Friday, June 8, 2012

Celebrating the Beauty of LIfe

A university professor, writing in the Peace Weekly, reflects on the many ways Koreans have of celebrating memorable events. In the East the Shi Jing (One of the 5 Chinese Confucian classics), variously translated as the Book of Odes, the Classic of Poetry, the Book of Songs, the Book of Poetry, is Korea's earliest collection of poems, comprising 305 poems, some possibly written as early as 1000 BC, portraying seasonal and religious celebrations that go back to the time of its writing.

Korean history enables us to see the development of the festivities as embodying a composite of many varied elements of the culture, especially its religions and its artistic accomplishments as they developed over time. The festivities were all ultimately about celebrating life: its dynamism, our common destiny, our overcoming adversity, and our attempts to sublimate life artistically. We are able to discover in these celebrations, according to the professor, three common elements.

First,  we see the social nature of the celebration. It was not celebrated alone. It can be compared to the shaman rites, when others would be present, celebrating together our common humanity. We are social beings who are naturally suited to relating to others, and this was the core aspect of all celebrations.  

Second, its religious element. The celebration helped to maintain the community by providing the participants with an experience of the generative power of their coming together. It deepened their religious experiences, showing them how to live and avoid, or minimize, the difficulties of life by recognizing their mutual suffering and its meaning.

Third, its artistic element. It compressed life into drama and artistic activity, expressing the peculiarities of our life by replaying it with music, art, and narration.

Compared with these traditional ways of celebrating life, our present celebrations have a temporary societal aspect; the mystery is absent. We are left only with an unfocused enthusiasm, gatherings without solidarity, acclamations without thought, beauty without having nurtured a place in our hearts to appreciate it, leaving us unable to reflect this beauty in our lives. Consequently, says the professor, our celebrations are not able to encourage life but only able to give temporary  pleasure.

However, humanity cannot live without celebration, he says.  Our own individual enthusiasm for life is the foundation for the celebrations, our enthusiasm is the holy place where we experience unity and love. Celebrating this enthusiasm for life is not achieved without effort, and its special beauty, he reminds us, has been there from the beginning of time.

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