My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing why bowing down only twice is important during a memorial rite or a funeral. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.
She told me that to understand this piece, you need to understand the Yin and the Yang (negative and positive) culture of Asian countries. Yin, is the power that is believed to be dark and negative, while Yang is the positive power.
In Korean funerals or memorial rites, people only bow down twice. It is believed that one’s first bow means the Yang power and the second bow means the Yin power. This means that the first bow is only meant for the people who are living and the second bow is for the people who are dead and no longer in this ‘living’ world. Thus, when you bow down to the families of the dead, you only bow once because they are alive, and you bow down twice to show respect to the dead. Events that require bowing down and related to death such as a funeral or an ancestral rite will require bowing down twice.
My informant also highlighted that all bows should be performed with the utmost respect because this is a matter of living and the dead.
When I was young and attended funerals, I remember peeking through my arm to see how many times my parents were bowing down. I was sometimes confused because they would bow down once in some situations and would bow down twice in some situations. This connection of Yin and Yang with the funeral culture show how Asian countries strongly believe in the ‘powers’ of negativity and positivity and its connection to Confucianism; you need to have detailed and precise actions even when you are showing respect to your ancestors.