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Blessing

Blessing. A two-way movement of (from humans to God) thanksgiving and praise, and of (from God to humans) power and goodness/good fortune. Blessings (in both senses) are prominent in Judaism, where it is said that there is a blessing for every occasion. See also BENEDICTIONS.

In Christianity, blessings occur especially in worship and in the liturgy—e.g. at the end of the eucharist and other services, where the congregation is blessed.

In Islam, baraka was associated originally with fecundity and having many descendants. From this it came to mean success or prosperity in more general terms. The source is always God.

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blessing

bless·ing / ˈblesing/ • n. [in sing.] God's favor and protection: may God continue to give us his blessing. ∎  a prayer asking for such favor and protection: a priest gave a blessing as the ship was launched. ∎  grace said before or after a meal. ∎  a beneficial thing for which one is grateful; something that brings well-being: it's a blessing we're alive. ∎  a person's sanction or support: he gave the plan his blessing even before it was announced.

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blessing

blessing a blessing in disguise an apparent misfortune that eventually has good results, recorded from the mid 18th century.
blessings brighten as they take their flight it is only when something is lost that one realizes its value; saying recorded from the mid 18th century.

See also count one's blessings at count2, mixed of Chancery.

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blessing

blessing •waxing •passing, surpassing •Lancing, Lansing •blessing, distressing, dressing, Lessing, pressing, unprepossessing •hairdressing •bracing, casing, facing, lacing, placing, self-effacing, spacing, tracing •steeplechasing • interfacing •unceasing • Gissing • unconvincing •unpromising •enticing, icing •self-sacrificing • crossing •kick-boxing •rejoicing, voicing •conveyancing • embarrassing •videoconferencing •dashing, flashing, lashing, thrashing •square-bashing • tongue-lashing •lynching, unflinching •garnishing • furnishing • ravishing •Cushing •Flushing, gushing, unblushing •inrushing • onrushing

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Blessing

BLESSING

BLESSING . Blessing is one of the most common religious acts in all belief systems. It is the beginning and the end of almost all rituals, including funeral services. Blessing manifests in worldly activities and common speech, in which it may be imperceptibly embedded, as well as in highly aspired religious contexts. Blessing nurtures hope and wards off fear; it is a companion and assurance in time of peace and a consolation and hope in time of crisis. Blessing is indispensable in celebrations, initiations, rituals, sacrifices, and rites of passage.

The process of blessing involves the act of blessing, its content, the means, the agent who has the power to grant the blessing, and the recipient who requests and receives the blessing. The act of blessing forms a bond between the supreme beings and the faithful. The contents of blessing reveal the hopes and fears of humankind.

General Notions

Etymologically, the verb to bless comes from the word blood, suggesting the use of blood in consecration. Blessing thus directly invokes the ritual of consecration. When the Bible was translated into English, to bless was derived from the Hebrew word berakh, which was earlier translated into Greek as eulogia and into Latin as benediction. In the process of translation we find at least three meanings of what is supposedly the same word: consecration, eulogy, and benediction. In addition to these, there are common expressions that we usually consider to be blessings: Happy Birthday; Happy New Year; Merry Christmas; may God protect you; peace be with you; long live the king; with this truth; may you attain liberation. These phrases show that blessing has a broader meaning than that used in the process of translating the Bible.

Common and technical usages in different traditions reveal a wide range and many shades of meaning for the word blessing. Blessing can be an act or just an expression to convey good will or favor, frequently invoking God, gods, or a supreme being. One may assign to blessing three primary meanings: an act or rite of granting and receiving favor, with or without divine power; the expression of human aspiration towards goodness; and praise to a supreme and powerful entity. In order to cover all traditions, supreme entity is used here to mean superhuman authority, be it God, gods, holy men, or revered objects. There is no simple boundary among these three meanings. They are in a sense derived from the one concept that there is a benign power able to confer benefits upon humanity, individually or collectively.

Since God, gods, and holy persons are sources of goodness and mercy, offering praise to them can be a blessing automatically. Consecrated objects are blessed; that is, empowered to bring benefits. Blessing, in the sense of accord or approval, suggests that what has been proposed will advance shared aims for good. In all these meanings there is the undeniable presence of religious elements, such as belief in a supreme entity or in the efficacy of morality and ethics.

Among communicative speeches, which could include blessing, thanking, congratulating, or cursing, blessing is positive and creative. But blessing is not confined to words alone; the act of blessing involves semantic, social, psychological, and other elements. It should therefore be defined as a whole process of creating something beneficial.

The Components of Blessing

Within the process of blessing one can discern three elements: verbal, nonverbal, and religious actions. These rites are not distinct from each other, but rather act as coefficients. The third element is the most important, since without it blessing would not be effective.

Verbal elements

Blessing expressed through language is in fact the end-product of the process, the last to appear. But since it is the most obvious, we shall consider this aspect first. Blessing can embed in everyday language even without obvious religious context or intention. Whether the actual statement of blessing is embedded or independent, what is important is that it is a complete act, an attempt to do something by speaking. We can say that a blessing is an act done by speaking: it is a speech-act. Verbal statements like "to bless," "to promise," "to pronounce," "to wish," and "to vow" have the quality of performing or realizing themselves when uttered. The actualization of what is pronounced is not crucial. If circumstances are favorable it will materialize, but the act of blessing is complete in itself. These favorable circumstances, the felicity condition s, may consist of various elements according to circumstances.

But a speech-act cannot be the whole blessing. Speech has thought as its basis and it must have a semantic base. There are psychological and semantic elements in communicative situations involving blessings, curses, vows, oaths, and so on. If one describes the act of blessing as performative, then one might describe the pre-blessing statethe psycho-semantic or thought stateas generative. Speech-acts show the speaker's attitude toward the good and bad things of life. The blessing must be said in context, otherwise how could we distinguish a blessing from a curse? The situation is contextually dependent.

The relation between benefactor and beneficiary or between benefactor and petitioner or supplicant, whether blessing is sought for oneself or for another, can be explained through the background of the supplicant. The content and the process of blessing can be generalized or universalized from the point of view of the benefactor, since a powerful entity is usually considered to be omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. From the point of view of the petitioner, blessing is specific and personal. Humanity is always imperfect, which is why blessing is needed.

Nonverbal elements

Nonverbal elements accompany, surround, and evolve with or around blessing. They comprise a wide range of objects, places, persons, and phenomena. Everything worshiped, everything believed to be sacred and to have the power to bless, can be subsumed in this category. To attempt an inventory would be a superfluous endeavor: some examples will suffice to show how vast the nonverbal elements of blessing can be.

Signs, symbols, emblems, or diagrams which are deemed sacred and auspicious can be an instant blessing. The swastika, the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Indian tradition, sacred initials, anagrams, the cross, and others have long been used as devices of blessing. Images of founders (buddhas, Jain Tīrthakaras, Jesus, Laozi, Confucius), deities, bodhisattvas, and saints, no matter whether they are painted, sculpted, or otherwise produced, are empowered to bless by consecration rites, myths, auspiciousness of the location, connection with relics, and so on. To witness these objects is to be blessed; a wish made in their presence is sure to be granted. Pilgrimages, miracles, and oracles reinforce the reputation of these special images, relics, and shrines: the process of empowerment is continuing and relational.

Natural features like the Ganges River, the Himalayas, caves, or even an island such as Delos are seen as sources of blessing, and have been popular destinations for pilgrimage since ancient times. Myth and legend, images and relics reinforce the holy or sacred status of these geographic locations. For the Hindu, the Ganges River is a blessing: to merge into the Ganges is to liberate oneself from suffering and sins, which is one of the most sought-after blessings. The complexities of social activities that center upon the Ganges demonstrate how a sacred locality can loom large in religion and belief and develop into a socioeconomic phenomenon.

Blessing is signified physically by gestures like raising or extending the right hand with palm open, the varadamudrā. Blessings are usually accompanied by verbal elements or verbal symbolism such as the sacred syllable O or a mantra. Verbal embodiments of blessing, even when muttered or inscribed, generate the power of protection and benediction. Music and dance are commonly used in ritual. In many cultures, for example Indian or Thai, there are specific songs or tunes auspicious for blessing, and there is also blessing by means of music: the music itself is sacred and is a blessing when played.

Nonverbal elements mainly concern the benefactor or situations favorable to giving a blessing. They mediate or enhance the blessing, as is evident in ritual, which usually incorporates symbolism, icons, and the concept of sacred space. In ritual the verbal and the nonverbal elements unite. Ritual is performed by religious experts, priests, monks, or shamans, within a consecrated space, using implements, gestures, words, music, and chants. Nonverbal elements are also used to transfer blessings. In some cases, such as in Armenian tradition, fragments from an old Bible are inserted into a new one as a blessing. The blessing is transferred by means of nonverbal empowerment.

The religious elements of blessing

The religious element is the most important component of blessing, since without it the other elements, verbal or nonverbal, cannot become a blessing. These elements are something already produced. To use a linguistic term, this is a surface structure. The religious element is in the deep structure of blessing. It must be present before a blessing is performed, and not cease to exist afterward. We can hear a blessing when it is uttered, we can perceive its surroundings with our senses. But the mystic power, which is the most fundamental element in the production of a blessing, is intangible. That power exists because we believe in the power of the blessing, and that is why blessing is deemed to be religious. Human beings assume that there is an entity or, in some cultures, entities, that possess or generate power and transform it into a blessing; but the power and process of transformation is intangible and unquantifiable.

The transcendental power

Generally, all religions worship and venerate something as sacred and powerful. The names might be different but the concept, and thus the relation between the ultimate entity and humanity, is more or less comparatively the same among people of different faiths. The sacred or the transcendental entity can take many forms. It can be represented by a panoply of gods and goddesses, as in Indian and Chinese religions. It can be a pervasive and universal essence, as in the concept of ātman-paramātman in Indian philosophy. It can be a one and only God as in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In religions like Jainism and Buddhism, where God or gods do not play the role of supreme power, the founders themselvesthe Jinas, the buddhas and the buddhas-to-be, and the bodhisattvas because of the wisdom, purity, and mercy gained from their enlightenment, take the position of the ultimate.

It is true that in some forms of belief, such as monism, the supreme power is both fearful and graceful, as it encompasses and is the same as chaos and the cosmos. This pervasive power manifests in various forms to answer the needs of humanity, but it is, in whatever form, refuge to the faithful. Since this power is transcendental and blissful it is always available for supplication and always ready to bless. The ways and means to approach and ask favor from the power and how the power is to be transferred to the supplicants vary.

The divine or the sacred can transfer a blessing to human beings at will and without intermediary. However, in practice a blessing is usually transferred with some form of mediation. Two main intermediaries are common in most traditions (this is especially prominent in Catholicism). First, ritual or sacrifice, with its accessories and liturgical procedures in which words or speech-acts form a vital role; second, the agents who perform the ritual, who can be priests, monks, shamans, kings, or leaders, or the senior male or female members of a community or family. It should be noted that in Buddhism ritual is meant to bless and is performed mostly with words: chanting of the sacred texts or praises to the Three Gems and the dharma. It is a blessing ritual, not a ritual in which blessing forms a part.

Power of the word: divine origin and origin of the world

Speech possesses power because it is unique to humans, so much so that it is thought to be divine or of divine origin. Language, as a vehicle of thought and emotion, is not totally explicable. It is not actually known how the power of communication works, but language and thought are clearly not separable. Words carry not only significative and suggestive, but also mystic, meaning. Words can convey not just the content but also the power and the mystic elements embodied in God and blessing. In some traditions, like the Indian, speech is the outcome of thought, or the inner language system, of a person, which originates in the universal langue. It is the bridge connecting the abstract and the concrete.

Words express, reveal, and expose reality. They are equal to the essence of the universe itself. In other words they are equal to god. In Vedic tradition the word vac (word or speech) is said to be the origin and the essence of this universe. The ultimate word is brahman (the essence of the universe.) And in the New Testament, the same concept is propounded: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Words in themselves are thus divine and have power. Speech-acts such as blessings, curses, and vows are more intensified by psychological processes than normal significative ones. Since speech is powerful, blessing has the potential to be efficacious.

Words are more powerful if they stem from the ultimate power and are considered to be the words of god or the Truth, realized or seen by sages such as Vedic seers or the Buddha. Holy texts like the Bible, the Qurʾān, or the Buddhist canon are considered to be blessings by themselves. They are the words of power. Words can also become more powerful through encrypted forms. Mantras, sacred syllables, chanting in a reversed order, or syllables set in diagrams are examples of this type. They can bless and act as blessings. These words of power are closely related to the action-oriented blessing. To listen, chant, read, copy, or propagate the chosen words lead to happiness, a blessing gained by action.

Forms and Contents of Blessings

The three elementsverbal, nonverbal, and religiousevolve into different forms to express a blessing. Blessing can be simple and personal or ritualized and public, both in verbal and nonverbal form. The act of blessing usually involves a benefactor, a petitioner, and a beneficiary. In this case, one can say that blessing acts as a tie between humanity and the supreme power or the sacred. It is a search for the benign qualities in a supreme entity and an effort to transfer them.

Blessing can be expressed in various forms of speech. In relation to a benefactor, a blessing is expressed in eulogy, praise, or prayer. Praise and prayer breathe life into the sacred and make the sacred real and present. In relation to the supplicant who requests something from a powerful entity, blessing conveys favors and is a gift from the sacred to humankind. Here blessing can take the form of an invocation or supplication. It marks the relationship between the sacred and humanity as benevolent, in contrast to the malevolence of evil. In ritual it takes the form of benediction.

Language formulas also reflect how the faithful receive a blessing. Invocation and praises to god or the transcendental power are the most common formulas. They are mixed into common speech to the point that they have often become exclamation words. They are personal, since one can invoke and praise a powerful entity by oneself. But they can also be ritualized and liturgical. In this case, blessing is sought through participation in ritual. Catholic liturgies usually end with a blessing, the benediction. The central activity of Buddhist rituals for auspicious occasions is the chanting of paritta or raksa text, selected auspicious and protective blessings, by monks. Even a funeral rite ends with stanzas of blessing.

As a supplication, blessing is related to wishes for oneself or for another. Wishes for others may be expressed through vows and strong altruistic intentions. When the wish is for oneself, the activity is mainly on the beneficiary's part. This is generally an activity-oriented blessing, in which the petitioner asks the sacred for help in doing something. In other cases something is done or promised which will make the recipient worthy of blessing, or a vow is made to do something to express gratitude to the sacred if the wish is granted. The petitioner may go to any sanctuary, or one associated with a specific need or wish. In strong monotheistic traditions like Christianity or Islam, total submission to God is the most meritorious act and is a form of blessing in itself: if one acts as God or the Prophet has prescribed, one is saved and blessed.

Participation in religious ritual and sacrifice are also considered meritorious. In traditions where there is no divine authority, the path laid down by the founder is the way to blessedness. In Buddhism the emphasis is on good karma, the cultivation of meritorious deeds by body, speech, and mind. Blessing is instantaneous when one does something good. In this case even an inferior in age, position, or spiritual attainment can bless a superior. This phenomenon is not limited to Buddhism but can be observed in all religions. One can bless priests or rabbis for the good they have done by wishing them long life or good health, for example. This is blessing through gratitude or thankfulness. In Islam, performing the zakāt as prescribed is a blessing in itself. We may say that in these cases rituals have been transformed into moral acts. In theistic religions moral acts function as intermediaries because they are prescribed by God, who alone has the power to bless.

Generally speaking, the content of blessings is what one wishes for and asks from the Ultimate. Blessing can have general content, unspecified and at the same time universal, as in expressions like "Bless you," "God bless," and "May good merit protect you." In religious ceremonies blessing is pervasiveeveryone who participates is blessed, and participants can direct the blessing to whatever end they like. When blessing is more specific in content it can be classified as material or spiritual. The first category comprises all that is tangible: wealth, health, prosperity, progeny, longevity, and protection. Examples of spiritual blessing are found in several traditions. In Ephesians 1:3, spiritual blessing is mentioned: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing." In Buddhism it is common to wish for the ultimate blessing of liberation from suffering, which, ironically, is only possible through an arduous spiritual journey.

Blessings in Major Religious Traditions

The four major religious traditions each have their own version of blessing, governed by their individual natures. Judeo-Christian and Islamic tradition exemplifies strong monotheistic principles. The Indic religion is a challenge to classify because it embraces all conceivable types of religion: polytheistic, henotheistic, monotheistic, and monistic. In the Buddhist tradition, gods and goddesses play some roles but are not essential. The Chinese tradition can be called mystically pragmatic or naturalistic, and the mystic forces of nature elements play an essential role.

Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions share the concept of the One God, the Almighty, the Creator, who has absolute, transcendental power over what he has created. God is thus the source of all blessings. The power to bless is the nature of God, but God himself is also considered a blessing. He is evoked before any ritual can commence so that the ritual can become a blessing.

Judaic traditions

The word blessing in these traditions is derived from the Semitic root brk (to bless). The derivations of the root evolve into various shades of meaning in these traditions, which reflect their thinking on blessing. The Hebrew scriptures emphasize the principle of God as the sole source of blessings. He created humans and bestowed various blessings on them. Of course he punished them from time to time, but less frequently than he blessed them. Forms of the word berakhah (blessing) appear 398 times in the Hebrew Bible. In Jewish tradition blessings are bestowed upon the Chosen People, the people of God. But since all human beings come from the same ancestor, the tradition extends blessings to all of humanity. And only through God's blessings can one attain salvation.

Blessing can also be transferred to humanity by means of an intermediarya family head, king, or priestcharged with a mission. When the Hebrew religious institutions were established and the religious organization refined, the content and intermediary of blessings were codified:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them. (Num. 6:2227)

But this is not the only means by which the Jewish people ask for blessing and bless. Blessings as both a means of praising God and of requesting his favor blend into every aspect of Jewish life.

Berakhah (blessing), widely rendered in liturgical literature as benediction, has a fixed formula in Jewish liturgy. It must contain the words baruch atta adonai elohenu melech ha'olam baruch (Blessed art thou Lord, our God, King of the Universe). Berakhah can be found throughout every form of the Jewish liturgy.

Jewish daily life starts with blessing from the moment of waking up. There are blessings for every activity: washing one's hands before a meal, saying grace before and after a meal, even smelling fragrant trees or bark. Blessings are spoken over wine and over specially prepared food. In domestic and public rituals of worship, blessing, in the sense of praising and supplicating, pervades the liturgical sequences. Through blessing, activities, no matter how mundane, are sanctified, and the relationship between God and his people is confirmed.

In public worship there are two essential components in the liturgical sequence that show berakhah as the core and the focal point of the liturgy: the praise, shevah, which has the Confirmation of the Faith as its focal point, and the prayer, tefillah or ʿamida. They both contain berakhah, but it is in the prayer that blessing has a special status. Evidence shows that both shʾmaʿ and ʿamida originated in the sacrificial rites performed in the Temple of Solomon before its destruction in 70 ce.

There are several terms used for tefillah. It may be called ʿamida, because it is recited while standing; or shʾmoneh ʿesreh, because it has eighteen blessings or benedictions (even when the nineteenth is added, the name stands). It consists of nineteen benedictions. These include three benedictions called praise, thirteen petitions, and three thanksgivings. In regular daily services all are recited, first silently by each individual so sinners can atone without embarrassment, then repeated aloud by the reader. At festive occasions the petitions are replaced by an appropriate blessing.

The shʾmaʿ and ʿamida are the core of Jewish liturgy; in fact they can be considered instrumental in holding the religion together. The Confirmation of the Faith holds Israel to be a nation no matter how far and wide the Jews spread over the world. Blessings accompanying the shʾmaʿ stress that Jews are the Chosen People blessed by God. In ʿamida blessing shines forth with its whole range of meanings, be it praise, petition, or thanksgiving. It establishes God as the sole resource, power, and refuge of humankind.

Christian traditions

The Christian tradition is similar to the Jewish in that God is the source of all blessings. The word berakhah is translated as eulogia in Greek and benediction in Latin, carries the meaning of "speak well" or "good words." This can be interpreted in two ways: towards God, the good words are praises, while towards human beings, they are gifts from God. There is parallelism here: Jesus is the gift of god to humankind, he is the eulogia and through him the eulogia passes to humankind. Jesus' communication to God is direct, thus his words, as praises and petitions to God, are the most effective. This direct communication with God was continued by the Apostles and later by the priests of the church. Thus in Christianity blessings are passed along by means of ritual officiated over by the designated officers of God. The most common blessing used by Jesus, pax vobis (peace be with you), has become part of all the sacraments.

Islamic traditions

In the pre-Islamic Arab world the root brk has two meanings: "to bless" and "to crouch." The second meaning, as a noun, baraca, alludes to the crouching camel and to mating, which suggests a fertility cult. The meaning is further extended to signify wealth and all desirable things. But in the uncompromising monotheistic view of Islam, the meaning of the word baraca and al baracat, the plural form, is restricted to blessings from God. It is God's mercy that makes blessing possible. Anyone who is totally submissive to his will, will be blessed.

Indic traditions

In Indic tradition the word for blessing, vara, is derived from the root vr (to choose). The concept of blessing has its root in yajna, sacrifice to gods and goddesses. Sacrifice is officiated over by priests to please the gods, and the yajamana, the person who sponsors the sacrifice, chooses the blessing to receive. The way to obtain something through the action of sacrifice is called karma. The arrangement and the sequences of sacrifices, which in later periods become more elaborate and complex, are seen as the means by which the universe is regulated. In this sense sacrifice can be called dharma, the upholder of the universe.

On a personal level, the act of sacrifice is further internalized and becomes a moral act, good or bad, which will entail a result. It can also be an act done to please the gods in the form of tapas (penance). This is one of the most popular ways to obtain divine blessing, and appears abundantly in Indian literature. At times, the blessing that was chosen had a negative effect on other people or even upset the universe, and the gods were obliged to convene to try to save the situation.

When ethics and morality are emphasized, good actions, the kusalakarma or dharma, in the sense of the upholder of society, are the source of blessings. In orthodox Indic tradition, dharma in this sense means action as prescribed by the gods for the four classes, or varna (Brāhma, the priests; katriya, the warriors; vaiśya, the merchants and craftmen; śūdra, the serfs). Those who act according to the divine rule sustain the goodness and peace in this world and are blessed by the gods.

Another aspect of blessings in Indic tradition is the intimacy between gods and man. There are many gods, goddesses, local spirits, and sacred places to which the Indian will go for blessings. Images of gods and goddesses, whether in a temple or private shrine, are worshiped daily as if they were alive; they are clothed and fed and offered ornaments, music, and fragrances.

Words are crucial in all of these rituals. In Vedic times the correct pronunciation of the mantra of the Veda was at the heart of a sacrifice. When it is internalized and intensified in the mind, action is considered to be a genuinely efficacious power. When uttered solemnly, words, blessings, and curses become real and have a real effect. Words uttered by holy or virtuous individuals and the Truth expressed through words are especially potent.

Blessings penetrate into all actions in Indian life. No activity can begin if the blessing of the gods is not first invoked. In the morning the Savit stanza must be recited before any activity is undertaken. In Indic tradition, as well as in Southeast Asian traditions such as those of the Thai, Burmese, and Khmer, literary works start and end with blessing stanzas, which confer auspiciousness and protection to the writer, listener, and reader. The performing arts and fine arts begin with homage to the teachers to express gratitude, to obtain blessings, and to ward off all obstacles and mishaps.

Buddhist traditions

Buddhist practice follows the same line as mainstream Indic tradition. Buddhists propitiate buddhas and bodhisattvas as well as gods and goddesses for good fortune and protection. They have paritta or raksa text, the blessing literature, which they chant or have monks chant in ceremonies for blessing. Monks, or even lay people by virtue of their high moral status, can also be the source of blessings.

Chinese traditions

The Chinese concept of blessing and the blessed state stems from harmony among the three realms of the universe: Heaven, Earth, and Man. Heaven is the source of blessings through the king or emperor, who has the right and duty to propitiate Heaven by performing sacrifices according to the treatises. The ideal state is expressed by the balance between the two forces of yin and yang and the Five Elements. Since these elements are the components of the universe, they arrange themselves in various shapes and forms. The elements take turns to preside over Earth and human beings. One must know which element is predominant at a specific moment or period in order to act in harmony with that element and to gain thereby the energy and blessing in full force.

The same concept applies to feng shui practice, which is the art of drawing on natural forces to gain favor and blessings. Sacrifice is the key to harmony. The king or emperor performs sacrifices for the blessing of the state and his people. Heaven blesses through the medium of the emperor; this was the role of a priest-king in ancient times. In a household, the head of the family performs sacrifices to ancestral and other gods to maintain the harmony of the family.

Language, both spoken and written, plays a special role in the Chinese tradition of blessing. Auspicious characters, singly or in combination, such as those for fortune, longevity, and promotion, confer blessings in their own right. Auspicious characters, graphic designs, and phrases represented in calligraphy are affixed inside and outside of buildings to bring blessings. They may be represented in forms other than calligraphy, appearing in paintings or decorative arts as symbols derived from homonyms of auspicious words. A picture of a bat stands for fortune because bat and fortune are homonyms. These visual representations confer instantaneous and constant blessings.

The primary blessings in Chinese thought are fu (felicity), lu (prosperity or promotion), and shou (longevity). They are represented in calligraphy, in personified form, and by symbols on almost everything, from the architectural elements of a house or a town to the decorations on utensils such as plates, cups, and bowls. As a result, the Chinese live amid a landscape of blessings.

Blessing can be considered the act of giving blessing, the blessing itself, and the process by which blessing is transferred. Language and complex systems of communication are believed to belong only to humankind; they enable humans to control society and their environment and thus express or embody power. They convey meaning and transmit knowledge, emotion, and thought. Words uttered intentionally, like blessings, are moral and social acts by themselves. Intensified by mental and spiritual factors they are invested with potency both in the minds of the speakers and the audience. Words of god, pertaining to god or gods or the sacred, are endowed with power by themselves.

Blessings are an essential part of life. Even in religions where they must be granted only by God and through the intermediacy of authorized representatives, adherents bless each other when they are on good terms and curse each other when on bad terms. They even bless God, whether or not he can be or needs to be blessed. Blessings represent creative, benign, or even saving forces. They help reconcile us with this imperfect world. They are a primary consolation, since they express the hopes of humankind. They manifest the benign relationship between the sacred and the human. In a sense, blessing breathes life into the sacred and the supreme and makes them vivid and real in human life.

Bibliography

Regrettably not a single book has been written solely on blessing. The word is found in dictionaries and encyclopedias, most of which deal with blessing in Catholicism; see for example "benediction" in Encyclopedie Catholique (Paris, 1948), pp. 14051416; see also Livre des benediction, rituel romain, (Paris, 1995), p. 513. For a general introduction one may consult articles in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, (Edinburgh, 1913) and the Encyclopedia of Religion. A brief entry on blessing in terms of the phenomenology of religion is found in G. van der Leeuw, La religion dans son essence et ses manifestations, phenomenologie de la religion (Paris, 1970), p. 59. The theory of the speech-act found its definitive form in John L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Oxford, 1962). Further ideas on the subject can be found in books on cognitive linguistics. For linguistic analysis of blessing in a particular language, James A. Matisoff, Blessings, Curses, Hopes, and Fears: Psycho-Ostensive Expressions in Yiddish (Stanford, Calif., 2000), is the only example. The relationship between human being, language, and gesture is discussed in Jean Poirier, ed., Histoire des moeurs, vol. 2 (Paris, 1991). For nonverbal elements of blessing, there is no direct source, and one must turn to works on ritual, such as Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology, Cambridge, Mass., 1999) and John R. Bowen, Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion (Boston, 2002), chap. 9, "Objects, Images, and Worship"; pilgrimage and blessing is discussed briefly in chap. 13, "Place and Pilgrimage," in the same work. For more general concepts on geography and religion see Chris C. Park, Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion (London, 1994), especially chap. 8, "Sacred Places and Pilgrimage." Philosophical and religious analysis of the power of words, mainly expounded in Indian philosophy, is found in "Les pouvoir de la parole dans le Rgveda," in Louis Renou, Études Vediques et Panineennes, vol. 1 (Paris, 1955) and the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy, vol. 5 (Delhi, 1990). For a good introduction to the anthropological approach see John R. Bowen, Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion (Boston, 2002), chap. 11, "Sacred Speech and Divine Power." For Jewish liturgy see Abraham Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development (New York, 1995) and Nicholas de Lange, Judaism (Oxford, 2003). For other terms used for blessing in Indian literature, especially in the Vedic period, see Jan Gonda, Prayer and Blessing: Ancient Indian Ritual Terminology (Leiden, 1989). For the Buddhist tradition see Peter Skilling, "The Raksa Literature of the Sravakayana," Journal of the Pali Text Society 14 (1992): 109182. For a brief introduction to Chinese tradition see Edward L. Shaughnessy, ed., China: The Land of the Heavenly Dragon (London, 2000).

Prapod Assavavirulhakarn (2005)

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