Gnostic Studies on the Web


Date: Mon, 06 Jun 1994 12:37:40 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Manichees
Organization: College of Charleston

Esoteric Note:  Mazdeans, Nestorians & Manichees in China

Somewhere in the 6th century, in the old capital of Ch'ang-an, two Mazdean ambassadors, one in c.518 (proabably another in 528 CE), arrived from the court of Kobad in Persia. This was a time of a divided China, where the old regime had fled to the south and the north was ruled by a loose hegemony dominated by the Toba (T'o-pa), called the Northern Wei dynasty (which would collapse in 534). These Toba where "barbarians" from the central steppes of eastern Mongolia (descendants of the Hsiung-Nu) who had driven out the revered Old Royal Families and forced them into the south. These were Turks with strong connections and alliances with the Persian Sassanians.

As a powerful military horse-riding peoples (who destroyed the White Huns in 560), they brought with them many "foreign" religions, particularly Buddhism, but others as well...they controlled the caravan routes (the "silk road"...many gnostic texts, recently published) and were receptive to non-Chinese worldviews, being, as many nomadic peoples are, electic in their religious views. Among these was Zoroastrianism, founded by Zoroaster, or in Chinese, Su-lu-chih. Apparently the ambassadors helped to establisg a Fire Temple in Ch'ang-an, a school (Saabaa) with priests and elders, where they worshiped Fire (Spirit of Heaven) and had Chinese converts. About 100 years later, c.630s, a famous magi (Mogh in Chinese) arrived and the Emperor gave permission to rebuild and expand the Fire Temple. When the Sassanians dynasty fell, many fled to China where the son of the last Sassanian ruler (fleeing the Muslim invasion of Persia) became a Captain of the Chinese Imperial Guard (and built another temple for private worship of the displaced royalty of Persia)...c.670s...some of which were also followers of Mani.

But wait! When the Khan of the western Turks died in 630 CE, the tribes split and fell to warring and competition giving the southern Chinese regimes an opportunity to reclaim Northern China. This gave the famous Emperor, T'ai Tsung (The Great) an opportunity to sieze the Khan of the eastern Kurks and subdue the "barbarian" threat, and thus establish the renown Golden Age of the T'ang Dynasty. Further, an alliance was made with the Uighur Turks to help subdue the other Turkish tribes. So what, you ask? Ah! The Uighurs religion at this time was, yes, Manichaeanism! With the T'ang dynasty constantly in need of Uighur allies to subdue the other Turkish nomads, this opened the silk road to the teaching of Mani. Now piture the Silk Road active and relatively safe--picture, if you would, Turks, Tocharians, Khotanese, Sogdians, Persians, Jews, and even Armenians traveling with goods, camels, and many world pictures in their respective and honorable heads. By the time of T'ai Tsung, Mazdaists had regular shrines in Norther Chinese cities; Syrian missionaries had appeared, and, about 635, Nestorian Christianity spread up from the south brought by sea- sailing missionaries and from the west by silk-raod travellers.

Remember Nestorius, condemned in 434 for heretical Christian doctrines? He espoused the "two-natures" of Christ in Constantinople (he was the Bishop there) and emphasized a doctrine of the co-operation between the human and the divine, the so-called "consenting union" of the two. This doctrine was carried to China by missionaries after the rejection of Nestorians where they were heard with receptive ears (having a rather heaven and earth, yin-yang sound). Here was propagated the *Doctrine of Splendor* and by 638 there was a monastery housing 21 monks at, yes once again, Ch'ang-an. T'ang rulers allowed it to spread and develop and gave it support, for example, in 742 there was a Royal Offering at the Nestorian Temple; in 745 the Nestorian-Chinese priests obtained an edict distinguishing them from the Mazdeans and the Manicheans (said edict notes over 2,000 Mazdeans and Nestorians in China). A carved rock edict dating from 781 (exhumed in 1625) speaks of the one Triune God, mentions the Son of the Virgin (but not as divine) and his ascension as an Immortal.

In the midst of all these religious riches, we find the mention of a treaties called, *The Book of Two Principles* expounded at the Chinese royal court (Ch'ang-an) in 694 CE by a Persian Manichean and again in 719. Later, this sect was known as *Doctrine of the Light* whereby each soul must seek to liberate the light (yang) held captive by the physical darkness of the body (yin). Supported by the Taoists, which eventual assimilated much of the teachings into the White Cloud Sect (a vegetarian sect). Several Greek texts have been preserved in Chinese translations--the Syriac Acts of the Martyrs (Acta Archelai) and writings by Photius.

Of course the primary development during this period was that of Buddhism and Tibetan and Indian Tantra and the emergence of a genuine Chinese Buddhism, most well known it its Ch'an-Zen forms. But that's another story!


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