|来自：Northern California, USA|
|时间：2019-05-24 03:55:13｜人气：57 |
|Ghosts, Spirits and Other Childhood Stories|
|I did not believe in anything spiritual at all as a child, in fact, as hard as I try today I still struggle mightily with the God concept. I am an agnostic at best most of the time. I think my struggles have something to do with my background: I grew up in the 1960s and 70s China, an officially atheist society and have lived most of my life an atheist. As a child I was constantly fed the idea that God is an illusion that exists only in human fantasies and all religions are nothing more than "the opium of the masses" (Karl Marx).|
The odd thing is that despite the upbringing of my early life, religion and spirituality popped up in my childhood on several occasions, when I look back carefully.
The first time I could remember related to this happened when I was five or so. My maternal grandmother, who lived in a distant city, came to visit us. She and my paternal grandma, who was living with us, got into the usual "old ladies'' chit chat." Most stuff they talked about made no sense to a little boy like me. But one day I over heard them sharing something that got my attention.
They both had health issues that caused them to go into comma but survived, so they both had "near death" experiences. But what was remarkable was that their stories were eerily similar: they described the experiences of laying in hospital bed, unconscious, then wondering through dark places and saw light, then both heard voices - sounded like those of their dead relatives - shouting: "get out of here, it''s not your time yet!" With that, a force pushed them back through the underworld and they awoke back to life...
As my two grandmothers shared their stories, they gasped in awe of each other and both uttered "my, I didn''t know that happened to you too..." I told myself: this was so weird and ridiculous; they were either lying or something was going on; this could not be just accidental. But as I got older, my "education" convinced me that what my grandmothers shared must have been nonsense. They were two illiterate old ladies (most Chinese women their generation were uneducated). What possibly could two illiterate old ladies know in life but superstitions?
Sometime later, I must have shared this with mom. I can''t recall exactly what she said but I think she stated something to the effect that she wondered about ghosts and spirits herself sometimes. For example, she stated that she once observed as a child a door opening seemingly by itself in her own house. There was nobody at the house, nor wind inside or outside the house. How could the door open itself if there were no ghosts? My mother grew up poor and uneducated but as a young teenager she did receive basic compulsive education after the communist takeover (1949), and was able to read and write. It was a shock to hear mom talking about "ghosts" and "spirits" like that as I had thought only illiterate old ladies ever paid attention to "superstitions."
About a year later, grandmother Wang (my dad''s mother) moved to her own place in our ancestral village (about 800 miles south of Beijing where I grew up) and I lived with her for a few years. Back then in China, all traces of religion were wiped out in urban areas, but in the countryside, some forms of Chinese folk traditions survived. There I would experience some "cultural shock" as a child from a big city coming face to face with these traditions.
I remember one day I woke up at grandma''s old house and she was not home. I felt hungry and went to the kitchen. A country kitchen in southern China back then consisted of mainly a giant stove. The size was necessary as the source of feul was mostly shrubs gathered from the fields. That morning I saw a lot of neatly prepared dishes lying on top of that giant stove. Everything looked delicious. Growing up in a country beset with shortages and scarcity, I had not seen that much food in my life, and I proceeded to eat to my hearts delight and went out playing afterwards.
When I got home for lunch, grandma was there, but she was visibly agitated, and questioned me in earnest:
"Did you happen to eat the food in the kitchen?"
"Yes, why? There is still a lot left, I didn''t eat all of it..."
"Oh no, no, no!" she began to shout, "The food is for our dead ancestors; you should not have touched any of it..."
What she just said, of giving food to the dead, made no sense to me at first of course. The food, as I later would learn, was to be used in an ancestor worship ceremony, one of the commonest religious practices in traditional China. Ancestor worship, as explained by wikipedia,
"is a religious practice based on the belief that deceased family members have a continued existence, that the spirits of deceased ancestors will look after the family, take an interest in the affairs of the world, and possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living."
Grandma, calmed down now, went on to explain to me that in this particular ceremony, all family members had to kneel down in front of the food placed on the giant kitchen stove, say a few prayers, offering our food to our dead ancestors, and ask them to bless us. After the ceremony had been performed, we could then start eating.
"You, by eating the food without offering it to our ancestors first," grandma''s tone now had turned from anger to concern, "must have displeased them."
"What will happen then?" I began to worry myself.
"You may come down with something, sickness maybe."
Sure enough, I came down with a severe fever the day or two after. I was so sick I could not get out of bed for days!
Ancestor worship consists of many forms. This tradition, along with others, has enjoyed a comeback of sorts since I left China. Six years ago, when I visited my ancestral village, I participated in a worship ceremony in front the grave of my grandparents. Grandfather Sun died before I was born. His wife, grandma Wang died almost 40 years ago when I just finished middle school.
The graveside ceremony was a peculiar experience for me. I was amazed to see so many of my relatives, young and old, almost all of them educated like I am, incense sticks in hand, kneel down in front of the grave one by one, whispering something out of their mouth as if in real communication with the dead. As each person took his or her turn to kneel and pray, everyone else just stood in silence.
They must have done this so many times because the whole thing had a spiritual as well as a ritualistic feel just like how a Mass would be for a Catholic.
As I followed my relatives to perform for me an unfamiliar ceremony, I was moved. For a long time, I had thought that most of my fellow Chinese are die hard atheists; our minds poisoned forever by the fiery anti-religious rhetoric of the 19th century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach and his most famous disciple Karl Marx. But at that very moment I realized that I had been wrong. We Chinese, despite recent history and current politics, remain at heart spiritual beings just like the 99% of the rest of the human race.
The qualities I remember most about grandma were her kindness and a sense of fairmindedness and goodness, despite her total lack of education. My dad is much better educated than my grandmother. And I, having attended the finest educational establishments in both China and America, have even better educational credentials. But there are qualities that grandma, that illiterate old woman who died a long time ago, possessed which neither my dad nor myself have come close to have.
Now I am convinced that there are things we human beings cannot learn from institutional education alone, especially from the secular, "modern" variety. In other words, we humans, in our quest for "modernity" (which frequently equals materialism), may encounter a danger of losing those certain parts of humanity that make us fully human, and becoming less in touch with reality as we reduce our knowledge of the world to only the materialistic or "scientific" kind.
I still remember what happened on that day some 37 years ago as if it were yesterday. Grandma, fallen gravely ill, had been in bed for days. Then one day she spoke: "I don''t know what has been happening. I have had a lot of dreams lately, about my mother, and your grandpa, and others, like my aunts and uncles who died long ago. They were all saying to me: ''come, this is your time, come...''."
She died within a month after this.