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Volume 8 Issue No. 4
Bliss Compass by Venerable Shen-kai

Life after life


It is not that after a person dies, there is nothing left of that person. The body of course returns to the elements, but the consciousness carries on to the next life. This is something which we all need to know and understand - the next life. How many days after a person dies does rebirth take place? During the interim period between death and rebirth, how can we help the deceased to be reborn in a virtuous realm? Why do we chant "Amitabha Buddha"? How should people cultivate so that they will have a good ending in life and face no obstructions in rebirth? All of these are important questions. Let the Bliss Compass lead you through this very important matter.

  1. After a person dies, approximately how many days does it take for him to be reborn?
    After a person dies, before he is reborn, he becomes a 中 阴 身 . (Chung-ying-shen: It is an intermediate existence between death and rebirth to the next life. When ordinary people die, they are not immediately reborn. Between death and their next birth, there is a short period of one to 49 days, during which the soul is of a dank gaseous form. It is invisible to the ordinary people at large, and is a mind-consciousness without a physical body.) There is a 49-day period for rebirth. Although it is stated to be 49 days, it is not necessary that rebirth takes place only on the 49th day. A person who has great virtuous roots and has performed great virtuous deeds ascends immediately to the heavens as soon as he dies. If he had been a great sinner in his lifetime, he immediately descends to hell. During the 49-day period, the conditions for rebirth are not predetermined for the average person who neither was virtuous nor evil in his lifetime. Such a person will search for the condition for his rebirth within the 49 days. The 49-day period is divided into terms of 7 days. If the condition for rebirth arises during any of these 7-day terms, he can be reborn. Which realm is he reborn to? That is determined by his conduct during his lifetime. If all seven 7-day terms expire but he still finds no condition for rebirth, then he naturally enters into the realm of ghosts.

  2. During this 49-day period, how can we help the deceased to be reborn in a virtuous realm?
    After human beings die, they have a 中 阴 身. This is the soul. Upon death, doers of great virtuous deeds, ascend immediately to heaven, while doers of great evil deeds, descend immediately to hell. But average people who have neither been virtuous nor evil will go in search of conditions for rebirth during the 49-day period.
    You can seek the help of a cultivated monk (or nun) to perform merits for such a person to lessen his negative karma so as to help him to be reborn to a virtuous realm. In this way, no matter which realm he is reborn in, his negative karma will be reduced. If you perform merits on his behalf, he will be able to receive the effects even if he should descend into hell. And performing merits for him would add to his heavenly blessings if he should ascend into heaven.

  3. If people receive their karmic retributions of transmigration within 49 days of their death, then why does the soul of the deceased cause disturbances? What realm is that?
    When a person dies, within 49 days of his death, he either rises to the heaven, or reborn in the human realm, the ghost realm, the animal realm, or even down to the hell realm. This is called transmigration in the 6 realms. If within the 49-day period, the deceased does not find the condition for rebirth, then he naturally falls into the realm of ghosts. After arriving in the ghost realm, some ghosts create disturbances for others. You ask me which realm that belongs to. It is the ghost realm. Thus, I wish to advise all of you to cultivate diligently. In the future, rise to the heaven or even seek liberation from the cycle of transmigration. One should never harbour such thoughts as "So-and-so owes me money. Even if I became a ghost, I would still search for him to seek my repayment." That is not good. In this way, you not only cannot become liberated, but you also have to become a ghost. How very pitiful! There is another opinion that is even more seriously wrong: "So-and-so owes me money and refuses to repay it. In my next lifetime, I want to be reborn as his child to ruin his family and take his money." You absolutely must never think in this way; before you can cause anybody any harm, you have already harmed yourself.

  4. Does Buddhism guide the living or the dead to salvation?
    Everyone! Buddhism guides and saves everyone!

  5. When a person dies, why do we chant "Amitabha Buddha"?
    When a person passes away, at the instant of his death he experiences extreme suffering. Chanting "Amitabha Buddha" provides him with a spiritual reliance, thus relieving some of his suffering. Helping him chant in this way reinforces his faith and his wishes to be reborn in the Western Pure Land. Thus, chanting at his moment of death is very important and helpful for the dying person.

  6. Can rebirth take place regardless of the type of karma we have?
    Yes! We can be reborn regardless of the type of karma that we have. Which realm you are reborn to depends upon the kind of karma you carry with you. If in your lifetime, you widely perform the Ten Virtuous Deeds (Refrain from (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) sexual misconduct,, (4) false speech, (5) salacious talk, (6) double-tongue or tale-bearing, (7) slanderous speech, (8) greed, (9) ill will, (10) ignorance or misguided views), practice giving, cultivate your blessings, and are filial to your parents, then after you die you will be reborn in heaven with these virtuous karma. If, on the other hand, you kill and rob, and commit wicked evil deeds, then you will be reborn in hell with these evil karma! If you are always quarrelling with others, fighting and in fierce contest with others, then you bring with you this type of karma to the realm of Asura. If normally, you are superstitious, worship ghost-deities, and practice deviant fetishes, then after you die, you will be reborn in the realm of ghost-deities . If as a person, you are foolish and ignorant, then you bring with you the ignorant karma to be reborn as an animal. Thus, this is what it means to carry your karma in rebirth in the next life.

    With karma, you can be reborn. But if you wish to be reborn in the Western Pure Land, then it is only possible by cultivating pure karma (Pure karma comes from cultivating with a pure mind).

  7. When a person passes away, if the chanting by Buddhist Sangha can enable him to be reborn in the Western Pure Land, then can a person who has committed evil deeds also be reborn in the Western Pure Land if Buddhist Sangha chants for him?
    With regards to this question, let me tell you a story that somebody once related to me. A person passed away, so his bereaved son sought the help of a Buddhist monk to perform the funeral rites to guide him to a rebirth in the Western Pure Land. They first talked about the fees. It would cost ten thousand dollars. But the family was not well off and bargained for eight thousands dollars instead. The monk said, "Alright then, alright then!"

    After accepting the eight thousand dollars, he performed the rites. After the ceremony, the son asked, "Venerable, has my father reached the Western Pure Land?"

    The monk replied, "Your father has gone to the Eastern Pure Land of the Buddha of Healing, not the Western Pure Land."

    The son enquired, "Why is that?"

    The monk replied, "Because the Western Pure Land is further away, it costs 10 thousand dollars. Eight thousand dollars couldn't get him there, so he only reached as far as the Eastern Pure Land of the Buddha of Healing."

    I reckon that this is not the issue. Spending some money inviting a monk to chant and help the deceased to plant some blessings is something that we ought to do. But, if you were to insist on having certain conditions and, a guarantee for rebirth to take place at a specific place, then nobody would dare to give you that guarantee.

    If the deceased were an evil person, the chanting by a Buddhist monk could not possibly take him to the Western Pure Land. Therefore, if we wish to be reborn in a Buddha Land after we die, then the best thing to do is to diligently learn and practise the Buddha's teachings, and chant the name of the Buddha, while we are still alive.

  8. There was a Buddhist person who upon his death received all his funeral rites according to Buddhist practices, except that he was buried and not cremated. I've heard that as a consequence, there was no way that he could still be reborn in the Western Pure Land. Is this true?
    I reckon that there is no relationship between rebirth and burial or cremation when a person dies, because it is the soul and not the dead body that is reborn. It does not matter however the dead body is dealt with. Burial, cremation and burial at sea are all acceptable.

  9. Can chanting the name of Avolokitesavara Bodhisattva (观 音 菩 萨 ) take you to a rebirth in the Western Pure Land?
    The sutra states that by sincerely reciting "Amitabha Buddha", Amitabha Buddha will receive you to Amitabha Buddha land. When he comes to receive you, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva will be there too. Besides Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Mahasthama (Da-shi-zhi) Bodhisattva and numerous other great Bodhisattvas will also be there. If you only recite "Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva", maybe only the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva will come and Amitabha Buddha will not. To seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land, it is advisable to recite "Amitabha Buddha". If you wish to distance yourself from sufferings and achieve happiness, and to avoid tragedies, then of course you should cultivate according to the Great Compassion method of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.

  10. How should people cultivate so that they will have a good ending in life and face no obstructions in rebirth?
    There are many methods of cultivation. But to cultivate, a person must not be lacking in the causalities of blessings and virtuous roots. No matter how one cultivates, one can do so through any of the 84,000 methods of Buddhist cultivation and cultivate deeply in any one chosen method. However, the most important thing is that we must cultivate until we are liberated. (Liberation - To be free from attachments and worries, attaining inner freedom.). After you are liberated, the body does not suffer during illnesses. You know when you are due to pass away and where your next destination will be. If you cultivate to the highest level of attainment, you go without conceiving a form of departure and you come without conceiving a form of arrival. This would be better; you know your own departure and arrival. You do not need anyone to tell you. But to cultivate to this level is not a simple matter! Therefore, we have to cultivate diligently. We can enter into any method of Buddhist cultivation. Because there are many methods of cultivation in Jen Chen (Humanity Vehicle) Buddhism, you can be successful cultivating by any one of these methods.

  11. After a person dies, is there nothing left of him?
    We cannot say that after a person dies there is nothing left of him. Everything that you see of the world: your property, house, spouse, children, career, etc all of it is gone. Even your status and reputation are all gone. But the following is true: "Although ten thousand ships of possessions cannot accompany you, your karma does." So if your karma warrants you a place in heaven, then when you die, you will be reborn in heaven. If your karma is to be a human being, then you will be reborn in the human realm. If it is foolish or ignorant karma, then you become an animal. If it's superstitious karma, rebirth is in the ghost-deity realm. And extreme evil karma leads to a rebirth in hell. Therefore, it cannot be said that when a person dies, he is like a flame extinguished, and upon death, everything is over and there is nothing left.

  12. What is the difference between Nirvana and death?
    Because sentient beings have the arisings (birth) and ceasings (death) in the mind, they experience the form of birth and death. Having surpassed the state of arising and ceasing, and maintaining the state of non-arising and non-ceasing, non-defilement and non-purity, non-increasing and non-decreasing, this state of suchness is called Nirvana. Only the Buddha can be said to have entered the ultimate Nirvana. When ordinary human beings die, after 49 days, their ??? transmigrate to other realms. Nirvana is already liberated; there is neither birth and death, nor transmigration.

  13. After my father died, he did not bless us with peace. What can I do about it?
    After your father passed away and it has not been peaceful at home, you need to ask yourself if your usual conduct towards him had been filial. If you had been filial and yet after he died it was not peaceful at home, then perhaps your father has to bear some responsibility. But if you had not been filial to him, and he disturbed your peace after he died, then that serves you right. Actually, after a person has died we don't even know which realm he has transmigrated to, so if there is no peace, perhaps there are other reasons of causality. It doesn't seem right to throw the blame to your father. If you suspect that your father is not blessing you with peace, then you ought quickly to diligently do lots of chanting of the name of the Buddha, and tell him,

    "Oh Father, maybe in the past you did not recite the name of the Buddha, and did not ask the Buddha to guide you to a rebirth in a virtuous realm. Perhaps you have not been reborn and are still in the ghost realm. So I shall hurry to recite the name of the Buddha for you."

    Do this for him. When he moves on, you will find peace again.

  14. Many people consider the animal realm to be one of the three evil realms. Therefore to them, killing the animals will hasten their rebirth to another realm. In reality should we be killing the animals or not?
    Speaking of "life", everyone wishes to live. All sentient beings wish to live. Therefore, "Heaven holds the virtue of valuing life". Not only do we human beings like to live, but all living things, such as flies and insects too. They all seek to live. They also have their own desires. We cannot say that by killing them we enable them to be reborn into another realm. Conversely, if somebody were to kill you, which realm would you be reborn to? If you were killed by another person and at that moment you were engulfed by hatred, then your killer would descend to hell, and so would you. Of course, this is also the possibility of rebirth into another realm.

    As to your question, we need to know that when you kill the creature, it is about you descending to hell, rather than the creature being reborn into another realm. Of course, if it had cultivated in its past life, and you have killed it in this life, there is a possibility that it gets to be reborn as a human being. On the other hand, if you became an animal as a result of your foolishness while your victim becomes a human being, then it may be his turn to kill you. Thus, this kind of mutual animosity and vengeance is never-ending. We must never, never think in this way.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre