The word propriety is defined by a homonym in Chinese which means “to set up”or“to stand.” Therefore, Confucius said, “If a man has no sense of propriety, he has nothing to stand on.” He also said, “Serving [one's parents] with propriety when they are alive, burying them with propriety after death, and making sacrifices on their behalf with propriety is filial piety.”
Confucius' disciple, Zi Xia, asked about filial piety. The Master replied, “It consists in not getting angry.”
When Zi You asked about filial piety, the Master replied, “Filial piety nowadays consists of supporting one's parents.”
No matter what people do, they should have good manners. If you don't have good manners, then this shows a lack of education; you will appear rough and impolite. The word propriety is defined by a homonym in Chinese which means “to set up”or“to stand.” Propriety is what you establish your character on; with propriety you can have a good personality. Therefore, Confucius said, “If a man has no sense of propriety, he has nothing to stand on.” If a person doesn't show any courtesy to others, then he's no different from an animal. He cannot keep his standing for long. If he doesn't have any manners, there is no place for him in society or in the world.
He, Confucius, also said, “Serving [one's parents] with propriety when they are alive. Serving them with propriety means attending to them with courtesy. For example, in the morning one greets one's parents and asks if they slept well the night before, or if they were disturbed and could not sleep. At night, one makes sure one's mother and father have gone to bed and are sleeping peacefully. One checks to see if they are fully covered by their blankets. If not, one arranges the blankets to cover them. Before one goes out, one should tell one's parents where one is going. Upon returning, one should first go to see one's parents. This is all part of propriety. This is serving [one's parents] with propriety when they are alive.
Burying them with propriety after death. You cannot neglect them when they die. Their funeral arrangements should also be made in accord with propriety. And making sacrifices on their behalf with propriety. Is it the case that once they are buried, it's all over and there's nothing else you have to do? No. After their burial, you must make sacrifices. On certain special days, such as the day of their death and their birthday, you should go to their grave to make offerings—perhaps bringing some incense, flowers, or fruits. Ordinary laypeople may bring some wine or meat and invite their parents to partake of them. Such sacrifices should also be done in accord with propriety. You should set up an altar as when we bow to the Buddhas, and make a few bows. This is filial piety. This can be called filial piety.
Confucius' disciple, Zi Xia, asked about filial piety. Confucius often discussed the principles of filial piety with his disciples. After many such discussions, his student Zi Xia still didn’t understand. Zi Xia's surname was Gu, and his given name was Shang; Zi Xia was his alias. He said, “Teacher, today you spoke about filiality. I still don't quite understand exactly how we should fulfill our filial duties.” He didn't understand how to serve his parents with propriety when they were alive, how to bury them with propriety, and how to make sacrifices with propriety on their behalf after death, so he inquired about the meaning of filial piety.
The Master replied, “It consists in not getting angry.” What is meant by filial piety? The biggest problem in being filial and obedient to one's parents is to avoid getting angry. If one can avoid getting angry, just that is filial piety! To maintain a pleasant demeanor in serving one's parents is very difficult. This means not losing one's temper at one's parents. Because Zi Xia was a rough fellow who would glare at his parents and get mad at them, when he asked Confucius how to be filial, Confucius said it consisted in not getting angry. All you have to do is not get angry.
When Zi You asked about filial piety, the Master replied, “Filial piety nowadays consists of supporting one's parents. Keeping one's parents alive is considered filial piety nowadays.”
To be continued
Question: My father and mother passed away in Mainland China, and I haven't been able to visit their grave. I think that when I'm bowing to the Buddhas in Taiwan, they can't attain the benefit. Is this true?
Venerable Master: If your mind is sincere, then no matter how far away you are, it will still be
efficacious. However, if your mind is not sincere, then even if they were before you, it wouldn't be efficacious.