Accueil › Forums › PRESENT ANCESTORS: relations between the living and the dead in Chinese Buddhism › 1 – Present ancestors: first thoughts
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it is a honour to be allowed to contribute in this great project, along with all of you. Responding to an invite from our friend Thacio, I’m posting part of a still unpublished paper in its English version. Anyway, I’ll also post the Portuguese version, already published in a Portuguese journal. As you could read from the abstract, the paper resort to an anthropological issue when working on some Chinese/Taiwanse Buddhist data. There only one direct reference to our master Gilbert Durand but I think the proximity of this paper with its sources on Anthropology of the Imaginary will be clear to all of us.
Then, concerning Durand’s theory of imaginary, we are presented to a multiple and dynamic way to understand symbols in the making, process close to his « trajet anthropologique » – if not the same. However, when talking about imaginary studies, our modern Euro-American theoretical basis still pays little attention to different cosmologies and sociocultural contexts, as those from East Asia or indigenous America. Further than that, we do not always give credit to native epistemological or cosmological frames, either Chinese or Amerindian ones. I would like to invite you to discuss these trends on the following paper, for it takes Amerindian perspectivism – an ethnological concept – to guide our debate around East Asian perspectives, trying to give each other its own importance as intellectual sources.
To enhance our debate, I would like to present some images and sounds to you. They can be viewed following the links below. In the next post I’ll give you some pages extracted from the English paper, as well as the link to the Portuguese one.
– Memorial tablets in a funeral/ancestor room in Malaisia, country with a great migratory Chinese tradition. On the altar there is Ksitigarbha bodhisattva, an importante deity in Chinese/Japanese Buddhism; he made a vow to help all of the beings to reach liberation, hence going into hell to achieve it. On the walls we can see the ancestors tablets – http://www.nirvanapenang.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ancestral-tablet-1-667×667.jpg
– More tablets in other room consecrated to late ancestors and to Ksitigarbha, now in Singapore: http://www.btrts.org.sg/temple-m-ksitigarbha-bodhisattva/
– Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (Dizang Pusa, in Chinese) mantra, which is my personal practice for some year now: https://youtu.be/eQtMiboAUd8
– A Taiwanese home altar with memorial tablets: http://www.michaelturton.com/Taiwan/lukang030.jpg
– A Malaian Chinese tells about the emergencial move of his ancestors tablets due an accident in the roof. Pay attention to his dynamic of respect, reverence and attention to these objects/persons. In the vídeo description he highlight the way by which the ancestors allowed him to move the tablets: through a divinatory method with coins – « An emergency shifting during a lunar 7th month which is usually a taboo not to touch. However, due to the situation, I need to shift it to a safer place before I leave. Permission was seeked from the ancestors and they had given me the approval with a 圣杯when I tossed 2 coins. 1 head and 1 tail for approval. » – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u-eFhpxkh4
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
Thanks for this sharing.
Daniel ProulxMaître des clés
Merci de ces réflexions.
Bon courage et bon succès pour votre projet.