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The Teachings Of Great Master Yin Guang

Whether one is a layperson or has left the home- life, one should respect elders and be harmonious to those surrounding him. One should endure what others cannot, and practice what others cannot achieve

 

The Sweetest Smile Yet

As we come to the end of our treatise on Loving and Dying, I should make it clear that I do not at all claim to be an authority on living, loving or dying. But I have tried to share some thoughts on the subject with you, thoughts about how to live and die with love and understanding all along the way

 

A World Of Anomalies

Reading the newspapers and newsmagazines can give us much food for reflection. Besides the orbituaries, there are grim reminders of uffering all over the world, though we may have become quite numbed to it.

 

Contemplation On Death

While we are alive it is good to contemplate on death now and then. In fact it is good to do it daily. The Buddha recommends frequent contemplation on death because there are many benefits to be gained from such contemplation. Let's look at how we can benefit in contemplating on death.

 

Our Death Should Be Serene

All of us have to die one day. Our death should be serene and peaceful. Therefore when someone is about to die we should make it as serene and beautiful for him or her as possible. Yes, are you surprised that death can be beautiful? If you are, it is because we normally have dosa or aversion towards death. There is fear of pain and the uncertainty of what is to come after death. Then there is attachment to our loved ones which gives rise to much pain in our heart in having to part with them.

 

We Are Our Own Saviours

Sometimes as a monk I'm asked to go for funeral chanting. I do feel sorry for the bereaved ones but sometimes I also feel quite helpless because there is so much confusion as regards the role of a monk in funeral chanting.

 

Loving Is Understanding

o die well we must live well. If we have lived well we can die well. There will be no regrets. We can go peacefully, content that we have done what we could, that along the way we have spread understanding and happiness, that we have lived according to our principles and commitment to the ideals of love and compassion.

 

We Must Do Our Bit

Earlier I said that when I saw the sick, the dying and the dead, two resolutions arose in my mind. One is to be able to take pain and death with a smile, to be able to remain mindful and composed to the very end. Now I wish to touch on my second resolution.

 

Tribute To Kuai Chan

'd like to tell you about a brave yogi who died peacefully from lung cancer with the word, Nibbana, on her lips. Her name is Kuai Chan and she passed away on December 18,1992 at her home in Kuala Lumpur.

 

Coping With Disease The Right Attitude

We should not look on disease and suffering as something which will destroy us completely, and thereby giving in to despair and despondency. On the contrary, we (ie. in the case of Buddhists) can look upon it as a test of how well we have understood the Buddha's teachings, how well we can apply the understanding we have supposedly learnt.

 

Two Resolutions

As I'm writing now, I recall that just yesterday a fellow monk died. He had been suffering from terminal cancer for eight months. When I was by his side at the hospital a few days before his death, he was in pain. I tried to feed him some broth but he could not eat. He looked quite gaunt and grim. He could hardly speak.

 

Hello Death Goodbye Life

One day when I die, as I must, I'd like to die with a smile on my lips. I'd like to go peacefully, to greet death like a friend, to be able to say quite cheerfully: "Hello Death, Goodbye Life."

 

Preface

I have written this book to share some thoughts on death with anybody who may care to read it. Thoughts about how we can go about facing death - with courage and equanimity. With dignity. And if you like with a smile. Thoughts about how to cope with suffering, to live with wisdom and compassion, or with as much of it as we can muster, until we die.

 

Acknowledgement

I am very much indebted to: Santivara for all his hard work in doing the layout and design of this book; and to Tuck Loon for his cover art and illustrations.

 

We Are Our Own Saviours

Chủ nhật - 29/09/2013 12:21
Illustrated picture

Illustrated picture

Sometimes as a monk I'm asked to go for funeral chanting. I do feel sorry for the bereaved ones but sometimes I also feel quite helpless because there is so much confusion as regards the role of a monk in funeral chanting.
Loving and Dying
 

By Visuddhacara


Illustration by Hor Tuck  Loon


WE ARE OUR OWN SAVOURS

 

Sometimes as a monk I'm asked to go for funeral chanting. I do feel sorry for the bereaved ones but sometimes I also feel quite helpless because there is so much confusion as regards the role of a monk in funeral chanting.

The other day a young lady approached me. Her father had died that morning. He was only 42. She pleaded with me in Hokkien: "Tolong lai liam keng, khuih lor hor wah-eh-pah." It means: "Please come and chant prayers. Please open the way for my father." I look at her with as much compassion as I can muster. I can feel her confusion and suffering. She must be about 20 I thought, and she is a filial daughter. In my heart I told myself: "0 dear, how on earth am I going to open the way for anybody. What imaginary path am I going to draw in the air for his equally imaginary spirit to tread upon? How can I tell this poor young lady in her present state of grief and confusion that there is no such way as she may have conceived it to be."

The Buddha was put in such a position once and how did he respond to it? Well, one day a young man approached and asked the Buddha: "0 lord, my father has died. Please come and say some prayers for him. Raise up his soul so that he can go to heaven. The Brahmins perform such rites but you Buddha are so much more powerful than them. If you were to do it, my father's soul is sure to fly straight to heaven."

The Buddha replied: "VeFY well. Please go to. the market and fetch me two earthen pots and some butter." The young man was happy that the Buddha had condescended to perform some powerful magic to save his father's soul. He hurried to town and got what was required. Then the Buddha instructed him: "Put the butter in one pot and stones in the other pot. Then throw both pots into the pond." The man did so, and both pots sank to the bottom of the pond. Then the Buddha continued: "Now take a staff and strike the pots at the bottom of the pond." The man did so. The pots broke and the butter, being light, floated up while the stones, being heavy, remained where they were at the bottom.

Then the Buddha said: "Now quick, go and summon all the priests. Tell them to come and chant so that the butter can go down and the stones can come up." The young man looked at the Buddha, flabbergasted. "Lord," he said, "You can't be serious. Surely you can't expect the butter being light to sink and the stones being heavy to rise up. That would be against the law of nature."

The Buddha smiled and said: "Even so, my son, don't you see that if your father had led a good life, then his deeds would be as light as the butter, so that no matter what he will rise up to heaven. Nobody can prevent that, not even me. For nobody can go against the natural law of kamma. But if your father had led a bad life, then just like the stones that are heavy, he would sink to hell. No amount of prayers by all the powerful priests in the world can cause it to happen otherwise."  

The young man understood. He corrected his wrong concept and stopped going around asking for the impossible. The Buddha's simile had driven home the point: Nobody can save us, least of all after we are dead. According to the law of kamma, we are owners of our deeds, heirs of our deeds. Our deeds are our true property. They are our true refuge, our true relatives. They are the womb from which we spring. When we die we cannot take even one cent with us or any of our personal belongings. Neither can even one of our loved ones accompany us. Just as we came alone according to our kamma, we must go alone. If we have understood the law of kamma well, then we will appreciate how important it is to lead a good life while we are alive. For to wait until we are dead will be too late. There is little that can be done then.

Rebirth is instantaneous


Nevertheless, there  is a role which a monk can play in funeral chanting. And that is the Buddhist way of sharing merits. How is the sharing or transference of merits effected? Before we can explain   this we must first understand what happens at death. According to the Buddha, rebirth takes place instantaneously  after death, consciousness having the nature of arising and  passing away unceasingly. There is no interval between death and the next birth. * One moment we are dead and the next moment rebirth takes place, either in the human plane, the animal plane, the suffering spirit or ghost (peta) plane, the demon (asura) plane, the hell plane, or the celestial (de va) plane.

One takes rebirth according to one's kamma. If one has led a good life one will generally get a good rebirth. The mind is likely to be in a wholesome state at the death moment enabling a good rebirth to come about. One may be reborn as a human being or as a god in one of the many heavenly realms. The Buddha was able to see with his psychic powers the various realms of existence, and also how beings died and were reborn immediately according to their deeds. The Buddha and many of the monks during his time too were able to recollect their innumerable past lives.

If one has led a generally evil life, then a bad rebirth is more than likely to come about - in one of the four woeful states as a hell-being, a hungry ghost (peta), an animal or a demon (asura). But wherever one may be reborn, one will not be there forever. On the expiry of one's lifespan, one dies and undergoes new rebirth. So existence as a hell-being or a ghost too is not forever. There is hope: one has a chance to come up again, though it might take an incalculably long time to do so. So it is better not to drop into the woeful states at all, for once  there you'll never know how long you'll have to staythere. It might seem like an eternity!


Similarly, existence in the heavenly realms is not permanent. On expiry of one's lifespan there, one is liable to drop down to a lower plane. Only an arabant who has given up all desire for rebirth, having eradicated the mental defilements of greed, hatred and delusion, will undergo no new rebirth. On dying he arises no more in any of the 31 planes of existence. He is subject no more to sam sere, the round of birth and death. He attains parinibbana which is the extinction (nirodha) of mind and body, the extinguishing of the whole mass of suffering. But until one becomes an arahant one will still be subject to rebirth.

How sharing of merits is effected

Now, for transference of merits to be effected, it is essential for the being who is to receive the merits to know what is going on. He must be present and be able to approve of the good deeds done in his name or on his behalf. If he approves, then that approving or rejoicing state of mind is a wholesome state of mind. In other words he made his own merits by rejoicing over the good deed which had been done on account of him. Thus it is not that we transfer our merits to him. That is not literally possible. What happens is that he rejoices and that rejoicing is a meritorious deed by which his suffering may be alleviated and his happiness increased.

If after death, rebirth takes place in the human or animal pla~e, the being will be in no position to know what is going on, - for instance he may still be a foetus in the womb of his mother. Under such circumstances, he would not be able to rejoice and partake in the merit-making.

If a person has been reborn as a hell-being, he too cannot know what is going on in this world because he would be suffering in hell, which is another plane of existence in which he would have no knowledge of what is transpiring here on earth. If he is reborn as a deva (heavenly being), it is unlikely that he would keep in touch with this world. It is said that he would be too happy and busy exploring the wonders of his new existence to be immediately concerned about what is happening on earth. Time is relative and a day, say in the  Tavatimsa heaven, is said to be the equivalent of 100 years on earth! So by the time a deva should, so to speak, take a look down here, we'll all be dead and gone! Moreover, we cannot say for certain that a deva will automatically have the psychic powers to recollect his previous life, though the scriptures do record instances of devas remembering what they had done in their previous life to earn them a celestial rebirth.

So in the Tirokutta sutta, the Buddha told a brahmin that only a peta (an unfortunate spirit) would be able to partake in the sharing of merits. These spirits, though in their own realm, are able to perceive with their own eyes the human plane. If they are aware of the meritorious deeds done on account of them, and rejoice thereupon, then they would gain merits as a result of their rejoicing. Of course no-one would like their loved one to be reborn as a peta. One would like to think that he ( or she) has undergone rebirth as a human being or a deva.

So the brahmin asked the Buddha what would happen if the deceased had already obtained a good rebirth. The Buddha replied that it was still good to share merits, for in our beginningless wandering in samsara, it was certain that some of our relatives in previous lives have had unfortunate rebirths as petas. And as the lifespan of a peta can be very very long, they are liable to be still around. So we share the merits with departed relatives and also with all sentient beings. Besides, the Buddha pointed out, the person who did the good deed on account of the departed will himself get the merits too.

Sharing of merits is a Buddhist tradition. The Buddhist does good deeds such as offering almsfood and requisites to monks, sponsoring the printing of Dhamma books and donating to charitable causes, such as homes for the aged, charity hospitals and institutions for the handicapped. Then he invites the departed and all sentient beings to rejoice and share in the merits. This itself is a good deed, the doer of which does not "lose" any merits but gains even more by sharing, as the act of sharing is another meritorious deed. So the living make double merits - first by doing a good deed and second by sharing the merits.

The presence of monks to recite Buddhist suttas and to give Dhamma talks to the bereaved relatives at the time of their grief is also a great moral support. The monks can remind the living relatives of the Buddha's teaching of impermanence, suffering and no-self. They can urge the relatives to accept the suffering with wisdom, and to strive more diligently to attain Nibbana, the cessation of all suffering.

If we understand and accept the Buddhist concept of rebirth as being instantaneous, then we will understand that what is important is that we must do good deeds while we are alive. By doing good deeds, we gain good kamma. Kamma is our true inheritance, for only those  good deeds or kamma can follow us. After death, the burning of paper money, houses, cars, etc. cannot benefit the deceased. It would be against the logic of kamma. Moreover, we can think for ourselves - how can something that is burnt here materialise in another world or  anywhere for that matter. What is burnt is just burnt; it stays burnt. In the context of the law of kamma too, offering of food to the  deceased is also pointless. On being reborn, the new being will survive on the kind of food that is appropriate for its plane of existence. Thus we find that the Buddha did not at all ask us to offer food to the deceased or burn paper money, etc.

Apparently, these funeral rites and rituals have been handed down from generation to generation without any thought as to their basis and significance. What the Buddha taught is, as ex-plained earlier, to do some good deeds on account or in memory of the deceased and then share the merits, by reciting the Pali or stating in the language we can understand: May these merits go  to the departed. May the departed rejoice and share in the merits done.

A Buddhist funeral is a simple funeral

The Buddhist way is meaningful and simple. If we can understand and appreciate the Buddhist way, then a Buddhist funeral can be a  very simple one devoid of superstitious rites and rituals, devoid of fear, anxiety or confusion. One need not burn this or that, perform all  kinds of strange rites and observe all kinds of taboos, all of which are quite meaningless and confusing to the living who usually go along with it more out of fear, social pressure or ignorance than anything else. One need not invite professionals to chant and perform rituals for a hefty fee amounting to thousands of dollars! or engage a band to strike up music, even though it may well be solemn music.

As a Buddhist, one need only to invite Buddhist monks to recite Buddhist suttas which need not be lengthy. It would be good if the suttas can be translated into English or Chinese so that all present can understand, appreciate and reflect on what had been recited, on what the Buddha had taught us about the nature of life and death. Of special importance is the upholding of the five precepts by the lay-people - done by reciting the Pali, referably with translation, after the monk. The taking and observance of five precepts is basic practice for lay Buddhists. After the taking of precepts, the monk can give a dhamma talk aimed at providing consolation, comfort and strength to the bereaved.

In the Theravadin tradition, monks do not levy any fee at all for their service. The service is done by them out of compassion, to give moral support to the lay-devotees in their hour of need. Thus, the monks would not seek monetary compensation as that would be at odds with the spirit of the Dhamma. Nevertheless, lay-devotees sometimes offer a red packet as a donation to the monks for the purchase of allowable requisites, such as robes or medicines. This sum, if offered, need only be a token. In fact, the monks are not to expect a red packet, and if it should be offered, then it is something which is offered solely on the initiative of the offerer. This packet being a token sum is not a fee but a donation. A fee, in the case of a funeral, is usually a substantial (or exorbitant) sum that would be fixed by the undertaker before he would agree to conduct elaborate services. And that, as we have said, is not the practice for a monk.

The relatives, of course, can offer food (dana) to the monks at the temple. Those who are more affluent can make donations for the printing of Dhamma books for free distribution. They can also make donations to charitable institutions, to the poor and needy, and other worthy causes. In lieu of wreaths, relatives and friends can be encouraged to donate towards specified charities. All the merits thus gained can then be shared with the deceased. All these will make the funeral meaningful- minus the unskillful practices which involve much confusion and waste of funds.

We can learn from others

The deceased can be cremated or buried promptly - on the same day or the following day. In this regard I think Chinese families can learn something from a Muslim funeral, which I'm told, is simple, practical and inexpensive. A Muslim friend of mine says that the Muslim way is to bury the deceased on the very day of death or, at the latest, the following day. So if a Muslim dies at 2pm, he can be buried before sunset on the same day. If he dies in the late evening or at night, he is buried the following day.

The funeral is an inexpensive, easily affordable one because, as my friend says, Islam discourages extravagance and encourages simplicity and frugality. A Muslim funeral, inclusive of the casket, he tells me, can cost as little as $500 - a far cry from a Chinese funeral which can cost up to $30,000 or even more! The funeral procedures for the Muslim too are, in the Muslim context, relatively simple and meaningful. A Christian funeral too is simple, inexpensive and meaningful for the Christian, and burial is carried out within 48 hours.


"Do not believe just anything. But think and verify for yourself

I believe that in life we can never stop learning. There are always better and more meaningful ways of doing things. If we keep an open and unbiased mind we can learn from others. The Buddha advised us in the Kalama sutta that we should always think and investigate for ourselves. If we find that a practice is good and meaningful then we should follow it; if we find that it is bad or unskillful, then we should not follow it, or if we had already been following it, we should be bold and wise enough to discard it. Nothing, the Buddha said, should be followed blindly without understanding or question. The Buddha encouraged us to question and investigate. Even his words are to be investigated and only when found true to be followed. The Buddha does not want us to have blind faith but faith that is based on direct experiential knowledge.

Therefore, if we find simple and good practices in other religions and traditions, we can adapt and follow them as long as they are not in conflict with our religious beliefs. In this regard, we can learn from others in the way they hold a prompt and inexpensive funeral. We should also discard the superstitious and un-Buddhistic practices of ours. As for superstitions, I understand there are many in a traditional Chinese funeral, and I  have seen some of these practices for myself while chanting at funerals. I feel quite helpless as I can only witness these practices in silence. There is little one can do. Traditions are most difficult to change; and any effort to make changes will usually meet with strong resistance and even condemnation.

There were times when I hesitated to go for funeral chanting because I wondered what purpose would my presence there serve. But more often than not, I responded and tried to do what I could by giving a Dhamma talk and clarifying as skillfully as possible the Buddhist position. I think it is high time that Chinese Buddhists re-examine the traditional Chinese funeral practices and make simplifications in line with Buddhist wisdom. I may be criticised for my views but I feel that if we do not speak up, we will be doing a disservice to the Buddhist community.

If I may suggest a simple Buddhist funeral, I will propose that cremation be done on the same day if possible, and if not, the following day. However, some people may wish to keep the body for a few days to enable faraway relatives and friends to come and pay their last respects, or for various other personal reasons. So the decision would be a personal one to be made by the family concerned. I have proposed cremation rather than burial because of various practical considerations, such as the shortage of land, increase in human population, and savings in funeral costs which can then be channeled towards more meaningful needs such as charity.

The deceased should be bathed, cleaned and dressed by the family members, rather than by strangers. This would be meaningful because the body is that of our loved one, and the very least we can do is to handle it gently with love and respect. The body can be dressed in clothes which need not be grand or formal, but which the deceased had liked to wear when he was alive. A male body can be bathed and dressed by male family members, and a female body by female members. We should not feel any fear for a dead body, especially as it is the body of our loved one.

There is also no point in putting any jewellery on the body. Once, while on funeral chanting, I noticed undertakers adorning the deceased's body with special made-for-the-dead rings and earrings. This is even more ironical and meaningless, considering that in whatever rebirth the deceased may take, he (or she) is not going to take anything at all along with him except the sum of his good and bad deeds.

When handling the body, such as removing it from the bed and arranging it in the casket, it can again be done by family members. And as always the body should be respectfully and gently handled. The practice of turning one's back towards the deceased as he is lowered into the casket, or as his casket is taken into the hearse, is to me an odd thing. The deceased is our loved one and we ourselves should, in the first place, be placing his body gently into the casket, or to look on with respect as it is being done so by others. To turn away and show one's back to the deceased is to me a mark of disrespect! I can't help thinking that if I were the deceased I would be offended to be treated in such a manner.


This practice of turning away is just another superstition. Why should we fear any ill-luck befalling us if we do not conform to such taboos? As Buddhists we should have confidence in kamma which is our true refuge and support. Good begets good and bad begets  bad. We should fear bad deeds, such as breaking of our precepts, as such bad deeds will bring about suffering. The last thing we need to fear are superstitions and unfounded taboos.

The casket too need not be an expensive one. It should be placed in the hall of the house with some flowers nicely arranged around it and a photograph of the deceased. Some meaningful Dhamma words, passage or saying can be put up for reflection. No wreaths need be sent. Instead, in lieu of wreaths, donations should be sent to charities which can be specified by the family members of the deceased. Whatever expense that is saved by holding a simple and meaningful funeral can also be channeled to charity.

Food need not be offered before the deceased's casket, for as we have explained, the deceased will not be able to partake of it. Burning of paper money, joss paper, etc, is also meaningless and should not be done at all. Lighting of candles and joss-sticks are also unnecessary. In fact, the very many superstitious practices and taboos that normally accompany a traditional Chinese ceremony should all be discarded, bearing in mind the Buddha's words that a true lay-follower of his has five qualities: "He has faith; he is morally  disciplined; he does not believe in superstitious omens; he relies on kamma, not on omens; he does not seek spiritually worthy persons outside of here (ie.)outside of the Buddha's dispensation) and he shows honour here first (ie. he has respect for the Buddha's dispensation and should not subject himself to un-Buddhistic practices)."

Wearing of mourning clothes is unnecessary. The Buddha does not want us to mourn or grieve but to accept the fact of separation and death with wisdom and equanimity. Soka or grief is an unwholesome state of mind and it is to be overcome through mindfulness and wise reflection. Thus, the anagami and arahant (who have attained the third and fourth stages of sainthood respectively) are incapable of mourning and grieving. When the Buddha died, the monks who had attained anagamihood or arahathood, shed not a tear. Understanding the nature of impermanence, they did not grieve even though the Buddha was passing away before their eyes.

Neither did the Buddha grieve when his two chief disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, died within two weeks of each other, about six months before him. The Buddha himself remarked: "Marvellous it is, most wonderful it is, monks, concerning the Perfect Ones that when such a pair of disciples have passed away there is no grief, no lamentation on the part of the Perfect One." And the Buddha added: "For of that which is born, come to being, put together, and so is subject to dissolution, how should it be said that it should not depart? That, indeed, is not possible. Therefore, monks, be ye an island unto yourselves, a refuge unto yourselves seeking no external refuge; with the Teaching as your island, the Teaching your refuge, seeking no other refuge."

Grief is not suppressed but acknowledged and dispersed through mindfulness and understanding

So if we can bear in mind the Buddha's teaching, we can remain calm in the face of grief. Here we should emphasize that we are not saying that you should suppress your grief by force, ignore or deny its existence. No, that too would be an unskillful approach.

Our approach then is to acknowledge and observe our sorrowful state of mind. Through mindfulness and wise reflection, we can contain our grief and become calm. Mindfulness and understanding is the middle and best way - it involves neither suppression nor giving vent to negative and destructive emotions. Mindfulness is acknowledgment and observation, out of which understanding, acceptance, reconciliation and wisdom can arise. We do not deny or suppress  our emotions. We acknowledge and observe them.

In that acknowledgment and observation, we can better cope with the turmoil and conflict that may be going on in our mind. We can exercise wise reflection on the nature of impermanence, suffering and no-self. We can draw from the wisdom of the ancients, and thereby come to terms with our grief. In other words, wisdom can arise. We can understand and accept our sorrow. And it will not take control over our mind or overwhelm us. This is what we mean when we say the gentle application of mindfulness leads to understanding and self-composure.

In this way, we will not be wailing our heart out. We can observe the emotion of grief in us, and it can be contained quite naturally, without us having to give gross outward expression to it. There will be calmness, acceptance and understanding. Even if we should lose our control and cry, we can do so in a somewhat restrained manner. We will eventually regain our control and calm down. Mindfulness will come to our aid, and help us to reconcile with our grief. We will understand the fact of suffering, the truth of what the Buddha and other wise teachers had taught, and we can smile again.

Coming back to the subject of mourning, we can see that in the context of wisdom and non-grieving, the wearing of mourning clothes is unnecessary. It doesn't mean that we are not filial, or that we love our loved ones less, if we do not wear mourning clothes. No, we still have great respect for our loved ones but we do not see any merits in making a public and superfluous show of our grief. Respect and grief are here a very private matter. They are felt in our hearts and we are not bound to make a public show of them.

Rather than emphasizing on outward and superfluous forms of mourning, filial piety should be associated with actions towards elders while they are alive. Deeds speak for themselves.It would be most unfortunate if some people think that elaborate funeral rites and rituals and the wearing of mourning clothes, can serve as a redemption for deeds of love and care not showered upon the deceased when he or she was living.

Nevertheless, in line with the decorum for a solemn occasion, "solemn" clothes can be worn. One can select some appropriate dark, white or plain-coloured clothing from one's wardrobe. That to my mind should suffice, though the deceased person, if he had been a joyful and understanding Buddhist, might not even want us to wear "mournful" clothings but to rejoice that he had led a good life and had gone on to a better rebirth. So a person could, before his death, stipulate that he does not want any mourning and superstitious practices but just a simple funeral. He can delegate a responsible person to see that all his wishes are carried out. He can have it all written down on paper and signed in the presence of witnesses so that all concerned would know and abide by his wishes.

The general atmosphere in the house and throughout the funeral should be one of serenity and understanding. Unbecoming activities such as drinking and gambling should definitely not be allowed. All should be respectful and conduct themselves with due decorum. Meaningful passages from the Buddhist scriptures can be read from time to time and reflected upon by the family members and all those present. One person can lead in the reflection. If all concerned have a good understanding of the Dhamma, they would be able to contain
their grief. The more stoical can comfort those who are grieving. In this way a peaceful and understanding atmosphere can come about during the whole proceedings. And those present can also feel further resolved and motivated to strive harder in their spiritual quest, and to live with more love and compassion.

A service for the deceased can be conducted in the house. Senior family members can lead in the service, during which the life and good deeds of the deceased can be recounted. Children can recount the great kindness and love of their parents**, and resolve to lead an exemplary life in their memory. A monk too can be invited to give a pertinent Dhamma talk. Meditation sessions can also be held in the hall. It would be both a meritorious deed and a mark of respect for the deceased. The  deceased, if he had been a staunch meditator, would surely be very happy if he could know that everybody was sitting around his casket, meditating. If he has been reborn in heaven and could see what was going on, I am sure he would be delighted. I, for one, will be very delighted if I were to look down and see people all meditating around my casket. I will be pleased to no end. And if possible I will come down and sit happily in meditation with everybody but, of course, you must pardon me: I know I'm giving free rein to my imagination.

On the day of the cremation, all the merits that have been made can again be shared. A list of the charities that have benefited from the donations received can also be read out. A meaningful service can be conducted at the crematorium just before the casket is pushed into the incinerator. Meaningful passages can be recited from the scriptures. They can be about the impermanence of life, the inevitability of death and the need to live a good life, to meditate and to serve our fellowmen. It might be even more edifying if the service be specially composed and read out for the occasion. It would be good if a monk can lead the whole service but if that is not possible, then a senior member of the family, relative or friend can take the initiative.

After the cremation, what should we do with the ashes? In Buddhist Burma I am told that usually a body is cremated to ashes, which is then left to be disposed of by the crematorium attendants. The relatives do not collect the ashes as it is believed that the deceased had immediately on death taken a new rebirth, and the body left behind is just an empty shell. The Chinese practice in Malaysia, however, is to keep urns containing the ashes in temples or columbariums at substantial cost. My personal feeling is that there is no point to keep the ashes as it doesn't serve much purpose, there being no need at all to make any offerings or perform any services before the ashes. For, as we know from the Dhamma, the ashes is merely elements of inanimate matter while the consciousness has taken on a new rebirth, a new body in some new existence. So I would concur with the Burmese Buddhist way of leaving the ashes behind. If we want to  emember and honour the deceased, we should live a good life and do good deeds in his memory. On anniversary of his death too, we can offer  ana (food and gifts) at the temples, or make donations to charities.

All the proposals with regard to funerals that I have made above are, I believe, more meaningful and significant than present practices. But of course it is up to the reader to decide for himself or herself. These ~re just my feelings, the way I l~ok at it. I understand that others may feel differently. They may disagree with me and they have every right to do so. For it has always been my firm belief that no-one should impose his or her views on another. We all have a mind of our own and must be allowed to think and decide for ourselves.

Therefore I must make it very clear here that I am not imposing my views on anybody. Instead I am just expressing and sharing them. And I leave it to each person to decide for himself or herself what he or she would like to believe or follow. Each person must feel free to do as he or she deems fit. Furthermore, in deciding on a funeral after a person has died, there should be discussion and concensus  among the family members. It is best therefore that a person, before he dies, makes clear the type of funeral he desires. And it should preferably be done in writing, signed and witnessed. Then there would be no quibble after his death. Family members should respect and follow his wishes.

Of course, the suggestions I have given are not all-comprehensive. They have not covered all the details and aspects of a funeral. They are just a rough framework, just some food for thought. There can be other variations too. It will therefore be good if a team of like-minded and respected Buddhists can sit down and formulate a simple Buddhist funeral covering all aspects and details, and answering all the questions that may be raised. Firstly, what should be looked at are our present practices. What are they? What are their significance? Do we know and understand what we are doing? Why do we practise them? Do they make sense? Are they in line with the Dhamma? Or are they superstitious practices or practices which cannot be reconciled with our understanding of the Dhamma as preached by the Buddha?

From what I can see, many of the present practices in a Chinese family, which professes the Buddhist way of life, cannot be reconciled with the Dhamma. It would appear that many people just follow funeral rites without any idea of what they are all about. They just follow instructions without question or understanding. They are, at the time of the funeral, really quite confused and distraught. They just follow what they are told to do because it is the tradition and they can't possibly go against it without being criticised and accused of being unfilial and so on. So there is really no meaningful participation. To me, it all seems quite pathetic. Ignorance and resignation to whatever is being conducted seems to be the order of the day.

So a team of respected Buddhists looking into all these practices can come up with meaningful alternatives in line with the Buddha Dhamma. Details of the proposed funeral service with various options can be drawn up after having conducted a thorough study of the local situation. A comprehensive book providing all the various funeral options and necessary information can then be compiled and published. Such a project will be a great service to the Buddhist community who are often confused as to what constitutes a proper Buddhist funeral.

As for me

As for my own funeral, I have given due thought as to how I would like my own body to be disposed after death. The body is actually nothing more than a corpse after death. It will just return to the earth. So I might as well do one last good deed with it - ie. donate it to the hospital. Doctors can remove the cornea from my eyes and give the wonderful gift of sight to a blind person. Imagine what joy it is for one who is blind to be able to see again, and how precious such a gift would be to him. And imagine how happy I would be too, to know that I have given him this gift of sight. This gift too is no sacrifice on my part at all, as the body is of no more use to me after death. So I might as well do one last good deed with it before it decomposed.

 

And they can have my body - my eyes, my heart, my lungs, my liver, my kidneys....

If possible, the doctors should also remove my heart, kidneys,lungs, liver and whatever organs that could after my death be transplanted to others. And whatever is left may be of benefit to medical students in their studies. They could do dissection practice on it. Later, they could dispose what remains of the body as they wish. Perhaps it could become fertilizer for the soil and some plant can grow into a strong tree that provides shade and pretty flowers. In this way too, nobody need to worry about giving me a so-called proper funeral. Everybody can just leave it to the hospital to dispose of everything as they deem fit. It will make it so much easier for everybody. It will, so to speak, take a load off their mind. No-one need to be unnecessarily inconvenienced on my account.

And if anybody speaks about a proper funeral for me and the paying of last respects, I will say: Please do not bother about all that. A funeral is not for me. But if you really wish to remembe me, then do a good deed. Do any good deed you like in my memory. Live a good life. Be caring and sharing. Be forgiving and loving. Be generous and big-hearted. Be kind and gentle. That is all that I ask. That will make me very happy - to know that I have been able to spread some good message and be of some good influence. -------------------------------------------

*The Tibetan belief that there is an intermediate stage or an interval of up to 49 days between death and rebirth runs contrary to Theravada Buddhism, which states that rebirth takes place immediately after death. For more details on rebirth in the Theravadin Buddhist perspective. see Narada's The Buddha and His Teachings. chapter 28.

** In this regard, parents may well take to heart the reality that deeds outlive the physical life. A life well-lived will be the best legacy they can leave behind for their children. A legacy that will both inspire and provide dignity to their inheritors. The fragrance of their exemplary deeds and life will remain long after they are gone.


Tác giả bài viết: Visuddhacara

Nguồn tin: Chùa Tịnh Luật

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