When you see a collection box by the main altar in a pagoda, drop some money into it to help cover the cost of flowers and incense. You’ll be acquiring some cong duc for yourself and your loved ones.
Cong duc (gongde in Chinese), a Buddhist concept influenced by Taoism, Confucianism and popular beliefs, literally means “social virtues” or services rendered to society. In Buddhist terminology, it denotes virtues expressed through good deeds (cong).
To the ordinary faithful, it simply means charity or devotion, so they give to the poor, come to the aid of orphans, contribute to the construction and maintenance of shrines, pray regularly or have sutras recited by proxy. Childless couples or parents without a male heir used to donate land to pagodas, the proceeds were used for the commemoration of their deaths and for other annual rites.
All this is derived from an interpretation of karma, the Buddhist dogma that deals with the linking together of actions and consequences in the successive existences of life. Tb secure a better life for one’s self and for beloved ones in the next existence, merit can be acquired by performing good acts.
This guarantee of a good after life is also based on the popular belief in a ubiquitous and just celestial power, on the Jade Emperor of Taoist mythology, as well as phuc am – the Confucian notion of happiness earned from the good deeds of one’s forbears.
While the Vietnamese practice cong duc only in public places, the Chinese focus more on their families, or so it seems to me. As an expression of their gratitude to their parents, they will conduct gongde rites on the seventh, 21st and 49th days after death, attaching the greatest importance to the 49th day. On this day, the souls of the departed are said to leave for good the world of the living.
Sometimes these rites are conducted during the funeral to save both time and money. They can also be delayed for three years and then be transformed into religious services.
It is noteworthy that only odd days are chosen to mark death-related events; auspicious events are celebrated on even days. The general practice of gongde usually takes place in the third and seventh phases of the moon.
Monks intone sutras to alleviate the suffering of souls and paper votive objects are burned for heavenly use by the dead. A person who has performed good acts in this world will be credited with merits, which ensure them happiness in the next life. Wicked people, without any merits, will be doomed to misery in the Kingdom of Shadows.
The Chinese believe the merits a person accumulates in their lifetime may also be transferred to deceased family members and that paper votive money must be sent to the dead to help them pay debts contracted in the other world.
Learn more about Taoism, Confucianism and popular beliefs through Vietnam Cambodia Laos tour package.