Many years ago, in ancient China, people believed in the Buddhist concept of reincarnation and the belief in Karma – in other words ‘what you give is what you receive.’ There are now 1.4 billion people living in China, but the ancient eastern beliefs are no longer religiously held by most Chinese people. Confucianism is also studied as part of ancient Chinese history rather than religiously held customs.
That being said, many of the ancient customs are still influencing how the Chinese people behave toward one another; most are polite and courteous in their daily interactions. The concept of Karma may no longer be a religious concept for the majority, but it’s still deeply rooted in their culture.
The old Buddhist concepts have now become more of a philosophical pursuit for many of today’s youth and that is certainly a good thing. The ancient eastern traditions that are widely rooted in China are beginning to lose their religious significance, mostly due to education and western influences.
There are still people, however, living in China that still hold the belief in rebirth, and your life’s fate can be determined by your actions from previous lives. The majority though regard such beliefs as mere superstition.
I have come in contact with some elderly Chinese people who believe my good fortune is a direct result of my previous life experiences. Those whose lives are more burdensome, it’s a direct result of bad karma according to my elderly neighbors.
It used to be a commonly held belief here that people are reincarnated to work through their karma and learn from past mistakes. However, if you were to ask an average university student whether Reincarnation and karma are realities or myths many students would respond that it is a possibility and then engage you in a philosophical discussion. Many of China’s ancient beliefs are philosophically discussed in Universities. It’s a way for the ancient traditions to be remembered and to keep the ancient Chinese culture alive in our modern world.
I had several experiences where two 3-year-old children pointed to me on different occasions then ran up to me to hug me. Those children’s grandparents would laugh and then stare at me in disbelief. I’m not sure what name the children called me but those experiences were quite intriguing. It kind of reinforces the belief that I am in China for a reason and there are certainly deeper dimensions to life than meets the eye.
I find many of the ancient Chinese customs intriguing and discussing them more fully here is a way of gaining a greater understanding of why many of today’s cultural differences between the west and the east exist. When I delve deeper into the Chinese cultural traditions I gain a better understanding of our own culture. Many of the misconceptions I had about China, in general, before moving here have faded away toward a deeper understanding of myself in relation to others.
Living and working in China for the past 12 years has made me a better person, and I hope I can bring my personal experiences from living here back to the US through my writings for the betterment of others.
Thomas F O’Neill