The Great Faiths of the East
"Truth is one; sages call it by different names."
- The Rig Veda
One cannot discuss enlightenment without at least mentioning the beliefs that line the higher path. The Western Kindred are, as a rule, hopelessly entwined in their Judeo-Christian perspective; they might revere it or reject it, but they cannot escape it. Kuei-jin, on the other hand, have little use for Western gods. Their faiths may seem a bit exotic to the Western mind, but such beliefs have Grafted the Asian cultures - especially their "mysterious ways" - for millennia. Thus, they're worth noting, if only for their roleplaying value. It's difficult to grasp an Eastern character without some grasp of Eastern ideals.
(Purists Please Note: These definitions are, by necessity, extraordinarily brief and simple - roughly like describing Christianity as "a monotheistic religion centered on a creator god, who is opposed by an adversary named Satan; who set down a list of laws; who took human form to redeem humanity's sins; and who promised salvation for his devotees and damnation for unbelievers." An indepth look at the Eastern faiths would take up the rest of this book and several others besides. Players interested in learning more should see the "Suggested Resources" list in the Introduction.)
Contrary to popular Western misconception, Buddhists, Taoists and the like are not enlightened drones who lack a sense of identity, spout bad riddles and have even worse accents. Quite the opposite: A samurai Zen master can be as egotistical as any American cowboy, although his idea of ego would work a bit differently. And while % easy |6 misinterpret these faiths as pacifistic hymns to harmony and respect, remember that these philosophies also gave us seppuku, killing fields and the Death of a Thousand Cuts. As Tsui Hark's marvelous film Green Snake demonstrates, a fanatic Buddhist or Taoist is every bit as irritating (and dangerous) as the archetypal Christian witch-hunter who tortures the innocent in the name of the Prince of Peace.
Other religions, notably Christianity , also comfort and trouble the mortals of Asia. Among the Kuei-jin, however, such faiths are an exception rather than the rule. It's entirely appropriate to have a Christian vampire from Hong Kong. On the whole, however, Eastern vampires draw their beliefs from the following faiths:
A Brief Look At Religions Around The World
(Click The Various Names For A More In-depth View)
Buddhism Christianity Confucianism Hinduism Islam Taoism
This timeless belief holds that all things have personal spirits - spirits that must be respected, propitiated and occasionally chased away. Shamans (known by many names) tend to spiritual concerns, thus allowing average folk to go about their lives. Even so, most animistic cultures revere the ghosts of ancestors and host occasional sacrifices, observances, vigils and revels to give the spirits peace. Animism forms the root of many local and tribal faiths, and it left its mark on Confucianism and Shintoism (below); it also provides a wonderful fount of Chi for enterprising vampires, who now understand that the spirits do, in fact, live.
To the Communists who took over the governments of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, religion is a crutch, a parasite bleeding the masses and binding them to a priestly elite. Personal honor, devotion to the community and loyalty to the family are the only true measures of one's worth, and this life is the only life. Most vampires would dearly love to believe that; having been through Yomi and back, however, formerly Communist Kuei-jin must start from scratch. Their political loyalty may remain, but they've seen too much of the big picture to discard the idea of an afterlife.
The root word of Asia's most influential religion is from the Sanskrit budh -- "to awaken" and "to know". Like its Hindu. foundation, Buddhism teaches that mortal life is an illusion; to experience truth, one must transcend mortal vision. The stumbling block to transcendence is tanha - "desire" or "ego" - a trait Kuei-jin have in spades. To subvert tanha, the Buddhist should follow aft Eightfold Path: right knowledge, right aspiration, right speech, right behavior, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right absorption. By following that Path, a person - or even a vampire - should be able to escape the eternal wheel of suffering and attain nirvana: the death of the Self and the beginning of peace.
Most people find the Path too rigorous to pursue; most vampires find it even more so, Buddhist philosophy - especially the Zen variety - is impossible to define in concrete terms. The Buddhist ideals are grand, but like so many other faiths, they read better than they live. To Kuei-jin, who stand outside the Path by their very nature, the Eightfold Way is a source of hope, despair, terror and longing. Humans who actually live the Path are frightening creatures, glowing with True Faith and channeling various powers against the unholy. Many Kuei-jin long to attain nirvana, but find themselves defeated by their own "un-rightness." It doesn't stop them from trying, however; most Dharma-seekers follow the Buddhist way, if only out of habit. If the tales are true, some may even reach nirvana after all.
An outgrowth of the Warring States period - an era so brutal that most Kuei-j in of the time assumed it was the Sixth Age come early - the divine philosophy of Master Kung Fu-tzu shaped (and possibly even saved) Chinese culture. Confucianism is based on the idea that righteous people can reach harmony through jÚn - the sublime virtue-of-virtues that encompasses benevolence, love, compassion, responsibility and dignity. A supreme degree of order, art and tradition encourages Jen among the people; this refinement allows them to live in harmony. Te, the power that springs from 'virtue, holds the society together by glorious consent, rather than by oppression. Such is thought to be the Order of Heaven.
Confucianist ideals built a good portion of the Chinese empire and culture. In the quest for jÚn, rulers raised walls and roads, parents raised cultured families, scholars spread knowledge and warriors defended their lands. Many Kuei-jin, realizing the transcendent powers of jÚn and tÚ, perform great acts of charity and love - or abominable atrocities - in the name of Heaven. To the Confucianist, order and virtue are the glue that holds creation together. Realizing one's place in that order forms an important keystone in a vampire's Dharmic search.
An unbelievably complex collection of faiths masquerading as a single religion, Hinduism assures its followers that this world is an illusion wrapped in its own perceptions. Remaining blinded by shadows (as the Kindred do) causes people to miss the greater dance that whirls around them. Life, death, pleasure, agony -- all spin in an ordered but unfathomable pattern of which the gods are only a part. To reach truth, therefore, you may enjoy the illusion, but remember that an illusion is all it is. Sooner or later, you must rise above it. Most Kuei-jin embrace this idea, using it as a foundation for their Dharmic quest; the name for that search comes from Hindu roots and reflects the powerful influence of the faith.
Most prevalent in Malaysia and Indonesia, Islam declares that surrender to the One God is the path to great peace. Despite its warlike reputation in the West, the faith of Allah is loving and nurturing -- provided one remains keen to the will of God. Good and evil are not abstracts, but commandments. To defy good is to embrace evil. Since few Kuei-jin consider themselves "good," those who follow Muslim tenets, are miserable indeed. Most either choose the Resplendent Crane path, or descend into the lowest levels of the Devil-Tiger Way.
"The Way of the Gods" harkens back to the animism of the Japanese island people. According to this faith, nature spirits and ancestral ghosts surround us; these entities are as personable as any mortal human, and they can be as capricious, too. Therefore its always side to stay on their good side with sacrifices, prayers, shrines, and acts of kindness -- and to know how to get rid of them when the rituals don't work.
Many modern Japanese consider themselves both Buddhist and Shinto -- its possible to placate the spirits and advance yourself at the same time. Although people differ in their ideas of reincarnation and Shintoism -- Do you return to the cycle, hover around the living world, or, in some cases, both or neither? -- most Japanese Kuei-jin observe the sacred ways, if only to learn from the spirits and to keep their favor. While the spirits are, for the most part, invisible to mortal sight, the hengeyokai (and some Kuei-jin) know them very well.
More a philosophy then a religion, per se, Taoism takes a multitude of forms, from simple lifestyles to martial arts, to magic, science and alchemy. Although deeply humanist and pacifistic in ethic, the Tao (the Way) is both tranquil and warlike; it responds to the needs of the time, and as the Kuei-jin know, there are times for great good and for ultimate cruelty.
Essentially, Taoism is a philosophy (or a religion, depending on your approach) that tapes into creation's essence -- Chi -- and channels it through the human body and mind. It is the Way of harmony, of energy spent in just the right amount to achieve a given task. Wisely used it can produce miracles; even then, though, those miracles are often quiet, subtle and simple. Occasionally, great acts of magic are possible; the Kuei-jin Disciplines rely on Chi control and have been deeply influenced by Taoist arts.
Naturally the Way demands disciplines; a Taoist practices her craft to perfection, hones her body, minds and perceptions to accept the flow of energy and to send it down the path of least resistance. Wu wei -- the art of inactive action -- collects Chi, then directs it to your purpose without additional effort. For obvious reasons, Taoist practices are very popular among Kuei-jin. Still, the hunger lingers; by breaking the bond of life, Kuei-jin have set themselves outside the harmony of the Way. They must feed on Chi by force and thrust it through their bodies with the power of the Demon. A living tai chi chuan master can flow like water with the essence; the vampire, by contrast, becomes the sewer and the dam.
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