Korea's Religious Places - 2. Confucianism
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|* Songgwangsa Temple (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)||2. Confucianism||1) Jongmyo Shrine (The Royal Ancestral Shrine)|
Those who argue that Confucianism is a religion like to point out that the core ceremonies in Confucian practice are the ceremonies for the dead sometimes called ancestor worship, although there is a kind of consensus that the ceremonies are not worship, per se, but rather a kind of veneration. Venerating one’s ancestors is—not unlike showing respect to one’s living relatives, from this perspective, and no one claims that the ancestors become gods in any way. Still, for those who like to call Confucianism a religion, the ancestor ceremonies are evidence of a behavior that is somewhat similar to worship in Christian churches and Buddhist temples.
Confucian ceremonies take place in three places: in buildings that can be called shrines, gravesites, and homes. The closeness or distance of the ancestor determines where the ceremony takes place. Close relatives, within four generations, are given ceremonies at home. More distant ancestors are given ceremonies at the gravesite. And early ancestors—founders of the lineage and prominent men from history—are honored at shrines. There is some overlap, however, because those honored at shrines also have graves, as do those honored at home. Nevertheless, generally speaking, we can divide the kinds of ceremonies into these three categories.
If ancestor worship is not the preferred term, what term should we use? There is a consensus among most scholars that ancestor veneration or simply ancestor ceremonies is better. What are the ceremonies? At their core, they are offerings of food and drink to the ancestor’s spirit. Since the ancestor is a spirit, he (or she) will partake of the spiritual essence of the food, and after the food is pulled off the ancestral altar, it is consumed by the descendants who have made the offering. In other words, it becomes a feast and a celebration. The scale of the ceremony is generally smaller at the home, larger at the gravesite, and the largest at the shrines; but in all cases, the family members present partake of the food after the ceremony.
There are basically two kinds of high-level Confucian shrines, a public (or government-sponsored) shrine, and a privately sponsored shrine. There is an overlap in that some of the private shrines had government approval while others were built without any sort of authorization from the government. In most cases, the public and private shrines were also schools—there is a category of shrine without a school, but that is fairly rare. The government-sponsored school/shrine is called a hyanggyo and there was one in each county. Additionally, in the capital near the palace, there was the central academy and shrine called the Seonggyungwan National Academy.