Daoism and Cct

Customs and Rituals

What is ancestor veneration and what is its connection with Daoism or CCT?

Concern over maintaining the integrity of one’s connections with family lineage is one of the hallmarks of Chinese religious and social life. Members of each family line— male descendants from a shared ancestor, with wives attached to their husband’s line—acknowledge both the continued spiritual presence and the sacredness of their forebears. Their reasons are many: expression of grief, assistance of the deceased in his or her struggles beyond the grave, the desire for blessings, feeling a sense of family cohesiveness, and showing continued affection for the dead. Long after the funeral and an extended period of official mourning, families pay homage to the dead both at the cemetery and at the ancestral shrine in the home. There, on the altar table, the family preserves a set of tablets, each with the name of one deceased relative inscribed on it. In very wealthy families of times past the oldest son would dedicate his life to looking after the proper performance of the rites, foregoing virtually all other activities.

For most families today, ongoing activities include chiefly the regular visits to the cemetery, annual refurbishment of the grave for the feast called “Clear and Bright” (ching ming), and daily prayers at the home shrine. At home, family members make the same kinds of symbolic offerings to the ancestors as to the deities enshrined on the domestic altar. Very wealthy families have often built special ancestral temples as major monuments to the spiritual power of the dead. Few if any of these practices or specific concerns are uniquely Daoist. It is all part of the broadly Chinese religious patrimony, with some elements perhaps more closely linked to CCT than to any specific major tradition.


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