Part Two: Dharma Discourses

Chapter Two: The Way of Propriety


7. The attendant asked again, “According to common mourning custom, when one’s parents pass away, one deliberately wears humble attire to demonstrate one’s sincere sorrow. Also, the mourning period is set at as much as two full years, with shorter periods depending on the relationship (to the deceased), on the theory that ‘it is not until the third year after the child is born that it may finally leave the parents’ bosoms.’ In our Order, however, mourners just wear simple clothes and pin on a small tag to indicate they are in mourning, and the mourning periods, too, last only forty-nine days at the maximum, with shorter periods determined according to the relationships to the deceased. Isn’t this rather too slight as far as human sentiment is concerned?”
The Master replied, “The genuineness of mourning and cherishing the deceased’s memory comes from the mind; it does not depend entirely on whether one wears humble clothes, nor on whether the mourning period is long or short, but only on whether the mourner’s spirit of gratitude is full, or not. When people’s consciousness was undeveloped, their minds could be swayed by formalities, so the chief mourner wore special mourning clothes and stayed in mourning for two full years to encourage sincere grieving and devotion. But nowadays, because human understanding is more developed, it is difficult to guide their minds through mere formalities. Furthermore, these days when life has gotten so pressing, it has become difficult suddenly to prepare special mourning clothes and to neglect one’s job and to sever all social ties for two full years. If by wearing mourning clothes and staying in mourning for two full years there would be some benefit to the numinous capacity of the deceased spirit, then perhaps it could be recommended to those who could do it, even though this may be generally difficult to practice; but since in fact it has utterly no connection to the numinous capacity of the deceased spirit, how can we insist on keeping intact a practice that does not correspond to either the truth or the times? If we only disseminate the spirit of gratitude by whichever means we choose, then I believe that human morality and affection will be naturally transmitted.”