Monijiao (Manichaeism) in China

Monijiao Mingjiao Chinese Manichaean hanging scroll Excerpted from a lecture presented September 16, 2012

In certain scholastic circles we often hear of the disappearance of the Manichaean religion in China, however, history shows that the religion did not actually disappear but experienced a decline as a distinctly Persian religion residing in a foreign land.

...Manichaeism originated in Babylon and was expressed in Syriac and Persian terms. The religion quickly spread to other lands such as India, China, Tibet and even into the Western hemisphere. In the West adherents were severely persecuted and murdered by Christian leaders and members of the Catholic church.... In the East, where Manichaeism became strongest, it was known by different names ...Mingjiao (ming jiao), Monijiao (mo-ni jiao), Daiun komyo ji (a name for Monijiao temples and religious educational institutions in 768)....

In China, Monijiao accepted both the general Buddhist scriptures alongside those of Daoists. Monijiao accepted Amitabha Buddha (Amida), Ksitigarbha, Laotzu, and Manjusri as divine messengers or as other types of celestial beings as well as the majority of other Bodhisattvas. In the Monijiao tradition, Mani (Moni) is viewed as an emanation of Laotzu.

....As late as the 1200's, Shinran Shonen, the founder of what has become known as the Jodo Shinshu school of Japan, was also viewed as a divine messenger. Connections between the teachings of Monijiao and that of Shonen have already been shown by Arthur Lloyd in his works Shinran and His Work (1910) and The Creed of Half Japan (1911). The various Pure Land Buddhist schools have had a great deal of influence from Monijiao in China, Japan and Tibet, so much that it would not be improper to designate some of these schools as Monijiao sects.

... During and after the 14th century in southern China, adherents of Monijiao became more involved with the Pure Land Mahayana schools of Buddhism. It is no surprise the majority of Monijiao adherents were absorbed into these sects and practiced their rituals alongside those of Pure Land and Daoism. In fact we can say, without a doubt, that Monijiao became a Pure Land Buddhist Daoist religious practice, barely able to be distinguished externally from that of some other schools. As in the case with traditional Buddhism before it, Monijiao was able to adapt to whatever culture it encountered, not only adopting the external practices but also appropriating the symbolism, names of celestial beings and the cosmological outlook of the religions around it. Thus, in this manner, Monijiao has been able to survive even to this day, possessing a continual stream of transmission of the Dharma in its own right.

.... Portions of Monijiao scriptures can be found in the Buddhist canon. ...The Hua-hu-ching and the Erh-tsung-ching.

It appears on the surface that some remnants of the Religion of Light as practiced in India in more ancient times, still exists in some forms in Sri Lanka among a minority of Buddhists.

... Today, Monijiao exists in small groups in China, Tibet, Korea and to a lesser extent in North America.... In China, adherents of Monijiao can often be found practicing at historical sites associated with their Monijiao religious ancestors, including some Daoist establishments such as the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

....On a side note, Monijiao's counterpart, Syriac and Persian Manichaeism, has recently arrived in the Western Hemisphere with the restoration of the Manichaean Church known as the "Holy and Ancient Manichaean Church" with establishments in the U.S. state of Oregon and being re-established in Spain. While Monijiao and the Syriac Manichaean religions can be designated as "sister faiths", the two express themselves quite distinctly from one another in ritual ...although some elements of both religious expressions are comparatively similar, as should be expected. For example, Monijiao speaks of various Bodhisattvas as being divine messengers while the Syriac tradition speaks of various prophets in the Middle East as being divine messengers. The Syriac Manichaeans speak of the Prophet Mani as a messenger of light while Monijiao refers to Mani (Moni) as the Buddha of Light.... Monijiao rarely makes a distinction between the various messengers or buddhas ... referring to all of the various buddhas as one. For example, when Monijiao speaks of Buddha Shakyamuni, Buddha Moni and others as one Buddha ... or perhaps emanating from one source.

Some comparisons of Monijiao and Syriac Manichaeism...

Monijiao             Syriac/Persian
God (Shangdi) 1 God (Zurvan)
Father, Radiant Father (Ming Zun) Father of Greatness (Abba de Rabbuta)
Living Spirit (Jing-huo-feng)2 Living Spirit (Rukha Khayya)
Buddha Moni (Moni Guangfo) Prophet Mani (Mar Mani)
Pure Land (Sukhavati) Paradise (Bahisht)
Scriptures (Sutras)3 Holy Book (Ketava Kudsha)

1 In both the Chinese and Syriac expressions, God is never depicted within imagery with the exception of a light source above depictions of lower beings.

2 In Monijiao, the beings Jing-huo-feng, Buddha Moni and others are viewed as one and the same. The Persian expression, especially in modern times, makes a greater distinction between the Living Spirit and the Prophet Mani.

3 Monijiao scriptures are primarily derived from Chinese and Tibetan sutras generally consisting of texts from Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, Bonpo and Daoism.



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Copyright © 2012 by Dr. Yar, University for Historical and Cultural Research, Los Angeles. All rights reserved.