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jieba (戒疤)

Chinese. ‘Precepts scars’. Name of nine rounded scars or marks, i.e. three rows of three dots, that are burned onto the head of Shaolin monks with incense sticks (fig.), and which represent the nine monastic rules of the Shaolin order. The marks are usually applied by the abbot, and on the heads of those who accept and are committed to follow the order's regulations. The Chinese government has in the past banned the practice, but since 2007 partially allows it again. The term is almost homonymous with jieba (结疤), which means ‘to scar’ or ‘to bind by scarring’, though the first character (结) of the latter expression has a rising tone rather than a falling tone as in jie (戒). In Vietnam, Buddhist monks may apply three, six (fig.) or nine burn marks on the forehead. Different from monks in China, these dots are said to represent the various stages in ones life as a Buddhist monk, and refer to ones achievement on the path towards Enlightenment. There are purportedly three levels and each one is represented by a horizontal row of three dots.