Taoism features a pantheon of deities, amongst which are the "Three Great Emperor Officials", also known as Saam Goon Daai Dai 三官大帝 (Saam Guan Daai Di), akin to the group of "Three Clears/Three Pure Ones" or Saam Ching. Their commemorative dates are as follows:
- Upper Emperor Official of the Sky - Lunar January 15th
- Middle Emperor Official of the Earth - Lunar July 15th
- Lower Emperor Official of the Water - Lunar October 15th
In traditional culture, these deities are revered for bestowing fortune, alleviating suffering, and warding off calamities from the world. Similar to the Saam Ching, each Taoist sect may have a slightly different interpretation or tradition concerning these gods, but the core concept remains unchanged - much like different companies have unique hierarchies but always feature roles like a boss, manager, etc. In this article, we will introduce you to these deities as they exist within our own lineage.
The Concept of Sky, Earth, and Water
Sky, Earth, and Water (天地水) is a phrase used in Chinese metaphysics to delineate a particular pattern. For humans, "water" symbolizes the soul within the body, "earth" represents the soul's "ghost altar" located in the atmospheric layer above the clouds, and "sky" corresponds to the "Yuen Sun" (spiritual planetary body). These elements significantly influence our daily life. They aren't physical entities visible to the naked eye, but their effects can certainly be felt. They can be likened to three bank accounts; a deficiency in any one of these accounts may lead to specific sufferings in life.
A depletion in the "sky" account could result in a lack of life direction, making you feel lost, aimless, and leading a life devoid of meaning. A scarcity in the "earth" account could leave you feeling constantly drained, akin to not having slept well for days, with even adequate rest seemingly ineffective against perpetual fatigue. Lastly, a deficit in the "water" account could sap your cognitive and physical energy, making you feel as if you're running on a low battery all day. Though not monetary in nature, these "accounts" indeed represent our wealth. A lack in any of them could lead to monetary loss or gain. For instance, showing up to work in a constant state of fatigue might eventually cost you your job!
The Roles of the Three Emperor Officials
Within our lineage, each of the three gods in this group has a distinct responsibility. The Sky Emperor Official is tasked with showering blessings from the Celestial Court, the Earth Emperor Official operates like an auditor, visiting the disciples' altars or homes from the Religious Court to assess their progress, and the Water Emperor Official is the adjudicator who delivers the final verdict, including penalties and punishments. The final report from this official can influence the disciple's fortunes and blessings in the ensuing year.
On each official's anniversary, the disciple can perform a ceremony and submit a letter to the respective court. On the Sky Official's day, they can request additional blessings or designate particular areas in their life where they need additional support. On the Earth Official's day, they can offer a letter of repentance, acknowledging their missteps and committing to self-improvement, thereby reducing the likelihood of receiving a negative mark. On the Water Official's day, they can submit a plea for mercy, requesting a postponement of any penalties or punishments to the following year, providing them an opportunity to demonstrate sincere efforts for reform rather than immediate punishment.
What are the grounds for punishment? As a Taoist disciple, one is expected to abide by specific guidelines, like the Five Virtues, the Ten Commandments, among others. Have you been fulfilling your duties? Have you committed any acts that might offend your gods or masters? Some disciples mistakenly believe they are safe from retribution because they haven't been admonished by their human masters. However, they fail to understand that the gods administer justice. Errant disciples will eventually face divine intervention, and their actions will have consequences. In extreme cases, the gods may even withdraw their blessings, reclaiming what has been previously granted to counterbalance the disciple's transgressions. Ultimately, divine justice is unavoidable.
What does divine punishment entail? While the gods can't physically harm you, they can retract their blessings and undo the magic previously applied to aid you. The results can be akin to a reversal of time: malicious spirits may return to torment you, nefarious magic may strike again, your luck may wane, and bad habits that were previously corrected may resurface, wreaking havoc in your life. You may attract negative influences, including unsavoury companions, evildoers, and even thieves. You may also unwittingly fall into traps that require more than financial resources to escape. Your health might deteriorate as your preheavenly wealth ebbs. The list of potential consequences is extensive.
As diligent disciples, we must remember to worship and communicate with the court on these three pivotal anniversaries, thereby demonstrating our unwavering faith and commitment to improvement. In doing so, we ensure the continuous flow of blessings and the ongoing opportunity for self-enhancement without necessitating divine punishment. Regularly read and cultivate the "Three Officials Scripture" on these significant days, and you shall receive divine blessings. Don't forget the book on the FU HEAD and Prayers too!