Dim Sum – The way of our fathers – Filial piety

Filial piety when mourning for parents : “When a xiao son loses his parent, he cries without trying to stop himself, his politeness is without pleasantry, his words are without adornment, when he dresses in fine clothes he feels uncomfortable, when he hears music he does not feel joy, and when he eats delicious food it is not tasty. This is sadness and grief.
“Eating after three days is to teach the people not to let dying injure the living, such that the damage (from the death-translator) does not destroy people’s nature. Such is the policy of the Sages. Mourning is not to exceed three years; this is to show the people that it has an end.
“Prepare for the deceased parent inner and outer coffins, burial clothes and burial blankets, and raise the coffin. Set out the offering vessels and mourn him. Beat the breast, jump up and down, and cry. With grief see him off to the burial ground. Divine a good grave site and place him there to rest in peace. Make a shrine temple to make offerings to his spirit. Conduct sacrificial ceremonies in the spring and autumn to regularly

English: This picture was taken at a Malaysian...

English: This picture was taken at a Malaysian Chinese home. This altar is dedicated to the three Pure Land sages, Avalokitesvara, and Sathya Sai Baba. On the left of the altar is a glass filled with rice. Joss sticks are stuck into it after the ancestors are invited to partake in the offering of food specially prepared for them on the Hungry Ghost festival prayers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

think of him.
When alive, serve him with love and respect; when dead, serve him with grief and sorrow. The people’s duty is fulfilled, the obligations both during life and after death are fulfilled, and the xiao son’s service to his parents is at an end.”
-End Xiao Jing

In Chinese households wherever the traditional Chinese are to be found in Southeast Asia, we have the above practices to some extent especially when there are still living great grandparents, grandparents and parents.

Increasingly, the practices are being compromised by western education, movement of smaller families away from the extended family homes on marriage, movements from countryside to the towns and cities for education and work, and the competition to survive leaving no time for observance of the traditional forms and  no allocation of the family budget to increasing cost of maintaining tradition in daily sacrifice of food and burning of incense,  observation of daily obeisance in front of family altars which may hold the jars of ashes of forebears.

Conversions to Christianity could  also have had an impact on the practices of traditional filial piety

1. Daily respect of elders – with smaller families and movement away from the extended family, at most today there are only two generations (unlike several generations of extended family) living in a household. In Singapore it could mean a young nucleas family with an aged parent (widow or widower). It is usual for the children to address the parent at first meeting in the morning and when returning from home. It is expected that children who are leaving for work or school also address the elders in the home to inform them of departures so they are informed of who was at home. Traditionally this requirement was because of sprawling extended homes in the kampongs (villages) however, this practice is practically extinct where in the small government subsidized 1 to 5 room apartments in Singapore there is  close proximity and in a small apartment area and it  is easy for seniors to hear who are leaving or returning.

2. In some households, it used to be that the  children would not partake of their dinner before their parents. However with different working hours these practices have been overtaken where children have their dinner in front of the TV while parents are  working overtime and would not return till after long past dinner time.

3. Where  financially independent working  children used to contribute to the financial upkeep of parents, many established parents who have lived during economic boom times and have amassed some fortune, are today contributing to their children’s purchase of houses and other needs and even subsidising  for vacations which they enjoy with their children , because of the  great increases in cost of housing, cars, education far exceeding salary increases and reducing affordability for the children. .

4.  When parents fell sick in the past, those working children would apply for vacation leave to take care of parents, bringing them for medical treatment and if hospitalized, they would stay overnight to look after them.  Almost gone are those days for parents who are stroke patients, amnesia or even those immobile because of sickness, to have their children as care-givers. With rising cost of healthcare and cost of living, children are hard at work earning a living to support the family and unless they are able to support the hiring of a maid, it is becoming a trend for the elderly sick to be left in the care of community hospitals,nursing homes,  home for the aged with periodic visits from the children. In this age when children are sent overseas for education , many children do not return to care for parents, but remain in the host country of their education after marriage or in finding more lucrative work there.  So we see the reduction in the responsibility , emotional and filial piety to parents.

5. Where mourning rites was like a circus display of sackcloth and crying and wailing without hope for the departed’s journey to hell, for one month and wearing of mourning black, blue or green  clothes( depending on hierarchy of generations to the departed),  for one year to three years, now it is common to have wakes lasting 3-5 days at a funeral parlour (no overnightwatch) with somewhat of a carnival atmosphere with food and drinks and sometimes gambling.

6. There is no mourning clothes except during the wake and funeral day and for some perhaps 3 month’s mourning in mourning colours of black, grey, white, shades of blue or green. This compared with the past where mourning clothes were worn for periods of one year to three years depending on the relationship status to the deceased.

7. Funeral respect  to the dead are almost diminished to the cursory bowed head and moment of silence before the coffin, the lighting of joss sticks(not for Christians)  and perhaps chanting(for Buddhists and Taoists)  of their scriptures and singing of religious songs during the wakes. The Taoists are more elaborate in the rituals performed by priests, which are most expensive. This compared to children having to be draped in sackcloth and kneeling before coffins and wailing each time a visitor came to pay respect to the deceased. For Christians who die and with Christian burial rites, there is some quiet sadness and  crying but not wailing and a wake or funeral service,  as we have a hope of meeting in heaven and so differentiates the Christian funeral from the non-Christian. Muslims bury the dead the same day before sun-down with Muslim rites of cleansing the body and burial (no cremation) and they are similarly quiet with the hope of meeting in heaven.

8. Where land space is scarce in South East Asia, as in Singapore there is a trend toward cremation  instead of burial,  and keeping the ashes at the columbaria which are at government or religious sites e.g temples and churches.

9. With smaller homes in the cities, there is no longer room for the ancestor worship altars at which ancestor worship rites are carried early in the  morning and in the evening by family members. Many family altars of the past have been disbanded and ashes transferred to temples where families go to carry out their filial piety duties periodically or have conveniently forgotten about them with work,  time constraints and modern smaller  families to undertake the  responsibilities.

As Christians we are told to honor our parents in life

– obeying them Colossians 3:20, Ephesians 6:1-3
– do not curse our parents Proverbs 20:20
– provide for our own parents, relatives  if they need 1 Timothy 5:8  and be differentiated from unbelievers
– be subject to elders 1 Peter 5:5-6 unless they are married and set up new families  Gen2:24
– do not rebuke an older person but encourage them 1 Timothy 5:1
– the soul is more important than the body as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus  Luke 16:19-31 When Jesus said “Let the dead bury their own dead (Matthew 8:22) was Christ telling the man not to attend his father’s funeral? No. A funeral usually takes only a short time, and Christ continually shows that Christians are to have compassion and show proper respect for others. In fact, Luke provides a short account of His own reaction at meeting a funeral procession.  Luke 7:11-15. Why then did Christ answer the man in that way? Jesus realized that the man was only making excuses. The young man may have had an elderly father who would likely die soon, and leaning on his father’s condition, tries to put off the responsiblity that Christ offered him of following Him. His priorities were not based on faith and serving God first . Matthew 6:33. If he wanted to, he could find a way, without showing any disrespect, to have his father cared for and still serve God. Christ was also telling him to let the spiritually dead – those who were not called Ephesians 2:1 – continue to live their lives as seems best to them. This account shows us that we should not let undue concern over physical matters distract us from serving God once He has called us to His work John 6:44,65.

While Christians remember the dead with memories and perhaps periodic visits to their burial places, perspective with priority for the living is more important. Memories can live on in our hearts without costly expense and we need to take care of the living relatives who are in need.

Christ’s commandment is for us to love one another. We have each other when we and they are alive.   We should live with His wisdom and discernment in all matters concerning filial piety. There is no escaping for Christians to live like infidels without love of God in them.  We should not be involved in idolatrous rites whether during festivals or funerals, that the Name of the Lord will be upheld and our Christian witness separates us from the ungodly and pagans.  2 Corinthians 6:17.

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About ptl2010

Jesus Christ is coming soon
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3 Responses to Dim Sum – The way of our fathers – Filial piety

  1. Among the general population, values have changed a lot over the years and are still changing.
    Sadly, values within Churches have changed, with a drift away from the truths of Scripture and much compromising with the values of the world.

    Scriptural values have NOT changed and on a personal level we can and should do all we can to maintain them in our families, in our Churches, in our society.

  2. ptl2010 says:

    Thanks for your comments Lyn. This morning I have been reminded that those who live overseas may blog or SKYPE to visit with parents After all, filial piety, respect for elders, is really from the heart of love and who among all people,but the children of God should have the love of God in them? Multilingual blogs can be sent in their mother tongue, and printed my relatives or they could utilize handphones, I -Pads and laptops to see and visit each other on a daily or weekly basis.I pray that among Christians it will be true to say absence makes the heart grow fonder , and that they will remember the ones who nurtured them and keep in touch with them in their senior years. May the light of Jesus shine through and make a difference and more so if they have not experienced the love of God and especially with time running out.

  3. Lyn Leahz says:

    I take care of seniors, and have worked in many nursing homes. It’s not the ideal place. It’s sad that the economy has moved in such a way that many are forced to reduce themselves to such a decision. We should always respect, love, and honor our parents because we never know when our last visit might be the last time we see them on this earth.

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