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Yuan Shi Tian Zun (元始天尊)

Chinese. ‘Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning’. Name of one of the highest deities of the Chinese Taoist pantheon, who resides in the Heaven of Jade Purity. It is sometimes said that he is without beginning and that he as the Divine Master of the Heavenly Origin– created heaven and earth. Though, it is by some believed that he actually came to being at the beginning of the universe, as a result of the merging of pure breaths. Initially, he headed the administration of heaven, but later entrusted this task to his assistant Yu Huang, i.e. the Jade Emperor’ (fig.), who rules over heaven and earth, and whose importance in Taoism later came to exceed that of Yuan Shi Tian Zun. At the beginning of each eon, he transmits the Scriptures of the Magic Jewel to his subordinates, deities who in turn instruct mankind in the teachings of the Tao, of which he is the pure manifestation, i.e. the representative of the principle of all being, from whom all things arose, and both eternal, limitless, and invisible. In popular culture, Yuan Shi Tian Zun is worshipped on the same level as Lao Jun (fig.), i.e. the deified form of Lao Tzu (fig.), the founder of Taoism and author of the Tao-te Ching. He is also believed to rescue and release wretched souls from the various hells. He is one of the Three Pure Ones, known in Chinese as San Qing (三清), together with Ling Bao Tian Zun and Dao De Tian Zun, and he is also known as Tian Bao Jun (天寳君), i.e. the Lord of the Heavenly Jewel. In iconography, he is usually portrayed with a long black moustache and a long Chinese-style beard, seated on a dragon throne, while wearing an often predominantly red, kingly robe, and sometimes holding a pearl between his thumb and middle finger, which represents long life, perfection, incorruptibility, and wisdom, akin to the flaming pearl. His attribute, as well as the colour of his robe, distinguish him from the other two San Qing, i.e. Ling Bao Tian Zun, who is often clothed in blue and holds a ruyi, and Dao De Tian Zun, who often wears a yellow robe and holds a fan.