Marriage is the formal way to unite a man and a woman so that they are socially or religiously recognised as husband and wife that will live together in the same house. Xian Sheng explained that in ancient China when there were no laws related to marriage, both couples only have to kneel down and pray facing skywards to make their marriage valid. In the present time, marriages must be compliant with the laws of the country or religious practices to be considered valid and legitimate.
A marriage is viewed as a big, once in a lifetime event by the majority of couples and this has attracted a lot of attention from the business communities, that offers a variety of ways to get the couple to spend excessive amounts of money to make it into a socially memorable event for them, their relatives, their friends and colleagues. Putting aside the financial burden of marriages, the cultural aspects of the marriage rituals that are riddled with idolatry practices, superstitions and taboos are more of a concern from Baitiangong point of view.
Baitiangong Way of Marriage
The Baitiangong Way of Marriage was introduced by Xian Sheng in the early ‘80s for the Batiangong brothers and sisters, to take us back to the simpler and spiritual ways of ancient China, and that is to pray to the CREATOR for blessings of the couple in marriage. The Spiritual Guidelines are as follows:
- The bride must attain the age of 18 years old.
- The bridegroom must attain the age of 21 years old.
- The bride and bridegroom must be in white attire.
- At least five (5) Baitiangong brothers and five (5) Baitiangong sisters are present to witness their Baitiangong Way of Marriage. They must also be in white attire.
- The couple and their witnesses, preferably family members or close relatives or friends from both sides, would sign on our Baitiangong Record of Marriages.
- The bride, bridegroom and all present would kneel down to pray to the CREATOR for blessings. The bride and bridegroom would be praying at the front row, while everyone would be praying behind of them.
- The bride and bridegroom would request the CREATOR to grant them what they would want from each other, e.g. the bride would pray for her husband to have eyes only for her, while the husband would pray for his wife to remain ever loving towards him. Everyone else present would pray to the CREATOR to grant the prayers of the bride and bridegroom. They can optionally pray for blessings of safety, health and all the best for the couple and for the couple to love, help and discuss with each other at all times.
The Baitiangong Way of Marriage is the spiritual way of conducting a marriage in BUSM and not the legal way in Malaysia or Singapore, at the time of writing. Xian Sheng advised the couple to observe the country’s marriage procedures and complete the registration at the proper government office, which for Malaysia is the Registrar of Marriage (ROM) before conducting the Baitiangong Way of Marriage. If the Baitiangong brother or sister conducting the marriage is also an appointed Assistant Registrar of Marriages, then the legal registration should take precedence over the Baitiangong Way, but conducted simultaneously as was done in the past when Xian Sheng was an Assistant Registrar of Marriages.
My spouse’s parents are not Baitiangong followers and they insist we observe Chinese customary marriage and pray to their ancestral tablets. What should I do?
The 1st Spiritual Guideline guides us to pray to the CREATOR only. The CREATOR created everything, all and more than that, to serve man in undergoing their examination in life. Statues, idols or ancestral tablets are made from the creation of GOD like stones, minerals, wood or earth. Xian Sheng warned us that if we pray to any man-made objects, the natural world like animals, mountains, sky, standing stones, rivers or trees or even deceased persons, we would be committing a sin. Therefore Baitiangong’s teachings strictly forbid us from praying to ancestral tablets.
The Chinese customary marriage requires that we kneel down to serve tea to their ancestors and parents. Can I kneel down?
No! We can only kneel to the CREATOR. Kneeling is an expression of worship, reverence, humility, but also servile, surrender or submission. In Baitiangong, kneeling is the highest form of respect we can accord to the CREATOR. All man and woman are created equal in their spiritual status before GOD. However, man is spiritually higher in status, than everything else created by GOD and therefore man should only kneel down to the CREATOR and not to anyone or anything else. However, we can stand up to serve tea to our parents. Bowing is another similar gesture that Baitiangong forbids us to bow towards any living or deceased person.
Can we perform the traditional tea ceremony by pouring tea for our spouse’s dead ancestors if this ceremony does not require us to kneel down? If we do not do so, our relatives and friends may judge that Baitiangong does not practice filial piety.
The Confucian philosophy of filial piety shown towards one’s parents and elders are in line with our 4th Spiritual Guideline – To understand and practice: Sacrifice, Honour, Respect, Patience, Perseverance and Trust. When a person passed away, his or her soul will eventually leave the Earthly plane. The soul will either be reincarnated, in Heaven, in Hell or even remain on earth as a roaming soul or popularly known as ghost if their death is due to suicide. All earthly ties as parents, spouse or relatives will no longer exist for the soul as family ties are part of a person’s examination in life. The action of serving tea is therefore, an illogical and a redundant act as the ancestor is no longer around nor can they drink the tea, but merely serve as a put-on show for those who are superstitious to think their ancestors are around to bless or curse them.
Can I give ang pow as it has become a norm in Chinese culture?
Marriage is a joyful event and giving ang pow is a way to share the joy with unmarried relatives especially the children. Ang pow has created its own set of problems like favouritism where some get more money than others, a couple perceived as rich should pack more money inside the ang pow, giving above norm amount of money to show off and etc. Xian Sheng explained that we should be sincere, open and transparent about giving out money according to our means, without using an ang pow so that we can change the negative aspects of this culture.
What about hiring a Madame of the Marriage ceremony and the other typical customs like hanging red cloth, placing sugar cane at the main entrance of the house, distribute special cakes or cookies and picking an auspicious date?
A Madame is Marriage ceremony is an undesirable element as she exacerbates the culture of superstition in the Chinese cultural marriage. It is important for Baitiangong followers to ask themselves what purposes these paraphernalia serves in the marriage event. Are these used for decorative purposes, liven up the atmosphere or are they there for superstitious reasons? Baitiangong is about changing our unhealthy ways and subsequently doing our part to change bad cultural practice prevalent in our culture. If these paraphernalia or any practices are superstitious in nature, we should reject them, as everyone should strive to create a good and healthy environment around them.
What is the most significant change in Baitiangong way of marriage besides simplicity and absence of superstition?
In traditional Chinese marriage, a bride is considered “married into” to the groom’s family and a dowry is paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family to compensate them for the “lost” of their daughter. The wife abandons her maiden name and uses her husband’s surname, e.g. Mrs Chew. She is also required to follow her husband’s customs including praying to her husband’s ancestors. In Baitiangong, we do not use the Chinese term “married into”, but marriage of two persons as the wife still maintains her autonomy, i.e. she maintains her maiden name and prays to the CREATOR for her own ancestors.
The Baitiangong way of Marriage of Bro Sam Chee Wang and Sis Won Pooi Yong.