Question: It seems to be common for insects, such as moths, to be seen at wakes. Recently, I heard of someone who passed away in a hospital, whose family saw a big green grasshopper on the window curtain. Such cases are often believed as the deceased temporarily transitioning as insects. Is this true?
Answer: There are a few theories about this phenomenon. Let us begin with probably the most credible, ending with a balanced perspective.
- The insect might not be the deceased; but just an ordinary insect, who is however noticed instead of not, and given extra attention to because of increased awareness and expectations of the survivors, who are very much attached to the deceased, during the wake and shortly after.
- The insect might be a past relative or friend of the deceased already reborn, who is drawn to visit the funeral or household due to karmic affinity and/or attachment. Just as humans with strong karmic connections to the deceased appear often in their lives, and even at their wakes to offer respects and see ‘them’ one last time, beings of the animal realm can do the same. Only the animal realm is visible, if the animals, including insects, are not too small, while possible presence of beings from the other realms, of hungry ghosts, wandering spirits and gods cannot be seen by the average human being. (Hell-beings cannot depart from the hells to visit.)
- It seems that for most cases, the insects are fully grown, or at least not newly born. If so, they cannot be the deceased reborn so quickly during the brief (three-five) few days of a typical wake. For example, moths need months for metamorphosis in a cocoon before taking flight.
- Could it be possible for the consciousness of the deceased to more easily possess insects, due to the simplicity of the insects’ minds and form, and to make their presence known to survivors due to attachment? This is difficult to ascertain. Even if possible, there are other questions, such as how does the deceased learn to possess and master the insects’ bodily functions of flight and such so quickly. Most of all, there is little very conclusive evidence via direct communication that the insects are indeed the newly deceased. Even if an insect appears to obey some simple instructions, this does not guarantee the insect is a particular person we have in mind.
Prominent insects that appear during and shortly after wakes tend to be treated as special due to belief that they might be the deceased’s return. However, what about smaller insects such as ants who come and go unnoticed or taken for granted? Whatever the case is, it is definitely good to see ALL sentient beings, and not just some insects during funeral times, to indeed be past relatives, even if they are forgotten ones – as this is true. As the Buddha taught, sentient beings have been reborn so many times that we have all been beloved relatives before! This is a good reminder to be kind not only to certain sentient beings during certain times, but to all of them all the time – to at least live and let live, by not harming them.
Whether insects at a wake are really those we know in this lifetime or not is not as important as the question of what to do when we encounter them. We should recite the name of Amituofo as much as we can, with the motivation that may the insects, whoever they are, also be mindful of Amituofo, and give rise to the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice to be reborn in Pure Land. We can even talk to them, to convey our good advice. Merits created should be shared with them too. If the deceased are really reborn properly as insects, this will alleviate their suffering and help them have a better rebirth more swiftly. If they are yet to be properly reborn, this will facilitate a good rebirth. The lives of insects are short, just as the bardo (intermediate) state (of maximum 49 days) is not long. Similar to all manifestations of rebirth in the six realms of existence, all are but transitional states. What matters is to make the most of each moment to advance in spirituality, to increase in compassion and wisdom. The most efficient way is via mindfulness of Amituofo, to be born in Pure Land, so as to swiftly advance towards Buddhahood.