Perfectly Compassionate and Perfectly Beautiful Chinese Dance
(Clearwisdom.net) In ancient times, in the Nation of Qi, after Confucius listened to the grand musical dance "Shao," which was created in the time of Shun Emperor, he "was unable to eat meat for three months." He sighed, "I did not expect that music could reach such a state." He also said the musical dance "Shao" was "both perfectly beautiful and perfectly compassionate." But when he commended the musical dance "Wu," which had been created for extolling King Wu's achievements of defeating Emperor Zhou [a very ruthless king of the Shan Dynasty], Confucius praised the music as being "perfectly beautiful, but not perfectly compassionate." Thus through these stories, Confucius left the criteria in Chinese history for judging musical dances: that is, being both perfectly compassionate and perfectly beautiful.
The Origin of Eulogizing Gods
The origin of musical dances can be traced back to the eulogy of gods. In the article "Ancient Music" alone from the book "Lushi Chunqiu (that is, Lu's Spring and Autumn Annals, a book of Chinese history authored by Lu Buwei) - Notes of Summer," there were three such stories. In ancient time, after Emperor Zhuanxu came to power, he noticed a splendid tinkling sound of wind, which came from all directions. He ordered his subordinate Fei Long to create music by imitating the sound of wind. Emperor Zhuanxu also ordered another person to be the musician. He lay on the ground and tapped on his own belly, which gave out a sound like the chirping of birds. Zhuanxu named this musical dance "Cheng Yun" and used it during the ceremony of worshiping the Emperor of Heaven.
During the time of Emperor Ku, he ordered his official Xian Hei to create songs of "Jiu Zhao," "Liu Lie," and "Liu Ying." He also ordered Chui to create musical instruments such as Pi [a drum used in battle], Gu [drum], Zhong [bell], Qing [musical stone], Sheng [a reed pipe wind instrument], Guan [a wind instrument], Chi [a bamboo flute with eight holes], etc. When these instruments were played, they gave out such appealing sounds that the phoenixes and pheasants started to dance to the music. Emperor Ku was very happy, and he used this musical dance to eulogize the virtues of Heaven.
Emperor Shun ordered Zhi to create a musical dance. Zhi created the music by imitating the sounds from mountains, forests, rivers and valleys. He made a drum by covering a piece of pottery with elk skin and then tapping it. He also struck heavily or gently on stone knives and axes to imitate the sound of the Jade Qing of the Emperor of Heaven. All animals in the forest started to dance to the music.
Regarding the origin of musical dance, there was such a description in Shi Jing [or the Book of Poems, which included 305 poems from the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty] - Preface to the Mao's Edition, "A poem describes ones' aspirations. Being in the heart, it is an aspiration; being spoken out, it is a poem. One's sentiment originates from one's heart and is expressed by speaking. When the speaking cannot describe the feeling enough, one sighs. When sighing is not enough, one sings. When singing is not enough to express the sentiment, one dances with joy by moving one's hands and feet and body." These words mean that dancing is unconsciously using movements of one's hands and feet and body to express oneself when one cannot sufficiently express one's feeling with mere speech, and when one even cannot sufficiently express one's feeling through sighing, and even when singing is still not enough. When we read the three hundred poems in Shi Jing, are there any whose meaning cannot be expressed in the form of dance accompanied by music?
Zuo Zhuan [that is, The Commentary of Zuo, a Chinese chronological history book authored by Zuo Qiuming] said that the things of great importance to a nation are worship and military affairs. Worship refers to worshipping Heaven and ones' ancestors. During worshipping, staging large-scale and solemn musical dances was an extremely important part of the ceremony. While the future generations appreciate the poems of the Shi Jing [Book of Poems], people's imagination can still perceive the ancient, simple but solemn, large-scale musical dance performances.
The Postures and Dances of the Heavenly Beings
The best words that have been used to praise music should be "This piece of music should only come from the heavens, and how few times could one be able to listen to it in the human world." Music can be played alone, while a dance has to be accompanied by music. The most well-known Tang Dynasty "Dancing in Rainbow and Feathered Clothes" was said to have been created by Tang Dynasty Emperor Xuanzong, who saw in a dream the heavenly girls' graceful dances and heard the lingering divine music, and then wrote it down. The music was then passed down.
After Buddhism was introduced into China, the Buddhist Dharma spread in China. The wonderful scenes, such as heavenly girls scattering flowers, are widely known among people through the form of stories, sculptures, and paintings. The fresco in the Dunghuan Grottoes that depicted the heavenly girls' flying was vivid and conveying. The realm of Wu Daozi's painting "Heavenly Beings' Clothes Flying" appeared as if he had received help from the deities. The heavenly beings' postures and dances have become the ultimate realm of Chinese dancing.
Dances with Divine Connotations are Perfectly Compassionate and Perfectly Beautiful
For a dance to be divinely charming depends not only on the dancers having reached the realm of divinity in their cultivation and skills, but also because the dance is a direct presentation of divine will. In the performances of the New Tang Dynasty Television's Divine Performing Art Troupe, the musical dance "Creation" displays the tremendous cosmic changes in the universe. Because it directly reflects divine will through the perfect dancing and musical performance, the greatness and compassion of the enlightened beings have strongly moved the viewers. Many of them had tears in their eyes while watching the performance; they even exclaimed that the dance seemed to be performed by deities.
In the dance "A Dunhuang Dream," the sculptor's pure compassion, unselfishness, and his pious faith in gods and Buddhas enabled him to see in his dream the magnificence and extraordinariness of gods and Buddhas. This story further let people know how the many and well-known statues in the grottoes were created.
Compassion, harmony, the extraordinary, and sacredness are conveyed by one after another presentation of beautiful music and one and after another graceful dance. They play the roles of cleansing people's souls and inspiring people's wisdom.
March 23, 2007