Monday, January 28, 2013
Rediscovering the Wisdom around Us -1
In Japan, combining Buddhism and Shintoism, we have passed down many traditional customs and rituals in every community. For example, to celebrate New Year's Day, we use some special decorations to welcome the "God of New year." And a couple of weeks later, we burn the decoration items as a farewell. The bonfire to burn such items is considered sacred. And they say that if you roast rice cakes over the fire and eat them, you receive some of the god's power and stay healthy throughout the year.
Now, to hard core scientists, we may look like an uneducated, uncivilized public, believing in such unscientific nonsense. But in Japan, we ARE educated with modern science. Most of us do not literally believe that such rice cakes would gain magical nutrition that protects us from all diseases. But we have kept our traditions, perhaps just for the sake of keeping traditions. And that seems to have provided certain psychological benefits, as a result, especially for the elderly. At least, that is the way I see it.
Above all, this type of rituals require the community members to get together. Both the young and the elderly have roles to play in preparation and during the rituals.
Now, if you have worked at an elder care facility, you must know how crucial it is for the aged people to have a role to play, and, by fulfilling it, feel the sense of worth. And you must also know how difficult it is to find a role for them in a new environment they entered after they got old. It is not easy for them to acquire new knowledge and skills needed to play a certain role. Also, as a care providing staff, you must have tried hard so that they don't lose the sense of time and season, in order to fight against disorientation.
Now think about grandmas and grandpas observing traditional community rituals in their hometown. They have roles to play. All the knowledge about the ritual and the members involved is already part of them, because they have lived with it. Memories of in which season you need to do this and that are perhaps based on the deep-seated childhood memories. That truly helps them keep the sense of time and season in their old age. Fulfilling the roles being surrounded by familiar faces greatly nurtures their sense of worth.
For those who see "psychological benefits" as wishy-washy, I should mention another, more practical benefit of keeping traditional customs. In a place like my hometown, the community ties and the cooperative framework established through performing traditional religious customs have helped us in disaster response. Young and middle-aged members have accumulated experiences of allocating roles and working together. In addition, the sacred facilities such as shrines and temples on higher ground have functioned as evacuation shelters at times of earthquake and tsunami.
All these good points have been offered in observing community traditions. Perhaps our parents' generation kept traditional customs for the sake of keeping a tradition, just being obedient to the elderly. But our generation has learned that if you don't know the reason "why" you keep something or continue doing something, you can easily throw it away or quit doing it.
That is why we need to actually understand the importance of keeping traditions, and share the knowledge with children, so that the majority of the community members - if not all - can be fully convinced to keep it.
Posted by obachan at 10:35 PM