How Cheng Beng Festival, A Tomb Sweeping Day For The Chinese, Came To Be

How Cheng Beng Festival, A Tomb Sweeping Day For The Chinese, Came To Be featured image - Poh Ern Si's blog
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The Cheng Beng Festival, also spelt as Ching Ming Festival or Qingming Festival (清明节 in English), is regarded as one of the most important occasions for the Chinese community. You may have heard of it being called as Qinming, or sometimes Cheng Meng, but in this article, we will refer to the festival as Cheng Beng and Ching Ming interchangeably.

There are many versions of how the Ching Ming Festival came to be, but from the Buddhist or spiritual perspective, the significance of Tomb Sweeping Day was heavily inspired by the story of Bok Lian rescuing his mother from the Hade World.

It may not be the most popular version of the history of Cheng Beng, but this is one story worth reliving and sharing, for it centres on an important theme, filial piety.

The Observation of Cheng Beng in Malaysia

In our olden times, the Cheng Beng festival falls on the Chinese lunar 3rd month, which is from the beginning till the end of the month (1st lunar day until the 29th or 30th lunar day).

Cheng Beng was a yearly affair of paying respect to our ancestors, for many Chinese-educated people have strong advocation in the teachings of Confucius, who initiated the legacy of filial piety. During Ching Ming, it was a busy month for everyone to start buying all kinds of paper peripherals, and there will be offerings of food to the ancestors in the graveyards or temple columbariums.

However today, the times have changed and so does our outlook towards this Cheng Beng Festival. Nowadays, the Qing Ming festival is observed from 10 days before the original main date of 5th April or after the 10 days within from the original main date. Somehow, the deviation of the dates started a decade or two back, and even for Cheng Beng 2022 Malaysia, the original period of paying respect was lost among the newer generations.

Cheng Beng History of “Mulian Rescues His Mother”: A Story Of Ultimate Filial Piety by Arahant Bok Lian Towards His Mother

Mulian rescues his mother - Origins of Cheng Beng Festival Ching Ming Qingming Festival Tomb Sweeping Day - Poh Ern Si's blog
A picture depicting the story of Arahant Bok Lian or Mulian Rescues His Mother “目连救母“. Source: Reed.edu

Cheng Beng festival actually originated in the ancient times, from an Arahant by the name Bok Lian (also known as Mulian or Maudgalyayana or Moggallāna). In his meditative session, he foresaw that his late mother was suffering unceasingly in the Hade world due to her punishment of evil thoughts and actions. Whatever food taken into her mouth will turn into fire, causing her eternal pain of hunger.

As a filial son, Bok Lian could not hold his tears in agony and hastily sought the guidance of the great Omnipresence Buddha. After listening to the woes of Arahant Bok Lian, the great Buddha lent his sacred stave to Bok Lian and instructed Bok Lian to hit the sacred stave onto the ground when he reached the entrance to the Hade world.

Arahant Bok Lian thanked the Buddha and rushed to the Hade world with the sacred tool. Upon hitting the sacred stave to the ground, the gates of Hade world automatically opened and Bok Lian went in to search for his late mother. He managed to identify her and quickly pulled her out of the Hade world back to earth and gradually to the heavenly realm.

Midway, Bok Lian’s late mother wanted to drink water and Bok Lian found the Heavenly Realm pond water for her to quench her thirst. While drinking to her heart’s content, his late mother had a wicked thought to prevent anyone from enjoying the sweet taste of heavenly water, and then committed a wicked act of passing motion into the Heavenly Realm pond. Thereby, as punishment, Bok Lian’s mother remained stuck halfway between the heavenly realm and the earth orbit.

News spread about how Bok Lian could save his mother from the suffering Hade realm. Many earthly people then asked Arahant Bok Lian how could an ordinary soul and their ancestors be saved in the Hade world. Then Arahant Bok Lian told the earthly people that on the month of the 3rd lunar Chinese calendar, the earth people could provide offerings of food and all kind of papers to the ancestors in the spirit of compassion, affection, goodwill, sincerity and respect.

With these constant actions of praying to the ancestors, these lost souls in the Hade world would eventually feel touched by their gesture. These souls would then realise that their next of kins on this earth are still remembering them and giving them a kind of encouragement and support to strive in their hardships with more repentance and redemptions of their sinful actions.

This way will eventually help all the souls in the Hade world to be reborn into the earthly sphere. This is the actual significance of observing this Cheng Beng festival. Without respecting and honouring our ancestors, we would not have been here today on this earth world for we are all inherent to our ancestor’s offsprings.

How To Pray To Ancestors During Ching Ming Festival The Proper Way

Food offerings, joss paper on Cheng Beng Festival Ching Ming Qingming Festival Tomb Sweeping Day - Poh Ern Si's blog
Offering of joss sticks, Chinese tea, rice wine, food and burning of gold and silver joss paper are common sights during Ching Ming festival. Source: culturacolectiva.com

It is important that we should know the proper procedure for carrying out our observation of this Cheng Beng festival. Preparation of Chinese tea and the offering of cakes and kueh are the most basic ingredients of our offerings.

Food from fast food restaurants such as KFC, Mcdonald’s and pizzas should be avoided as these are modern types of food and dishes which our ancestors do not entertain. We can go modern with our style of living but we cannot simply modernise our ancient ritual practice beyond death to our liking.

Another wrong concept is the purchase of paper cars, paper toys and paper motorcycle, or paper washing machine and paper handphones, as there is no electricity nor tarred roads in the Hade world. Furthermore, there are no heavy industries except the cottage types, and everything is operated manually by hand.

We should never simply believe what others say or do as our ears should never be gullible. Wasting our money, energy and effort on doing something which we do not know the true cause of existence is a very unwise move and extremely beneficial.

Purchasing paper money notes is also another example of wasteful purchases as the currency used in the Hade world is only gold and silver joss papers, not the hell bank notes. We should just buy a stack of gold joss papers and slowly twist them into a fan -like shape before directly burning them for their usage.

Deciding The Right Funeral Rites

Deciding the right funeral rites is important - Cheng Beng Festival Ching Ming Qingming Festival Tomb Sweeping Day - Poh Ern Si's blog
Deciding the right funeral rites is important to ensure the deceased can have a smoother afterlife journey. Source: casketfairprice.com

Many people are unaware that it is important to decide on the right funeral rites to avoid the departed from facing difficulties in continuing the life after death journey. Unfortunately in today’s practices, many mourners simply adopt the recommendation of the funeral director in conducting the funeral using the Buddhist ritual, which is unrealistic because not everyone is subscribed to Buddhist beliefs nor ever practised and observed all the Buddhist ways of conduct such as chanting of sutras and mantras, observing vegetarian diets, listening to the Dharma, and doing contemplation and meditation.

As such, it is advisable to adopt the Taoist ritual as many olden people or modern generation of people do not practise good Buddhist conduct nor are they precepts holders. Once we are too familiar with only Taoist rituals and only believe in devas or deities and taking all kinds of meats, then it is strongly advisable to conduct our death ritual in the Taoist way.

Otherwise when we conduct any death ritual in the Buddhist way, then the deceased will have to depend on himself to journey on his own path into the next existence. This is because for all Buddhist rituals of death ceremony, the Buddhist law is all about self-realisation of own path of the afterlife journey with all his Buddhist knowledge of chanting mantras and sutras, which upon the power of prayers, will automatically assist the departed to guide himself to move forward to the next world with ease. In short, it is just like the analogy where a Chinese educated person cannot read and understand English and vice versa, an English educated one cannot converse in Mandarin.

Cheng Beng Celebration Today

Today, our modern generation of people do not understand the significance of our Cheng Beng festival nor do they believe in such a sacred observation. Many tend to be an atheist or even free thinkers as they believe in creating their own destiny without ties to spirituality.

We should always remember our roots in this earthly existence because without our ancestors’ hereditary circle of existence, we would not be existing today. Sadly our younger generation of people will always take things for granted and simplify everything with their preferred assumption that life would still automatically goes on without the existence of our ancestors in the Hade world.

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