Taoism Essay Research Paper In order to — страница 6
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as you cherish your own life, it makes perfect sense that you should also cherish your forebears, for they are the ones who paved the way for you. This is the real essence of ancestor worship: a state of grace known as gratefulness. It’s a feeling that you are uniquely blessed, as the last link in an unimaginably long chain of human beings stretching all the way back to the genesis of humanity. You feel very much a part of this ancient tradition and the feeling gives you power and strength. In that regard, ancestor worship is not necessarily superstitious. One does not have to believe in the existence of ghosts or spiritual beings to feel a sense of gratitude and appreciation. Likewise, expressing that gratitude and appreciation through a ritual isn’t always an endorsement of the supernatural. The emphasis on gratefulness extends into other aspects of Chinese thinking as well. For instance, it elevates filial piety to its rightful place as a high virtue. This kind of emphasis does not exist in the "advanced" West, where too many of the elderly die lonely and are not commemorated by their descendants after their passing. The Chinese practice is a sharp contrast to this lamentable state. In that regard, ancestor worship is anything but primitive. The ability to feel gratitude marks an individual as a worthy human being; the institution of ritualized thanksgiving marks a people as a truly civilized society. One reason why many Westerners have such a tough time with this concept is the unfortunate use of the word "worship." The connotation of this word is entirely religious, with all the implications of deities and supplicants. Without any other information, the typical Westerner naturally assumes that the Chinese regard their ancestors as gods on a similar level as Buddha or Jesus. This is a false assumption that the Chinese would find ludicrous or laughable if ever they figure out what their American friends are really thinking. Certainly the Chinese believe their ancestors exist as spiritual entities, but to go from there to godhood is a mighty big stretch, indeed. A better word than "worship" would be "communion." When the Chinese hold incense sticks in their hands and face the ancestral shrine or gravestone, they are in silent prayer to the dead. The content of such prayers have to do with greetings, the paying of respects, invitation to share a meal (thus the offerings of food), and request to watch over the safety of family members. Note that the Chinese prayers to ancestors do not include begging for things like forgiveness for sins or transgressions, victory over Evil, vanquishing of one’s enemies, or a guaranteed entrance into heaven. That makes sense because departed family members are at best guardian angels, not gods. When you look at it this way, is the Chinese practice of ancestor worship/communion really so bizarre after all? In the West, do we not also pray to departed family members? We most certainly do, and all without assuming that dear old Aunt Meg has, since her death, become the Almighty Saint Meg of the Seventh Host. The Catholic priest from my high school days would never assume that we pray to the dear departed out of some fear of the supernatural. Carl Sagan, despite his atheist convictions, would never think of it as some superstitious and irrational mumbo-jumbo. What the Chinese do, in essence, amounts to the exact same thing. And yet Americans seem to insist on seeing Chinese customs as both more and less than they actually are. Perhaps this is because there is a certain need in the Occidental psyche to see the Orient as mysterious and inscrutable. If so, the insight we have gained today may come as a disappointment. In the final analysis, and despite superficial trappings and different styles, we all share a common, universal need to be in touch with the spiritual world. Beneath the multicultural veneer, our essential human nature is similar. The insight gives me a new perspective as well. It tells me that my sophomoric high school views were wrong. The East and the West are more alike than different. Perhaps true understanding between the two isn’t an impossible dream after all!