Filial piety entails the following among Chinese children: “respect to parents, taking is of them, burying them properly after death, bringing honor to the family and having a male heir to carry on the family name” (Reese 2003). It is also as per the expectations of the parents that protection will be provided to them as well as the children who fail to offend them.
Saving one’s mother in reference to filial piety
In a family set up, the idea of filial piety relates to the obligation of subordination of the members of the family to the head of the family. This subordination does not only relay to the head of the family alone, but also to the brothers and the sisters and ultimately to the children to their parents (Spielvogel, 86).
The Mulian story of how he saves his mother relies on this concept, the fact that the son is a subordinate of the parent and in this case the mother is the parent. The story is about a son who goes into a Buddhist hell in an attempt to save his mother from the suffering and manages to do it.
In the Mulian’s story, the responsibility of the son to the mother is highlighted in reference to the filial piety concept. The indebtedness to the mother is what made Mulian to launch a rescue mission of his mother in the Buddhist hell. The kindness of giving birth and breast feeding by the mother portrays mothers as loving souls and sometimes sons feel hard to accept that their mothers are languishing in hell or in purgatory.
The son’s anxiety of repaying the mother who is suffering from unspecified sinful conduct in hell leads to the son trying to save the mother (Cole, 2). The evidence of mothers kindness which is profound and difficult to repay is clearly shown as the son may go to any extent to try and repay it since there is no exact method of payment (Cole, 223). The story brings about the horror that Mulian was feeling for his mother who was suffering in hell and his desire to substitute himself for her own sake.
One of the main principles of Filial piety is that human needs and desires of whoever you are subordinate to are observed. in this case Mulian mother was enduring pain in the Buddhist hell which wasn’t her desire so it took the responsibility of the son to find a way to get his mother from the enduring suffering in Buddhist hell.
Mulian”s action to cut a part of his body in this case the finger for the sake of the mother alludes to Confucian idea among Chinese filial poetry of the son’s body is a gift from the parent. (Young, 93). Mulian’s action of devotion to his mother though she was viewed by the Buddha’s as a sinful woman who was unmannered such that she could seat on rice (Cole, 100) shows the subordination that Mulian had for his mother and to him he appeared as a woman without flaws.
Among the requirement that were needed to bring Mulian’s mother back to life was honoring one’s parents (Young, 94) and since she came back to life, it only meant that Mulian had much respect for his mother. On the other hand (Reese, 1) describes filial piety as having deeds that bring honor to the family as well as bringing respect, confirming that the rescue was in the concept of filial piety.
The action of Mulian once her mother came back to life “as a hungry ghost endowed with a ravenous that she can never satisfy due to her neck-thin neck”( Feuchtwang, 132) of providing the mother with a great feast shows a great deal of care according to the filial piety.
Bringing honor and protecting one’s parents is highly regarded in filial piety according to informants on funnel rituals, all funerals imitates “Mulian saves His Mother” (Young, 1992). This was a great honor to the family because all the rituals to the respects of the funerals would be remembered to the Mulian’s Family. Also appearing of Mulian’s heroic quest in the Buddhist scripture earns his family a great honor.
The power needed to deliver someone from hell is so much that even the advanced disciples of the Buddha with powerful magic was not able to rescue someone alone, it took a great act of piety to combine one’s ritual practice, that of Buddhist faithful and the saving power of Buddha himself to remove someone from hell and to be reborn in the paradise (Glahn, 143).
Filial piety is revealed as an act of love to the parents which children are supposed to show is their subordinates. It is therefore expected that in the actions of the children that a sense of responsibility and due care be revealed in their actions.
The whole story of how Mulian conquered the odds of hell and help his mother escape the torturing endured in hell and be born in paradise is a great act of filial piety, this is because as the story describes a great act of protection of the parent in this case the mother to the greatest extent and in places where there is even impossibility.
The protection of the parent in filial concept is said to be carried out whenever necessary (Reese, 1). Under the underlying scenario Mulian deemed it necessary due to the suffering of the mother.
Cole, Alan. Mothers and sons in Chinese Buddhism.London: Stanford University Press, 1998, Print.
Feuchtwang, Stephan. The Anthropology of Religion, Charisma and Ghosts: Chinese Lessons for Adequate Theory New Jersey: Walter de Gruyter, 2010 Print.
Glahn, Richard The sinister way: the divine and the demonic in Chinese religious Culture. California: University of California Press, 2004 Print.
Reese, Robert. Filial piety in Chinese religion 2003.web 15 February 2011 http://www.casawomo.com/essays/filial-piety-in-chinese-religion.
Young, Katharine. Body lore. Tennessee : Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1995 Print.