Filial piety has always been an integral part of Chinese culture. From an early age, we were raised to honour our parents and elders, which includes our ancestors. It is not only considered a good value to possess in one’s character, but also the mark of sophistication in any one person no matter their gender or station in life.
This is why festivals like Qing Ming, which promotes honouring one’s ancestors, are amongst the most important events in the lunar calendar for Chinese families around the world. Observance of Qing Ming traditionally involves family members visiting and cleaning the burial sites of their deceased loved ones. It is then followed by prayers and offerings to bring a myriad of blessings – be it good health, success in one’s career or business, national peace, happiness and etc.
These blessings are not only for the living, as according to Buddhist tenets, they can be sent to the departed, dedicating merits to them in the afterlife, by making prayers and offerings towards enlightened beings such as Dizang Bodhisattva – who is specifically known for advocating filial piety and venerated for his commitment to deliver souls from the torments of hell.
As one can imagine, these actions are typically carried out personally. Hence, in current times where Covid-19 poses a very real risk to both individual and community safety, the uncertainty in carrying out our filial and spiritual obligations can be frustrating despite the availability of ‘Prayer On Behalf’ services and digital ceremonies.
Some of the questions we ask ourselves range from: “Are the prayers and offerings effective if someone else does it on my behalf?”, “Am I less filial if I’m not personally cleaning my deceased parents/ancestors’ tomb?”, to “Is there spiritual weight in digital ceremonies?”
These are valid concerns for us when society has a tendency to emphasise the act of filial piety as necessitating outward (sometimes very public) actions.
As Qing Ming 2021 is just around the corner, it’s time we consider and reflect on the heart of our spiritual obligations and filial duties. When we clean our loved ones’ tomb, make prayers and offerings to our ancestors, are we present in mind and spirit throughout these motions?
Are we reminiscing the memories of our departed loved ones? Is our attention focused on the ceremony’s purpose? Our hearts pouring out its intent to deliver heartfelt prayers and blessings to departed loved ones?
Or are we distracted by other things, such as “What are we having for lunch?”
For all the risks and inconveniences that Covid has brought into our lives, the one good thing that has come from it is the fact that we now have to re-evaluate the reason for our actions. In the deepest part of our hearts, we know that a conscious and deliberate intent is what gives any filial duty meaning and what empowers spiritual purpose that our loved ones from beyond can hear us.
If we are confident in our sincerity, our doubts in performing our duties at Qing Ming this year would be clear, whether it is done personally or otherwise.
Devoid of sincerity and will, all the right actions performed is but empty noise.