|A spirit tablet for the earth god in Hong Kong|
|Literal meaning||1. spirit master sign
2. spirit seat
|Vietnamese alphabet||bài vị|
A spirit tablet, memorial tablet, or ancestral tablet, is a placard used to designate the seat of a deity or past ancestor as well as to enclose it. With origins in traditional Chinese culture, the spirit tablet is a common sight in many East Asian countries where any form of ancestor veneration is practiced. Spirit tablets are traditional ritual objects commonly seen in temples, shrines, and household altars throughout China.
A spirit tablet is often used for deities and ancestors, with shrines found in households or in temples, where there are specific rooms for individual spirit tablets for ancestors. A spirit tablet acts as an effigy of a specific deity or ancestor. In Taoism, spirit tablets are often used for the spirits ancestors and sometimes such tablets are found under deities, which represent the enclosed spirit of the deity. This practice influenced the Buddhist faith, where tablets are found in many temples; however tablet usage is not limited to ancestors, but to wandering spirits, demons and preta as well.
In Japanese Buddhism, tablets are used in funeral rites and stored in the home altar to Buddha.
In Chinese folk religion for example, a household will have one or more tablets for specific deities:
- One outside the house at the front door. (A shrine either to the Jade Emperor at eye level the door or the earth deity, below the door.)
- One in the kitchen. (A shrine to the Kitchen god, Zao Jun.
- Two in the house, usually at least one in the living room. (A shrine to any other deity or family ancestors.)
In Korean culture, spirit tablets are of great importance in ancestral rites called jesa, as they are the centerpieces of food offerings and represent the spiritual presence of the deceased.
Spirit tablets are found not just amongst the Chinese but in other East Asian cultures, such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
A spirit tablet is not the same as an idol.
- Li, Xiaoxiang; Fu, Chunjiang; Goh, Geraldine (2004). Origins of Chinese people and customs (Revised ed.). Singapore: Asiapac Books. p. 130. ISBN 978-981-229-384-8. "ancestral tablet"
- "Ancestors and Deities: Chinese Spirit Tablets". Museum of Anthropology. University of Missouri. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
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