6 minute read


Stages And Rituals Of Life Transformation

Confucius considered life as a process of transformation that moves through different developmental stages, with each stage having its own task and process. Confucius reviewed his own life journey and suggested the following stages of life (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 B.C.E.]; Cheng, Y. 1988). Confucians created various rituals of Li (a proper behavior in a certain situation) that demands certain behaviors to fulfill the expected performance. Li ranges from a bow to an elder, taking off shoes before entering the house, being silent and respectful to elders, bringing a gift to the host, and writing thank-you notes to a helper. Society considers a serious violation of Li as a violation of the law (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 B.C.E.]). The original purpose of Li is to help the individual to express proper ways of building and maintaining caring relationships.

Birth as a creative life form. Confucianism considers the individual as a link in the chain of existence from the past to the future. Everyone should have descendents to continue the family tree. To have no children is considered the most unforgivable thing in life. Having a child, particularly a boy, is very important to carry on the family name.

Therefore, when a new life is born to the family, by the end of one month, the family will give a party for the extended family and friends to announce and celebrate the arrival of the new family member. It is the family's responsibility to take care of the mother's needs to reward her production and contribution to the family. Her family status will be increased accordingly. In the future, the person is given a birthday party anywhere from every year to every ten years, according to the extended family's desire. Egg is served as a symbol of life, and the noodle serves as a symbol of longevity, thus, the longer the better. Many parents also offer different gifts to the child during the party to test his or her talents or areas of interest with reference to future education.

At home, children are taught to honor the ethical code (Li), such as honoring parents, loving brothers and sisters, respecting elders, trusting friends, and retaining loyalty to the family and the nation. It means that life is a creative force because it is connected with the Ultimate. Based on virtue, children are taught to make friends by studying with others who are interested in learning similar subjects. Parents are encouraged to appreciate the strengths of a less favored child and look at the weaknesses of the favored one to avoid any prejudice.

Young adulthood. At fifteen years of age, a child reaches young adulthood and starts to dress differently (Adulthood Li). The social symbols of adulthood are given with expectation that the individuals will perform their roles adequately with the help of family members and others. They participate in social activities and assume related responsibilities, which extend the ethical code of obedience to society. Self-searching, self-awareness, self-acceptance, identity development, acceptance of others, and systematic synchronicity with the environment are expected to take place.

Age of independence. At age thirty, with life established, a person should become an independent professional and have his or her own family and career established. A journey of self-searching is done between the ages of sixteen and thirty. During this stage, it is important to outwardly express one's inner qualities to understand and develop the self.

A wedding ceremony (Wedding Li) is given by both families to announce the establishment of the new couple. During the wedding ceremony, both bride and groom have to pay their honor to Heaven, Earth, their ancestors (at the symbolic shrine in the family hall), and their parents, with family and friends as witnesses. The third day after the wedding, another wedding party is held with the bride's family.

Age of mental maturity. At age forty, a person should have matured and acquired a defined self, no longer struggling in a trial-and-error fashion. As Confucius says, "When a person at forty is the object of dislike, he will always continue what he is" (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 B.C.E.]).

Age of spiritual maturity. At age fifty, a person should be spiritually reconnected with the Ultimate and be synchronized with it. A matured person should know the answers to the questions: "Where did I come from?" "What is the purpose of my life?" and "Who am I?" During this stage, a person should be synchronizing life energies with the systems' needs according to mission and vision. Real life is only beginning, not ending.

Age of acceptance. At age sixty, a person is ready to take a spiritual journey that is the only way that he or she may actualize the self spiritually. Spiritual maturity will facilitate the acceptance of diversity and differences within the family or community and guide the community in leadership.

Age of unification. After the age of seventy, one can purify his or her mind and free the self from negative thoughts. The real self becomes outwardly apparent after it reconnects with the Ultimate and accepts the self and others. During this stage, retirement and detachment from worldly situations may be beneficial.

Funeral service. Confucians respect the end of the life by giving a sincere funeral service (Funeral Li/rite) to honor the dead and promote the social morality (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 B.C.E.]). The name of the dead will be added to the shrine of the family hall as a part of the dead (Yin) family.

Honor the ancestors. Confucians promote ancestor worship by burning paper money and offering food to respect the lives of the dead on April fifth. This ritual respects ancestors and educates younger generations. It becomes a community asset of honoring the self as well as the family.

Teacher's day. This is an elaborate ceremony to honor Confucius at Taipei's Confucian Temple on Confucius's birthday, September 28. His birthday has been dedicated to honor all teachers as a teachers' day, which is a national holiday in Taiwan. Confucian music and dance are performed to honor Confucius and all teachers. The best gift to the teacher or helper may be a successful outcome of one's project, or letters of appreciation.

Family life and structural relations. The Confucian role approach (Chung 1993b, 1994) is based on the assumption that lawlessness and social problems are due to uncultivated individuals, a lack of morals in the social structure, and lack of adequate relationships. Confucius defined five social relationships on which Chinese and other Asian social structures and relationships are based. Various Asians still feel, profoundly, his influence in these areas in their daily life.

In societies that have been influenced by Confucius, the traditional social structure is based on five fundamental interpersonal relationships: superior-subordinate, parent-child, husband-wife, brothers, and friends (Chung 1992b). These relationships are arranged in a hierarchy based on the members' respective position and status. For example, the first superior-subordinate relationship requires loyalty to the government or one's superior on the job. In return, the employer takes care of the employees' needs. Second, the parent-child relationship requires filial piety; children should obey, honor, and respect their parents, and parents should love their children. The husband-wife relationship prescribes that the wife submit to the husband and the husband love the wife. Young brothers should respect the older brother, while the elders should love the young ones. Among friends, righteousness and trust are the rule.

Confucianism prescribes family relationships and indicates the degree of intimacy and obligations. Anyone who is within this network is considered part of the family. Otherwise, he or she is an outsider. As a member of the family, one enjoys membership privileges such as trust, intimacy, and sharing. Confucians promote universal brotherhood and sisterhood by respecting others and observing propriety (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 B.C.E.]).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsConfucianism - History Of Confucianism, Confucian Worldview, Confucian Meditation And Family Integration, Confucian Family Teaching, Stages And Rituals Of Life Transformation