Even hermits need kinship for success
Recently in the news there have been stories about Chinese criminals who kill young women or steal female corpses to sell each as a companion for a deceased male to accompany him to the afterlife. It is a bizarre story and one of many that put the Chinese in a bad light among Western people.
However, whether the stories are actually true or not, they provide food for thought spiritually. In the first place, there have been many cultures through history that have buried things with their dead to provide a good life for them in the next world. Sometimes they are favorite possessions, and since in ancient times people could be possessions, slaves and relatives might also be buried, sometimes alive. So the Chinese are not alone is providing for the dead in the afterlife.
They have been known to burn paper money -- hell dollars -- to bail themselves out of hell or to send houses and other objects to the other world for their well-being. The Chinese being practical people, paper representations are usually sufficient. In ancient Japan such practices were known, and even today food and drink are placed on graves for the enjoyment of the departed spirit or water poured to slake their thirst.
If we reflect on such practices, even from our modern standpoint, they have significant spiritual meaning, particularly for this life. Taking a companion into the next life tells us how important our human relations are. We need community, fellowship, support. While there are occasionally people who become hermits, the overwhelming majority of human beings depend on each other.
In Buddhism the central principle is mutual interdependence. Even the hermit or self-made man did not come into the world on his own and had to be nurtured by someone in order to survive and become a hermit. Mencius, a Chinese philosopher, has pointed out that no one can support himself alone in the world. Someone has to grow the food, make his clothes, provide safety.
It is just that some people also extend this interconnection into the next world, and people can argue about that. Christians sometimes speak of hell as isolation from God, no relation. To be in fellowship with the community of saints is the important thing. The Mormons continue the family into the next world.
In our society, individualism has run amok; each is for himself or herself. However, we are not marbles in a bag as it sometimes seems. Rather, we are persons whose lives are shaped by our human relations. We have a great responsibility to form those relationships in a way that will bring meaning and worth into the lives of those around us.
In Buddhism there is an image termed Indra's net. In this net each jeweled node reflects every other node. It means that our reality and all reality is essentially one; each is the other, and the other is each of us. Christianity asks that we all love each other and that we may be one in Christ. This ideal is in all the major faiths. In Hawaiian religion, hooponopono is to make something right between people and create that oneness which overcomes conflicts that separate.
We all benefit when positive human relations become the focus of meaning in our lives.
Alfred Bloom is a professor emeritus of religion at the University of Hawaii.