Sunday, August 26, 2007

Day of the Dead

Remembering Ancestors

Ghosts are a big deal in China. You have several rituals or observances that are connected to ghosts. There is the hopping ghost, a ghost who hasn't quite made it to the afterlife.

Thee are countless Chinese movies that deal with ghosts on some level.

Chinese people will sometimes say of ghosts, "If you believe it, there will be, but if you don't, there will not."

Coming up soon is the the Chinese Ghost Festival (you can read the borrowed article near the end, from Wikipedia).

Chongqing, China is a place where tradition has it that this is where hell is at. On Hell Street you can buy ghost masks.

For three days in July people in Japan observe Obon お盆, which once was an ancestor remembrance holiday but has turned into a family reunion time as more people set aside superstition. Obon お盆 was shortened from urabon'e which came from the meaning "hanging upside down in hell."

In Korea there is a tradition that you should not leave your chopsticks sticking up out of your rice. This was sure to draw in old family ancestors who were roaming around the spirit world feeling a little hungry. I don't now much about their festival, but I guess it is not too unlike what you have in China or Japan.

The Chinese Ghost Festival Zhongyuan sounds interesting. A friend of mine told me that recently her mom had her folding up gold paper into the shapes of things and fake paper money in billion RMB denominations. They were also collecting pictures of clothes and expensive appliances.

Her mother is going to burn these things for her parents who have passed away. This should be done in the right attitude and in the right condtions (a sunny day) lest they not be well received by the spirits.

A quick search of the internet found the following article below, detailing the reasons for things and comparing it to the Mexican day of the dead.

My feeling about this sort of thing is that it is a way to remember lost relatives. There are certainly enough people who believe that someone is handing around out there as some sort of a spirit after they have died. Whether I believe doesn't really matter. In my mind observances like this are akin to weddings and funerals and some other passage of life ceremonies. They are often more for the observers of the ceremony than those whom are the subject of the ceremony.

Obviously a funeral or a wake have very little to do with the dearly deceased, and much more to do with people saying goodbye, getting closure. Maybe my views about weddings are a little callous, but if two people love each other the ceremony is just fluff. Mothers and Fathers let go of their families. Friends wish them well and give them a gift to help them start their lives out right. I suppose it is a bit of a stretch to say that a wedding ceremony is not that much for the couple being wed, but only really for the families.

However, I will not bend on the whole ghost thing. I say the only ghosts are in people's minds and in Hollywood.

In Chinese tradition, the thirteen day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called the Ghost Day and the seventh month in general as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower world. During the Qingming Festival the living descendants pay homage to their ancestors and on the Ghost Day the deceaseds visit with the living. On the thirteen day the three realms of Heaven, Hell and the realm of the living are open, the Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic offering food, and burning of hell money and bags containing cloth to pay homage to the visiting spirits of the ancestors, treating the deceased as if they are still living, elaborate meals would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family. Other festivities may include, burying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.

The Ghost Festival shares some similarities with the predominantly Mexican observance of El Día de los Muertos. Due to theme of ghosts and spirits, the festival is sometimes also known as the Chinese Halloween, though many have debated the difference between the two.

I cam across this very interesting little story:

Zhuxi was a famous scholar in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279). He believed there were no ghosts in the world, so he decided to write an essay "No Ghost." It was said he was a great sage so even ghosts were afraid of him. If he said no ghosts, ghosts could no longer exist. When ghosts knew he was writing the essay, they gathered together to discuss this and decided to send the smartest ghost to entreat him abandon the writing.

So one night, the smartest ghost appeared at Zhuxi's desk and kowtowed towards Zhuxi repeatedly. Zhuxi was surprised and asked:

    "Where comes the ghost? H
    ow dare you disturbing me at night."
    "Yes, I am a ghost, but ..."
    "Why don't you leave and why do you come in my study room?"
    "I am here to entreat ..." replied the ghost.
    "People are in the Yang world and ghosts are in the Yin world. We are in the different worlds so there are no way I can help you."
    "I have very important things to entreat you, Sir."
    "Ok, say it!"
Then the ghost told Zhuxi the reason and beg him to abandon the writing to save them. Zhuxi laughed and said:
    "You, the ghosts have been worshipped in the human world for so long. Isn't the time for you go away all together."
    "We also have good and bad ghosts..."
    "Well, I heard you can do anything. Can you move me to the outside?"
    "Certainly, Sir."
Zhuxi was moved to the outside instantly without even noticing it. Zhuxi was astonished by the ability of ghosts, but was unwilling to say it. Then he asked again,
    "You can move my body. Can you move my heart?"
    "That is impossible to do, Sir." "But we can move things or a person's body so that it proves we exist." "We exist in illusion. If you believe it, there will be, but if you don't, there will not." "Can you say something like that in your essay, Sir?"
Zhuxi felt the words did have some merits so he promised the ghost he would do that. The ghost left happily. Therefore, Zhuxi wrote the words, under the title of the no ghost essay, "If you believe it, there will be, but if you don't, there will not."


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Anonymous said...

The absent are never without fault. Nor the present without excuse.

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