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Religion Library: Confucianism

Sacred Time

Written by: Jeffrey Richey

In this sense, all time not only is sacred time, but all time also is the occasion for bringing oneself and one's society into harmony through ritual. Ancestor worship, for example, takes place year-round among observant Confucians. Offerings of incense (which conveys the concerns of the living to the deceased), fruit, and cooked rice are made daily, weekly, or every fifteen days, on holidays, or on anniversaries of the ancestor's death.

Visiting ancestors' graves during Qingming (Clear and Bright) Festival: Public DomainNonetheless, certain times make this paramount Confucian responsibility more vivid. These include the spring festival known as Qingmingjie (Clear and Bright Festival) and the autumn festival known as Guijie (Ghost Festival). Guijie is observed on the thirteenth day of the seventh lunar month, which in turn is known as "Ghost Month" (Guiyue), because it is at this time that the spirits of the dead are supposed to wander the earth. Confucian traditions are combined with Buddhist and Taoist elements in the celebration of this festival, which commemorates the rescue of a suffering mother in an undesirable realm of rebirth by her filial son. While Buddhists and Taoists offer liturgies for the relief of ancestors suffering in their rebirths during Guijie, Confucians offer items such as paper houses, clothing, and consumer commodities and elaborate meals to the ancestors. During Qingmingjie, popularly known as "Tomb-Sweeping Day," families visit and clean their ancestors' burial places, conduct worship services, and share festive meals. Thus, during Guijie, the dead visit the living, and during Qingmingjie, the living seek out the dead.

Celebrating Confucius' birthday in Taiwan: Public DomainOne other particular sacred time observed by Confucians is September 28, on which Kongzi's birthday is commemorated. On this date, Confucian temples become the site of elaborate pageantry featuring meticulously researched ancient music and dance based on Han dynasty Confucian ritual manuals such as the Liji (Record of Ritual). Although the holiday has been celebrated for decades in Taiwan, where Confucianism was encouraged by the Nationalist government, only in the 1990s was the ceremony revived in mainland China. Wherever the holiday is observed, it is customary for students preparing for examinations to visit a Confucian temple and seek the blessings of the sage.

Study Questions:
     1.    Are the concepts of "sacred" and "secular" meaningful in Confucian thought?
     2.    Why is filial piety so important to Confucians?
     3.    What are the goals of Confucian ritual practices?


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