I have a diasporic 'Chinese' ancestry too. So I guess it helps that we have shared lived experience as a point of reference - though what I'm suggesting is relevant more generally.
Mkoll wrote:My grandparents on my mother's side are Chinese-Americans living in the United States but they are still very much Chinese; my grandmother still doesn't read English after 40+ years in this country. They are both nominally Buddhist in that they call themselves Buddhist but don't practice Buddhism or go to a temple. My grandfather has serious Alzheimer's and was recently taken into the hospital because he was displaying signs of great distress. The doctors in the ICU hooked him up to assisted breathing machines, dosed him with sedatives, and tried to get a feeding tube down his mouth. They said his organs were failing and that the family should come to say their final farewells. I said mine last week. Anyway, my grandmother asked my mom to ask me if I knew any "Buddhist prayers" to "help him along".
I was abhorred. She has taken care of him for years now as he's gotten progressively worse and I can't imagine how stressful that must be, but this request was hard to believe. My grandmother is a very superstitious person who believes, among many other superstitious things, that the gods are punishing her for something by having her husband come down with Alzheimer's and necessitating her taking care of his needs. She also has told me that she "prays to Buddha" and everything I know points to her viewing him as a deity, perhaps a supreme deity. I've tried to explain to her what Buddhism is, but there's a language barrier, a cultural barrier, and a lot of other barriers that have prevented any sort of understanding. That is the kind of praying I was referring to when I made my post. Anyway, my grandfather is now much better just a few days after that request; he wide awake and desiring food. He made a miraculous recovery and the doctors were wrong.
Thanks for sharing this. I think this is actually very important, good material for collective reflection. What I would add (again, not expecting any specific answer but just points for general reflection) is:
Why should such customs and attitudes be regarded as 'abhorrent'? Or why are they generating feelings of 'abhorrence'? And if there are feelings of abhorrence, what should these feelings be attributed to - some defect in the life-practices of others and their supposed lack of understanding, or rather, a limitation or blindspot within our own expectations
What are the implications - not for ourselves or anyone else - but for those other people
we are speaking of, when their customs and practices regarded as mere superstition and of little real spiritual benefit to them?
Of course, i am not talking about charlatans and unethical practices that would exploit such customs and practices - it is important to speak out against this when we encounter them. But as you note yourself, your grandparents speak a different language, they have never fully been 'Americanised'. They are in fact from a different lifeworld, a different lived reality. Or to put it another way, they are of an entirely different SPACETIMEMATTERING. What you regard as 'barriers' to 'understanding' may not be so for them - and this is the difficult bit isn't it, how are you to find out given the vast gap in conditioning/lived experience between you and them?
So the challenge is:
What's preventing us from suspending judgement about the relative merits of certain customs and practices of other lifeworlds that WE DO NOT LIVED AND HAVED NOT LIVED?
What is there to gain/lose by passing judgement? What is there to gain/lose by NOT passing judgement? What's so challenging about simply accepting difference
I mean, sure, for the purpose of discussion, it may be useful to talk about how their customs and practices differ from the ones we prefer. But at the end of the day, I think what tends to get lost is this important question: In whose interest, and to what ends
, does making judgements about the relative merits
of these customs and practices of other lifeworlds (which we DO NOT LIVED AND HAVED NOT LIVED), serve?