Sunday, 9 October 2011

The bank notes of Heaven and Hell.

These bank of heaven notes in the picture above, can be bought from Chinese supermarkets.
They are recognisably money.

The other sort (in picture below) doesn't look like money.
It represents gold or silver.

The first time I found money for the dead, I didn't know what it was!

I had bought the rough bamboo paper version, that has a smear or bold block of silver or gold in its center.

I had no idea what these beautiful bits of paper were for.

A friend of mine, born in Thailand,  recognised them and was shocked....she told me it was money for the ghosts. Well, at that time I was living above a shrine room, I prayed daily (or more) for the living and the dead, nor had I had her upbringing, so I didn't worry too much about the 'bank notes' or the ghosts, rather I was pleased that there was a tradition for anyone, not just 'religious' people, to think well of ghosts and to wish them happiness.

The gold and silver paper is meant to be folded into an ingot so that it looks as if you are offering silver or gold.

Another site that shows you in pictures:

When my children had Halloween parties we would always burn 'money for the dead' generally we used the more recognisable bank notes, to make it more meaningful.

I must admit I didn't think too much about the names on the notes.

The last two years, because my children are older (two have left home, two almost old enough to go) we haven't done much for Halloween, which has been rather sad...for me...because I feel that an English Halloween leaves a lot to be desired and would be better if it was more Day of the Dead Mexican style. Just buying a bag full of mini chocolates for the trick or treaters and printing off designs for my kids to use as pumpkin carving templates hasn't been very Halloween-ish, or Halloween enough.

It is a shame that I feel that I should have the excuse of children (oh, you have to make it an occasion for the kids) to hide my need for rituals and to creating sacred space.

But eldest son asked me if he could invite some friends around this year, 'as you like to do Halloween', so I guess I should make some plans.

Today we bought the bank notes. When I got home I noticed that they are Heaven Bank Notes so I wondered if there a difference between heaven and hell notes?

Heaven notes are offered to the deities of the underworld.
And so are hell notes...

There are two signatures on the notes: Yin Low and Yuk Wong, these two noble entities seem to be in charge of things....

The Chinese Yin Low is judge of the dead, he is a large man with a scowling red face, bulging eyes and a long beard wearing  robes and a crown on his head that usually bears the kanji meaning for "king."

Yin Low is both king and judge of the underworld. He is shown with another judge who holds a brush and a book listing every soul and the allotted death date for every life.

There is also Ox-Head and Horse-Face, who are guardians of hell. They bring the newly dead, one by one, before Yin Low for judgement.

The karmic balance of each person facing Yin Low determines where that person goes next, people with enough merit (good karma accumulated by acts of kindness and recitations of mantras as long as 'the merit' has been given away...that is) will be be reborn to have a happy life.

People who have been cruel or who have committed misdeeds will be sentenced to torture and/or miserable future lives.

Yin Low is the absolute king, but the underworld is divided into ten levels or courts each ruled by a Yama King, who specialises in certain crimes.

The spirits of the dead, on being judged by Yin Low, are supposed to either pass through a term of enjoyment in a region midway between the earth and the heaven of the gods, or to undergo their measure of punishment in Naraka, the nether world, situated somewhere in the southern region.

After this time they may return to Earth in new bodies.

So basically the money is offered to him to be kind to one's relatives.
Is that bribery?!

The second name is Yuk Wong, The Jade Emperor.

Heavenly Grandfather...

The bank notes of Heaven or Hell are 'Joss money'.
The word Joss probably comes from Portuguese Deus, meaning god. It exists between two realms, the real and the imaginative. Death is real, the pain of losing someone you love is real, offering ghosts fake money is real only in the imagination.

But that is where ghosts live...

Imaginative gesture offends the Protestant ethic, but makes sense to the bit of me that knows there is nothing I can really do for the dead other than to pray for them.

A symbolic gesture is better than nothing in my experience.

Many people say that the bank notes can be offered for 'good luck' or to ask for help from Yin Low, more importantly perhaps, it is used to help pay off one's celestial debts.

But the main thing is to offer the money with respect.

It is supposed to be bad to give Hell or Heaven notes to the living, to give someone a Hell note is to wish them dead, apparently. And like the 'ingot' paper, Bank of Heaven and Hell notes should be kept out of sight somewhere in the house until needed, (which is probably why they are tucked away in a dark corner of Wing Yip) and when they are burnt, they should be folded.

Quite a few web-sites say "folded in a specific way"

It is considered bad luck to burn real money, and the special folding of the notes means that the money is clearly Joss money..

So, after thinking about it a British ghost festival could be something like this:

1/ Lamps are lit on the alters to attract the ghosts, the alter contains food for the ghost, photographs of loved ones who have died.

2/ The gates of the Underworld open.

3/ Incense, joss money and food are offered.

4/ Paper lanterns are floated down rivers, to help the ghosts find their way back to the Underworld...


Hindu and Tibetan.
The bull headed lord of heaven: Yama.

A holy man was told that if he meditated for the next 50 years, he would achieve enlightenment.

The holy man meditated in a cave for 49 years, 11 months and 29 days, until he was interrupted by two thieves who broke in with a stolen bull.

After beheading the bull in front of the hermit, they ignored his requests to be spared for but a few minutes, and beheaded him as well. In his near-enlightened fury, this holy man became Yama, the god of Death, took the bull's head for his own, and killed the two thieves, drinking their blood from cups made of their skulls.

Still enraged, Yama decided to kill everyone in Tibet. The people of Tibet, fearing for their lives, prayed to the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī.

Now Yama is considered to be a wrathful deity, but oath-bound to be a protector of practitioners.

The second part of the story is:
Yama was depopulating Tibet in his insatiable thirst for victims. Manjushri traveled to the underworld to seek out Yama, who dwells with all his minions in the sealed up iron cities of hell. To tame Yama, Manjushri adopted the same form, adding to it eight other faces and a multiple array of arms, each holding fearful and deadly weapons.

He further sprouted a corresponding number of legs, and surrounded himself with a vast host of terrifying beings. To confront death, he thus manifested the form of death itself, magnified to infinity. Death (Yama) saw himself endlessly mirrored back to himself, infinitely outnumbered by himself. Death was literally scared to death.

Thus the yogi who meditates through the imagery of Yamantaka intends and hopes to develop a sense of identity strong enough to face down death, and the fear that attends upon it. Each head, each limb, each attribute, symbol and ornament of Yamantaka expresses the total mobilization of the faculties of enlightenment needed for this ultimate confrontation.

Both Yama and Yamantaka are represented with bull’s heads, but Yama always has an ornament, shaped like a wheel on his breast, which is his distinctive mark.

The Hindu Yama is the son of the Sun. He is the presiding deity of Naraka and he is also known as Dharma, ultimate reality, or basically god of the way things really are