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The doctrine of the Three Suns (Chinese :三阳; pinyin :sānyáng) or three stages of the end-time (Chinese :三期末劫; pinyin :sānqímòjié), or Three Ages, is a teleological and eschatological doctrine found in some Chinese salvationist religions and schools of Confucianism.
According to the doctrine, the absolute principle, in many salvationist sects represented as the Wusheng Laomu, divides the end time into three stages, each of which is governed by a different Buddha sent by the Mother to save humanity: the "Green Sun" (qingyang) governed by Dīpankara Buddha, the "Red Sun" (hongyang) by Gautama Buddha, and the current "White Sun" (baiyang) by Maitreya.In different sects the three periods are known by slightly different names, variations originated by oral transmission of the teaching. The doctrine is especially important in the Xiantiandao group of sects, the most notable one being Yiguandao.
The Three Suns doctrine places itself in a sect tradition ("Sanyangism", 三阳教 Sānyángjiào, "teaching of the Three Suns") flourishing at least since the Ming dynasty.It can be traced back to a Taoist school named Hunyuan, from the concept of hunyuan ("original chaos") that existed before hundun ("still chaos") and is the beginning of primordial qi (yuanqi) according to some Taoist cosmologies. Other possible origins go back to the entry of Maitreya beliefs into China. These concepts became part of the folk tradition and were incorporated in the sect milieu.
In the earliest sects of the Ming period, the Lord of Original Chaos (Hunyuan Zhu) represents the origin of the universe developing through three stages, yang, or cosmic periods.The earliest written evidence of this doctrine can be found in the Huangji jieguo baojuan, published in 1430. In this text the three stages are already associated to the three Buddhas: Dipankara, Gautama and Maitreya. The Green Sun Assembly was held at the end of the first period, the Red Sun Assembly in the second one and the White Sun Assembly will be held in the third one.
The doctrine of the Three Ages is discussed in Neo-Confucian and New Confucian teachings, the Gongyang Commentary and the Datong shu of Kang Youwei.The Confucian interpretation is comparable to the doctrine of the Spirit in Hegelian thought. Ren ("humaneness", the essence of human being) develops and matures progressively to higher stages in history.
Kang saw history as progressing from an Age of Disorder to the Age of Approaching Peace, and ending at the Age of Universal Peace.In the third age humankind attains Datong, ren is fully realised as people transcend their selfishness and become one with "all under Heaven".
Currently, Yiguandao doctrine about Three Ages is as follows:
|Period||Duration (years)||Governing Buddhas||Hand Seals||Numbers of Disasters||Assemblies|
|Green Sun||1886 (3,086-1,200 BC)||Dīpankara||Lotus Leaf gesture||9||Ying Tao Assembly (櫻桃會)|
|Red Sun||3,114 (1,200 BC - 1912 AD)||Shakyamuni||Lotus Flower gesture||18||Pan Tao Assembly (蟠桃會)|
|White Sun||10,800 (1912–present)||Maitreya||Lotus root gesture||81||Long Hua Assembly (龍華會)|
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