Monday, December 12, 2005

Time with the family

Having lived in England for almost a decade and having celebrated the festive season once in Bergen (Norway), one found that Christmas is a time for family gatherings in the West, while the Chinese in the East celebrate Chinese New Year with family reunions. A family plays such an important role in a person’s life from young, middle and old age that ancients have reasons to include it in their teachings.

Confucius said: 'Now filial piety is the root of (all) virtue, and (the stem) out of which grows (all moral) teaching. Our bodies--to every hair and bit of skin--are received by us from our parents, and we must not presume to injure or wound them:--this is the beginning of filial piety. When we have established our character by the practice of the (filial) course, so as to make our name famous in future ages, and thereby glorify our parents:--this is the end of filial piety. It commences with the service of parents; it proceeds to the service of the ruler; it is completed by the establishment of the character.’ [Book of Filial Piety (Ziaojing or Hsiao Ching) (1) –]

Our parents not only have given us life, the greatest gift possible, they also nurtured and nourished us when we were young taking care of our needs for growth, education, holidays and achievements, providing protection and guidance wherever possible. They worry when we were ill and when we left home for short or extended periods of time. Yet people nowadays think nothing about committing suicide without giving a second thought for their parents. Taking one’s life or living recklessly is certainly not filial when our parents are still alive for who is going to serve and nourish them in their old age?

A reader has recently asked for information on websites on family structures of Chinese dynasties. Perhaps readers can provide relevant links to such websites in the comment section, as one does not know of any. My references on family roles come from Hexagram 37 Jia Ren / The Family in the Zhouyi and the Confucian books.

In the Great Learning, it is said: “The ancients, who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.” (Text of Confucius 4)

The wisdoms contained in the Ten Wings commentary to the Judgment in Jia Ren shows ancient thoughts still relevant to existing roles of a family:
“The foundation of the family is the relationship between husband and wife. The tie that holds the family together lies in the loyalty and perseverance of the wife. Her place is within, while that of the husband is without. It is in accord with the great laws of nature that husband and wife take their proper places. Within the family a strong authority is needed; this is represented by the parents. If the father is really a father and the son a son, if the elder brother fulfills his position, and the younger fulfills his, if the husband is really a husband and the wife a wife, then the family is in order. When the family is in order, all the social relationships of mankind will be in order.”
“Three of the five social relationships are found within the family—that between father and son, the relationship of love, that between husband and wife, which is the relationship of chaste conduct, and that between elder and younger brother, which is the relationship of correctness. The loving reverence of the son is then carried over to the prince in the form of faithfulness to duty; the affection and correctness of behavior existing between the two brothers are extended to a friend in the form of loyalty, and to a person of superior rank in the form of deference.” [W/B]

The Image of the Family is where the Junzi has substance in his words and duration in his way of life. Only then can he make an impression on others that they can adapt and conform to it. The text of the six lines and the lines commentary depict the respective roles of parent/child; daughter/wife/mother; discipline; woman of the house; king/father; and master of the house. And what each must do to maintain peace and harmony in the family.

In the world today both husband and wife spent much time in their work or business. Just do not forget the kids at home and our parents. Just like in ancient times, they need us and we need them too. Therefore during festive seasons, take a rest and spend some quality time with the family; after all everyone remembers about time together as one big happy family, no matter how rich or poor we were.

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