|Volume 5 No 2|
Venerable Shen-Kai answers
If there is one thing that all living things, including human beings, can be sure of, it is that at some point in time, life ends. But, does it really end? No, rather there is a continuation. This is an important event that happens to all of us and it is good that we have some basic understanding about it. In this issue Venerable Shen-Kai answers 12 questions relating to the process of renewal of life, and clarifies some of the rites associated with it.
Does Buddhism believe in past life?
When we are asleep, the entire body is at rest and the first six consciousnesses are no longer in function. However, the seventh consciousness does not rest. It instigates the seeds of the eighth consciousness. This is how dreams come about, and the soul is the owner of the dreams.
When a person passes away, the six sense organs no longer function. The soul transforms into an invisible and gaseous form or body. It is a intermediate existence between death and conception to the next life. If one has been a person of great virtues, then in response to his good karma, the intermediate invisible body immediately ascends to the heavens. If on the other hand, he has been an evil person, then his evil karma will land him in hell immediately. In general, the good and evil karma committed by people are not in the extremes. Therefore this intermediate invisible body shall, for a period of up to 49 days, be drifting and searching for the condition for rebirth to the next life.
Very often, people who had performed many good deeds in their lifetime cannot bear to part with their loved ones when they die, or they worry about their status and wealth. Such attachments cause them to transmigrate to the realm of ghosts; although because of their good karma they are better blessed ghosts.
Performing good deeds is the basic aiding condition for rebirth in the realms of human, heavens, or in the pure land of Buddhas. It is indeed a pity that such people, because of their attachments become ghosts instead.
Therefore, when the deceased is in the intermediate invisible stage, the most appropriate thing to do is to chant the Buddha's name or to recite the sutras, cultivate good deeds or blessings on the deceased's behalf so as to help him to be reborn in a good realm . The other alternative is for a well cultivated Buddhist teacher to explain the Buddha-dharma to the intermediate invisible body so that the deceased knows to abandon the burden of his attachments, let go and disentangle himself and therefore rise to a higher realm.
For people who are well cultivated, their intermediate invisible bodies transform into a bright light and they attain liberation. By liberation, it is meant that they are free from suffering of transmigrating in the six realms.
soul transforms into an intermediate invisible body.
refer to an intermediate existence between death and transmigration to
the next life.
5. What is transmigration?
constant arising of the mind is transmigration.
However, if you learn the Buddha's teachings, cultivate good deeds, purify your mind, and become enlightened, you will realize that not only is there transmigration after death, it is also taking place at this very moment. Thoughts continuously arise in the mind, one after another. At times the thoughts are good and they put you in the heavens. At other times, they are evil and cause you to descend to hell. We can say that, at every moment, our countless actions are all in the state of transmigration.
our mind is constantly in a state of transmigration, then surely we will
also transmigrate when we die. When you know this principle, you will
realize the truth of the Buddha-dharma.
6. Is it true that dead people can come back to their home seven days after their death?
is because his intermediate body has strong attachments.
Therefore, the most appropriate thing to do is to guide him and perform merits on his behalf so that he can be reborn in a good realm .
the name of the Buddha instead.
provides solace for the deceased and bereaved.
what the Buddha taught to attain supreme Buddhahood.
Firstly, they are a consolation to the bereaved family. Secondly, they may be a source of encouragement for them to form a Dharma-cause to embrace Buddhism. But, there is also a school of thought, which does not consider such rites to fully represent what Buddhism stands for.
The authentic spirit of Buddhism is to teach people to attain the supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood, by unfolding wisdom, seeking liberation and practising the Bodhisattva path. I do not disagree with this at all.
10. What is the significance of cultivating merits for the deceased?
is assisting the deceased to a good realm, not enhancing his merits.
If the person who performs the ceremony is a well-cultivated Buddhist teacher who has attained non-arising and non-cessation of the mind in his cultivation, then it can be termed as 'merits'. If a person who does not know anything about cultivation performs the ceremony, then it cannot be called 'merits', but it suffices to say that he is assisting the deceased to cultivate his blessings.
11. Which type of burial is most appropriate for a Buddhist?
is the best way for the dead.
Therefore, I do not propose burial but rather advocate cremation. It is clean and does not pollute the air. Besides, it is also an act of protecting the environment.
a single physical thing can be brought to the next life, except the karma
that one has committed.
There is a saying that one cannot bring a single physical thing to the next life, except the karma that one has committed. The karma, both good and evil, which one has committed, follows one to the next life wherein their effects will be manifested accordingly. If we have wisdom, this will naturally accompany us to the next life.
Therefore, wisdom is more important than intelligence and wealth.