Remembering and Honouring the Departed During Qing Ming 清明节

Today is the official day for Qing Ming 清明节, a day (or period) where Chinese would traditionally remember their ancestors by visiting the cemetery and perform religious services for them.

A student from the English Dharma Class at SBF (Singapore Buddhist Federation) asked me what practices Buddhists should be observing during this day or period.  Below are my thoughts on it.

Buddhists rightly speaking should spend Qing Ming recollecting the kindness of our forefathers, and honouring them by remembering how they may have lived a blameless life or have conducted themselves in a manner worth emulating.  One could then
try emulating their good deeds or perform charity in their name!  Further, we can also emulate the holy ones who have come before us by observing the eight or five precepts.  With all the positive merits accrued, one can then make a sincere wish, dedicating merits to them, wishing them well and having good conditions to learn the Dharma!

In addition, we can and should reflect on how, while we depended on our parents and forefathers for helping in bringing us into human rebirth, they, including many others, have also in some ways helped us in our lifes and made it possible.  Just consider how someone in modern society do not make any raw product themselves; we depend on many many faceless strangers to bring us the clothes we wear and food we eat daily.  We also live in houses and apartments that are more often than not built by foreign workers whom we would never get to meet in our life, and whom we depend our lifes on.  We can reflect on how our modern life is possible because of the contribution of hundreds, thousands and millions of people out there, working, ekking out a living.

But I paid for it, one may protest.  It is easy to think that once we pay for a service or product, we do not owe others anything.  While money is part of the equation, we often overlook how we owe it to the support and hardwork of the innumerable nameless and frequently faceless workers in order for our money to have any use or value at all.  To these people, we owe them their time, labour and youth making our life possible the way it is.  Our life is convenient as a result of their inconveniences.

Finally, we should also reflect on the Samyutta Nikaya 15.14-19 Mata sutta (Mother), where the Buddha shares his insight on how we have wandered on in samsara since beginningless times, and that it is not easy to find someone whom we have not been related to before.  Everyone is related to us in some way before!

In this way, we can reflect on how we are interdependent on each other so loosely, and yet so intimately.  From there, we can develop deep gratitude towards both people who are close to us, and those who once seemed to be complete strangers.  Within this deep gratitude, then the self-centric tendency may be gradually worn away and our hearts and mind may open up to others, and truly care for them.  In this way, we pay tribute and respect to all our forefathers from this life and the past, and repay their deep kindness meaningfully.

That is how we can all honour the departed during Qing Ming, whether as Buddhists or non-Buddhists.

So how did you spend Qing Ming this year?

  • Lee Hon Sing

    Dear Venerable,

    You have mentioned a lot about gratitude. To me, Qing Ming is not only an occasion of gratitude, but also an occasion for reflection and repent. As I stood before the grave of my father, I reflected on whether I was still the son that my father was proud of, whether I had gone astray, and whether I had carried on his responsibilities prudently. And very often, I was simply in awe at how much I could not match up to my father. Buddhist practice wise, I have done much more than my father. But personality wise, my father was simply a league ahead of me. This motivates me to practice even harder and be a better person.

    • Dear Hon Sing,

      Thank you for sharing what Qing Ming means to you. 🙂 Indeed, Qing Ming means different things to everyone. This blog entry as I mentioned, are simply my thoughts on it. 🙂

      The fact that Qing Ming can mean different things, point me to two things. One, it has no inherent meaning (emptiness), ie whatever meaning it has is imputed. Two, because the meanings are imputed, we should impute good meanings if we are going to impute at all! Certain reflections brings wholesome fruitful motivations while others bring us on a guilt trip. Adopt the one that brings us and others more happiness; let go of those that bring stress and grudge.

      If reflecting in the way you did motivates you to practice even harder and be a better person, then that can be a meaningful way to celebrate Qing Ming.

      With metta, ^_^

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