The religious beliefs of Bai ethnic people are complex and varied. Some people believe in Daoism, but most people believe in Buddhism and Benzhu, local Gods. It is very common to find Buddhist, Daoist and Benzhu shrines coexist in temples of Bai villages.
Bai people believed in Buddhism since the 7th century. In fact, Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy, plays an important role in the oldest myths of the Bai. The Bai embrace Buddhist beliefs about the afterlife and reincarnation and believe that honored ancestors protect the living and drive malevolent spirits and ghosts away. In ancient times, the Bai cremated their dead. Under Chinese influence they began burying the dead, sometimes in elaborate tombs. In modern time, cremation was encouraged to save land.
In the more remote places there are still vestiges of Bai primitive animism. It is not difficult to find places where different gods are honored, such as the God of the Mountain, the God of the Crops, the God of the Hunt, the Dragon King or the Mother Goddess of the Dragon King. The Bai believe that spirits can cause illness, but can also protect them. They believe that illnesses are caused by the possession of evil spirits and can be treated by shaman who has the power to enter into trance.
The Benzhu religion is unique to the Bai people. It plays an important role in Bai people’s life. Benzhu religion believes in gods of natural spirit, totem, historical and legendary figures and ancestors as Bai people believe these figures or natural spirits can protect their life.
Each village, which has seen an increasing and fluid pantheon of Gods throughout its existence, has incorporated its own history and legends in deifying former village leaders, warriors, and heroes. These deities, tied to the immediate surroundings, protect the people against sickness and violence, foster the local crops and livestock, and ensure prosperity. They become a personal and omniscient god, lending solidarity to each village’s life. Benzhu is considered as the guardian of village.
Generally speaking one village consecrates one Benzhu and there is also the case that several villages consecrated one Benzhu. In every village around Erhai Lake the Bai people have developed a singular mythology around their own Local Lord, a mythology completely different from that of neighboring villages.
Benzhu Festivals in Dali corresponds to the lunar calendar and are after Chinese New Year. During such festivals, the Benzhu shrine are taken from the temple and carried through town to a different location where they will stay for a designated number of days. The villagers will follow the gods to the designated spot burning incense and worshiping with food and money.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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