of Gongde depend on the economic means of the family.
Gongde is a Buddhist concept whereby merit can be earned or cultivated by performing benevolent Buddhist-related
deeds, which will constitute a person’s store of benefits in the next life or
the lives thereafter. Furthermore, merit
can be transferred to another person, living or dead. Thus, paying Buddhist monks to perform a
special set of rites, all of which contribute towards the accruement of merit,
and transferring the merits to the dead can help pave the soul’s way to a
better rebirth. Gongde as a term to mean
a privite ritual performed to accrue merit and provide salvation for the soul
is used primarily in Minnan (southern Fujian), Chaozhou and within the Chinese
diaspora of these regions.
InurbanMinnan, GongdeisperformedbyordainedBuddhistclericsinmonasteriesortemples. ThelasttwodecadeshavealsoseentheriseofatypeofBuddhistlaywomen, knownascaigu (vegetariansisters), asGongderitualspecialists. Intownshipsandvillages, Gongdeiscommonlyperformed eitherby lay male Buddhist ritual specialists known as xianghua heshang (incense - flower monks) or by lay Daoist priests, although not all Daoists perform Gonde.
Gonde performance alternates between two altars: the Buddha altar and the Soul altar. Several important rites form the basic of Gonde; the 'Purification' (Jingtan), 'Penitence' (baichan), Offering' (shanggong) and a 'rite of universal salvation' (yankou or mengshan) to save 'hungry ghosts' (ergui). The 'Penitence' is a major component of Gonde due to the length of its texts. For half - or one day Gonde, the text frequently used is the three-volume Cibei sanmei shuichan; for Gonde lasting three days or more, the ten-volume Lianghua baochan is often performed.
Additional rites include 'Turning the Wheel; (qianzang) to lead the soul out of hell, 'Bathing the Soul', the 'Rite of Pardon' (fangshe) and 'Smashing Hell' (dacheng), this last being the enactment of the story of Mulian saving his mother from her sufferings in hell. In contemporary Minnan, Gonde performed by the ordained Buddhists mainly adhere to the basic rites, while those performed by the 'vegetarian sisters' and lay Buddhist or Daoist ritualists may include some or all of the additional rites.
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