Répondre à : 1 – Present ancestors: first thoughts

Leandro Durazzo


What truly distinguishes anthropology, I believe, is that it is not a study of at
all, but a study with. Anthropologists work and study with people. Immersed
with them in an environment of joint activity, they learn to see things (or hear
them, or touch them) in the ways their teachers and companions do.
Tim Ingold, Anthropology is not ethnography (INGOLD, 2008:82)

When I was in Taiwan (台湾), at the end of 2011, I spent a few days staying at a Chinese family’s house, in Tainan city (台南市) . I got there straight out of a not too long period living in the central Buddhist monastery of Fo Guang Shan (佛光山), located a little further south, in Kaohsiung (高雄市), period during which I was able to aid in the great opening event of the – also great – Buddha Memorial Center.

The family, belonging to Han ethnicity that composes most of the Taiwanese population, was fairly large, with a couple and their three children. Among all these family members only the mother and one daughter were living in the house, at that time. Two of the siblings, the girl
informed me, lived in other cities, to work and study. The father, on the other hand, was still there. It took me a few days to go back to the subject, which had made me very curious. The father was still in the house, said the daughter, but I had definitely lived only with her and her mother in the latter days. I hadn't seen a single trace of the father, except at some pictures and stories that the girl told. Where was he, then?

When we finally went back to the topic, we were climbing a path on the mountainous slope of a park, still in Tainan. The millenary tradition of Chinese – either continental or insular – coexists with the mountains in a very integrated way, with parks and huge stone staircases leading to the top.
Besides, in the far nooks of the mountains, there are some inlaid karaoke clubs, which every now and then reverberate throughout the soundscape. The girl, then, told me that, yes, her father was living there, he truly was in the house, what she would reveal to me as soon as we returned.
Back in the living room, she addressed to a shelf that supported ceremonial objects, votive objects. Incense burner, a few religious images and, right in the centre, a memorial tablet, ex-votive tablet of her dead father. The father, ultimately, was there since the beginning.

There is a curious and even conflicting relationship between different ways of understanding the existence, of cosmovisions, and this Taiwan episode was one of many that presented me new realities. The family at issue, despite the closeness that the mother had with one of the great Buddhist philanthropic orders from Taiwan, wasn’t thoroughly Buddhist. It would be more accurate to say that that house was typically Chinese, in its popular devotion to various religiosities, worldviews and pragmatic doctrines. The tablet, for example, found in the Buddhist tradition of China, comes since long before, being a distinctive mark of the millenarian filial piety relationship and observance of the ancestors welfare.

This chapter will present, briefly, a popular religious practice found both in China and Taiwan – and also in Japan – directly related to the worship to the ancestors and family and funeral observances. Then, using some knowledge concerning a popular Buddhist deity in China, bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (地藏菩萨 in Chinese, Dizang, by which we shall refer hereafter), we will trace possibilities to articulate the imaginary constitution of this character – and its rites and domains – with the expanded family/community ties that we can observe in the relationship between humans and non-humans, living and ancestors.

To take seriously certain thing – those knowledges, practices, rites and life fundaments – does not mean, as we know already, to consider them as the same kind of truth as the law of gravity if for physics. It is not, therefore, to believe that Chinese descendants, when making their reverences, offerings and ceremonies, believe in the concrete existence of such spirits – if the “concrete existence of spirits” has any sense at all in our vocabulary. The truth we pointed is that, concerning imaginary constellations and experiences, the relations kept by Chinese descendants with their deceased ancestors encompass a whole ritual, ethic and pragmatic reality, as pointed out along the aforementioned perspectivist theories. Hence,
the domestic altars, the ceremonial guidance kept throughout generations, the whole set of a perspectivist economy of alterity. Then, perhaps, it is possible to understand an expanded reality that is capable to comprise humans and non-humans in the same dynamic process of phenomenic manifestations, births-and- deaths, cycles and – speaking in a Buddhist fashion – interdependencies.

I myself was not able to go further into the family living room, in the outskirts of Tainan, without respectfully reverence the altar where the father was.

Here, the Portuguese complete version: https://www.academia.edu/27038432/Antepassados_presentes_o_contato_entre_vivos_e_mortos_no_budismo_chinês