As discussed in the previous post, death is inevitable and one of the most important consideration is, “How to die without fear?” Our Buddhist belief offers that assurance that death is not the end. There is an afterlife, which is rebirth. This narration is important to non practitioner or non-believer. What this means is that, when we are beside someone’s deathbed, and that someone is a non practitioner or non-believer; we can comfort that person by assuring them that death is not the end. If that person is of another religion, we can also help by giving them the appropriate encouragement that accords to their faith. As a Buddhist, we shouldn’t create chaos and bewilderment for a fellow man, especially when they are suffering the panic of death. Therefore, to waylay a person at their deathbed and try to convert their faith in the last minute will create confusion for them. That is being evil on our part and not compassion.
If someone is willing to embrace the Triple Gems, we can ask them to recite the refuge prayers after us, explain the boundless merit from taking refuge. Give them assurance that refuge is so meritorious that it will bring them happiness. This will provide them that confidence, peace and hope.
As can be seen, the focus is on the dying person. How can we help provide solace to their mind. Objective is to remove fear and confusion. Naturally, we must not have fear too. Otherwise, our eyes and voice will betray our own emotions, and that will not be very comforting for the dying person.
The next challenge is attachment and clinging. I’ll focus on the buddhist perspective hereon.
Attachment to properties
No matter how much we have achieved in this life, none of our material achievements can follow us beyond death. We can own buildings and skyscrapers, we can even own a country; none of these material possession really belong to us. In that sense, our life is just like a movie or a theatrical play, once the curtain falls, it is time to move on. Our social status and relationships are useless too.
The only thing that will follow us is our karma. The force of our karma will affect our rebirth. In this sense, it is useful to remind a Buddhist of their tremendous merit gained from taking refuge in the Triple Gems. This is because it is one of the most neutral but positive acts, that is unlikely tainted by selfish motive. For example, a philanthropist might volunteer time and money on charity, but his action could be driven by a desire for fame. if we remind him of his “charity”, he will be reminded of his selfish motives. That is why, we remind about spiritual practice instead of worldly matters.
Attachment to relationship
Our precious relationships with our love ones make our life meaningful. Subsequently, it is also the most difficult thing to let go. That attachment is very strong for non-practitioners. It should be apparent that “letting go” is a skill we need to cultivate throughout our life. This is because strong attachment cause extreme sadness and suffering. Such emotion is bad for moving on.
In Buddhist practice, we strongly advice family members, relatives and friends from wailing or sobbing beside the dying. This is to preserve a dignify and assuring atmosphere for the dying person to let go. Assuring them not to worry about love ones also support their letting go. Crying and wailing will only cause distress and negative emotion for the dying person.
Why is it important to let go? It is because we do not want to encourage “lingering” (commonly known as “spirit”)
In Buddhism, we do not encourage rebirth in the spirit realm.
Many people confuses “spirits” to be angels or heavenly beings because of ignorance. The energy of heavenly realm is associated with loving-kindness, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity. That means attachment, clinging, longing, and etc has nothing to do with higher realms. Moreover, one day in heaven is 1 to a 100 human years, thus it is highly unlikely for a deceased family member in heaven to visit us on our death bed. In summary, lingering spirits are ghostly beings.
This leads to another important advice by Buddhist masters.
Do not follow the spirits of deceased relatives when they appear at your death bed.
For a practicing Buddhist, our faith should lie with the Triple Gems. Some lingering spirits (aka ghosts) can assume the form of our deceased love ones to fool us. The reason for that is simply to recruit more spirits to their realm and boost their strength. This is especially so for earth bound territorial spirits who has a tribal type of social structure. They have their spirit king or chief and can read our mind like an open book. Thus, it is easy for them to beguile us by assuming the form of our deceased family members. “Welcoming” us to their ranks.
What if they are really our past deceased love ones?
According to Buddhism, we just need to say our refuge prayers, For the Pureland school, Namo means refuge. Therefore, when we recite Namo Amitabha, we are taking refuge. For Theravada school, we have refuge prayer starting with Namo Tassa…, In Vajrayana, we have refuge in Guru.
If our deceased family is from a higher realm, they will not be bothered by the energy or light produced by our refuge. If they are from lower realm, they cannot withstand that pure energy from our refuge and will be driven away. The rationale is for us to help ourselves first before we can help others. In this case, go to Buddha first; after we are in a safe environment, then we can try to help the less fortunate.
In summary, we shouldn’t be attached to the living or the dead. Likewise, we need to encourage the dying person not to be attached and be firm in their refuge in Buddha. To be continued….
May all be well and happy