For the early Chinese philosophers, the issue of death and dying was of major concern to them. Everyone understands that death is part of nature, thus everyone has to face it. Death is naturally followed by grief, which is the pain of loss.
Through a Confucianist point of view, a person should not fear the concept of death. Several scholars have marked death as both an ending, as well as, a new beginning. The philosophy of Confucianism deems that it is important for us to experience grief. To continue living acting as if nothing has changed is to deny the reality of the deceased. To Confucius, grief is believed to be the manifestation of one’s relationship, and therefore commitment, with the deceased.
Early Confucians followed a practice of mourning their parent(s) for a period of three years, as a result of his teachings. Confucius believed that a person who genuinely cared about their parent would only be able to grief in such a serious manner. To shorten this span of three years would indicate that their concern and commitment to their parents were not sufficient. Filial piety thus became very closely linked to the idea of grief and mourning. Through the Chinese culture, the philosophy of Confucianism brought about a variety in the forms and ways of mourning. The act of grieving was seen as a means to honour the person who had died, and to commit to pursuing their way of life. Even if the deceased had lived out a life full of flaws, it is the moral obligation of the person in grief to still commit to the best of their capabilities and eliminate all the flaws.
What then can we learn from these early Chinese philosophers about death and grief? The Confucian perspective towards grief and mourning challenges the assumptions that might devalue grief. It provides a lens for us to discover meaning in the process of grief. Death may be inevitable, and the pain it brings might be constant or overwhelming. But the philosophy of Confucianism enlightens as that such pain and emotion can reveal new light and meaning onto our way of living. It exposes how we are all influenced by our community, our family, and all those who came before us. The mundane parts of our life suddenly become significant after we have processed the loss of a loved one. Life after death and grief is never the same as life before it.
Confucian philosophy raises an important point about grief: that it is a necessary process for one to cherish what we may have taken for granted in our lives and to grow from this hurt.
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