Teacher Tang Yuling will accompany you to read The Analects
53. Book 3 Ba Yi (The Eight-row Dance), Chapter 12
He sacrificed to the dead, as if they were present. He sacrificed to the spirits, as if the spirits were present. The Master said, “I consider my not being present at the sacrifice, as if I did not sacrifice.”
Highlights of this lecture include:
1. Ancestral sacrifice and worshipping method
“When he offered sacrifices (to his forefathers) as if they were present; in offering to gods as if the gods were present” was a saying from ancient text. When offered sacrifices to one’s forefathers, he had to form a mental picture of the presence of his ancestor. There were two ways to note the incorporeal presence of an ancestor: to pick a child who looked like the ancestor as a surrogate to receive the offerings of sacrifice, or, to use spirit tablet as token of ancestral worship. Both ways need to image that the ancestor was right in the front. Only by then would one be sincerely cautious and fearful, would his attitude be solemn, his words and actions focused. Communications between the living and the manes could be sensed and responded in form of feedbacks.
2. Gods-worshipping methods
In offering to gods as if the gods were present, was similar to ancestral sacrifice. As one was to offer sacrifice to gods and spirits, they were to be worshipped as if they were present. As chapter 19 of the book of Zhong Yong said, “They served the dead as they would have served them alive; they served the departed as they would have served them had they been continued among them.” Therefore, when Lin Fang asked the fundamentals of ritual propriety, the Master told him about the importance of sincerity. Ritual propriety should highlight true feelings and sincerity. A profound feeling for “as if the present of...” revealed the impressive bearing of sincerity.
3. To take part in offering rituals was important
“I consider my not being present at the sacrifice, as if I did not sacrifice.” If the key worshipper was absent from the sacrifice rituals, it was an extreme misconduct for the entire event. Just as a banquet without a host, it was meaningless and rude to his invited guests to come over because they were not heartily welcome by their host. Therefore, a seven-day fast before the sacrifice rituals would take place before the event called the “restrained fasting” or sanzhai散齋; During which the key worshipper had to abstain from social pleasures. Another three-day fast called the “strict fasting” or zhizai致齋 would have to focus on the memory of the merits and cordiality of the passed parents and ancestors. During which the key worshipper had the time to closely observe and feel grateful for the ancestors. The Confucian way of careful introspection when in solitude. It was an everyday life practice of a junzi’s character building process which emphasized the capacities of daily self-refection, respectful cautiousness, as well as the expression of sincerity in human relations.