Posts tagged ‘shrine’

Honouring your ancestors means honouring yourself

Yesterday I was reading the Taoist Chuang Tzu and came across this line,

“In the ancestor shrine it is kinship which brings honour.”

In the past I wouldn’t have been struck by this line. After all, we don’t practise ancestor worship in the way that the ancient Chinese did, and we don’t have shrines to our ancestors. But this time I stopped at this line, and thought about it.  Chuang Tzu (or whoever was writing Chapter 13 of the book that bears his name)  says that at the shrine it is kinship that brings honour.  The relationship and communication we are dealing with here is between the living and the dead of the same family: that is kinship. But where does the honour come in?

It’s obvious that praying at the shrine means honouring your ancestors. You give or embody honour outwards to them. That is an expression of your honour. But doesn’t honour function very much like anger. When we are angry at someone we project our anger out at them. But really the anger affects us much more than it does them. The anger stays in our body, riles up our emotions, give us stress, and hurts us more than it does the object of our anger.

I think that honour works the same way. We project honour out, but in fact we feel that honour in our mind and body. It must affect the living more than it does the dead. After all, they are dead! When we honour our ancestors, we are in fact conveying honour to ourselves, we are creating honour internally.

Why have I thought about this?  Well, I just finished writing a book that is partly about my ancestors, and writing the book helped me to create a mental bridge to them, so that I felt closer to them than ever before. I also dedicated the book to my grandparents, and really wrote it for my grandfather Chiel Forstater, who died many years ago.

There is something to be said for honouring your ancestors. It’s a good thing, and I feel better for having done it. Does it give me honour? It certainly makes me feel good about myself.  Maybe that is the honour that Chuang Tzu meant.

June 15, 2013 at 6:40 pm 2 comments


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