Buddhist Death Ritual – part 2

Funeral rites refer to rituals that are conducted after a person dies. His families or friends engage themselves in various activities for a common purpose. One of the purposes is to help the bereaved accept death and minimize the pain of losing someone dear. Sometimes it helps the bereaved overcome their guilt towards the deceased. At the core of it, spiritual rituals always maintain the beliefs that the deceased will benefit from it.

In my previous post, we examined what Buddha had to say about funeral rites.

So how should a Buddhist funeral be?

Before we go into that, we should be asking: “How should a Buddhist die?” and to answer that question, we should ask “How should a Buddhist live, so that he can enjoy a good death.”

Here he rejoices, hereafter he rejoices; one who performed meritorious deeds rejoices in both existences. He rejoices and greatly rejoices when he sees the purity of his own deeds.

Dhammapada verse 16

Buddha said the above verse in relation to one of his devout lay disciples, named Dhammika.

Once there lived in Savatthi, a lay disciple by the name of Dhammika, who was virtuous and very fond of giving in charity. He generously offered food and other requisites to the Sangha regularly. He was the leader of five hundred virtuous lay disciples of the Buddha who lived in Savatthi. Dhammika had seven sons and seven daughters and all of them, like their father, were virtuous and devoted to charity. When Dhammika was very ill and was on his deathbed he made a request for the Samgha to come to him and recite the sacred texts by his bedside. While the bhikkhus were reciting the Maha satipatthana Sutta, six decorated chariots from six celestial worlds arrived to invite him to their respective worlds. Dhammika told them to wait for a while for fear of interrupting the recitation of the Sutta. The bhikkhus, thinking that they were being asked to stop, stopped and left the place. A little while later, Dhammika told his children about the six decorated chariots waiting for him. Then and there he decided to choose the chariot from the Tusita world and asked one of his children to throw a garland in its direction. Then he passed away and was reborn in the Tusita world. Thus, the virtuous man rejoices in this world as well as in the next. Buddha pronounced this verse 16 of the Dhammapada because of this incidence.

From this story, Dhammika engages in wholesome deeds during his lifetime and also encourages family and friends to do likewise. At the moment of death, he invited the Sangha to recite Buddha’s teaching to him.

Therefore, Buddhism places more emphasis on the moment of passing away. Instead of inviting monks or fellow Buddhists to pray after one is dead; it is more meaningful to arrange for monks or Buddhist friends to come and recite the sutra at one’s deathbed. That way, it benefits both parties. The dying person is reminded of his Buddhist faith and more importantly, the teachings of Buddha. While the people attending to him are reminded of impermanence.

In Pureland School of Buddhism, it is a popular practice to request fellow Buddhists to recite the Buddha’s name at one’s deathbed. This practice is known as “Helping to remember (Buddha)” To be continued..

May all be well and happy.

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