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Important Guidelines: (2) During Dying (Pure Land Passport Section 4B)

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[1] Permission: The support-chanting leader should seek permission from the leader of the family or household before carrying out these instructions, so as to avoid creating conflicts that might disturb the dying person. Ideally, the dying person should have consented in advance, with those appointed to take charge present.

[2] Disturbance: Do not distract the dying person with reluctance to part, blame, inheritance matters and such, as these can spur attachment, aversion, confusion and frustration.

Discussions with potential disputes should be done only 49 days after death, lest the deceased’s consciousness is around, aware of them and becomes disturbed, leading to an unfortunate rebirth.

Keep any potential enemies, including problematic relatives and ‘friends’ away from the dying person and the funeral, lest their presence by sight or sound creates similar disturbances.

[3] Elements: Keep the dying person away from direct heat (e.g. from strong sunlight and electrical lights) and cold (e.g. wind from windows, fans and air-conditioners), which might cause pain and discomfort upon contact, especially due to increased sensitivity.

[4] Insects: Put basins or bowls of water under bedposts to prevent insects from climbing towards the dying person if there is bleeding or other bodily secretions that might attract them. If bed has boards as legs, wet towels can be lined up to keep insects away.

[5] Offerings: Periodically prostrate and make offerings (e.g. water, light, incense, fruits) to Āmítuófó and the Triple Gem (Buddhas, Dharma, Saṅgha) at the home shrine on behalf of the dying person, before informing that such merits have been created, so that there can be rejoice. For convenience and as a reminder, the shrine can be moved into the room where the dying person is. Alternatively, another shrine can be set up there.

[6] Food: The dying person should be offered only vegan food (free of meat and animal products) at the hospital, hospice or home, so as to not create the slightest negative karma linked to direct or indirect killing or harming of any sentient being through the cycle of supply and demand.

[7] Five Pungent Roots: Food with the five pungent roots of garlic, leek, onion (including shallot, scallion [green and spring onion]), chives and asafoetida should be avoided in consumption or brought to the dying person (or deceased), as they can increase lust (greed) when eaten cooked, and anger (hatred) when eaten raw. Protective gods dislike their smell and shun those with them, while hungry ghosts (who might be harmful) like their smell and draw near those with them.

[8] Guidance To Dying Person: The following [or the section on ‘Guidance Before Support-Chanting’ (see page 14, especially for those uncertain of recovery), or the First Great Essential of the section on ‘The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death’ (see page 29)] should be put in words familiar to the dying person, by the person appointed or closest.

‘Dearest _____ [name of dying person], you have done much good already, having done _____ [list some outstanding good deeds] for your family, friends and society. And we will continue to do more good in your name to create merits for you. For this, you should rejoice and have peace of mind.

As you are about to depart, it is time to stop thinking about [your attachments such as] family, wealth, status, [or your aversions such as] pain, regrets, grudges and fears, as these thoughts cannot help you now, and can only disturb you. The best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to Niànfó with us sincerely now, so that you can reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land – where there is no more suffering, where there is only bliss.

Do not worry that you are not pure enough, for Āmítuófó is compassionate and will receive you if you wish to be a better person from now on. Even those who had made great mistakes but repent can reach Pure Land by sincere Niànfó.

Please follow our Niànfó and chant along softly, or in your mind. Focusing only on the name of Āmítuófó wholeheartedly, you will definitely see Āmítuófó come to guide you to his Pure Land. Please follow only Āmítuófó and no one else.

Please do not worry about your loved ones, as they will be fine. They too will Niànfó to reach Pure Land when it is time to meet you there. Let us Niànfó sincerely now. Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’

When the dying person seems to lose mindfulness of Āmítuófó after some time, the above can be repeated.

[9] Closing Eyes: Ask the dying person to close his or her eyes, to listen only to the guided Niànfó while reciting Āmítuófó’s name for peace and protection – especially if there is fear or incoherence in expression, speech or action, which suggests disturbances by unseen beings (who are karmic creditors).

[10] Guidance To Karmic Creditors: The following should be read aloud to possibly present karmic creditors when the dying person seems disturbed by unseen beings by speaking or behaving fearfully or strangely.

‘On the behalf of _____ [name of dying person], we sincerely apologise for all the mistakes he/she had done to cause you suffering. As the Buddha taught, the suffering from hatred cannot be ceased by more hatred. As such, may you forgive him/her. We will also do much good to share merits with you, to ease your suffering.

After we chant the following “Verse For Repentance” on everyone’s behalf, may we Niànfó together sincerely, until you see Āmítuófó come to guide you to his Pure Land, where there is no more suffering, where there is only bliss. Please follow only Āmítuófó and no one else.

忏悔文

往昔所造诸恶业,
皆由无始贪瞋痴,
从身语意之所生,
一切我今皆忏悔。(三称,每称礼佛一拜)

Verse For Repentance

Of all my past created evil karma, all by beginningless greed, anger and delusion, from my body, speech and mind as arisen, for all I now express repentance. [Recite thrice, prostrating before Buddha image once after each time]

Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’

End with ‘[16] Sharing Of Merits’ on page 97. Repeat the above if the dying person still seems disturbed after some time.

[11] Repentance & Refuge: If the dying person once did much evil, slandered the Triple Gem (Buddhas, Dharma and Saṅgha) and/or have yet to take the Threefold Refuge, tell him or her that much negative karma will be dissolved if there is sincere repentance and taking of refuge, followed by Niànfó.

Explain the meaning of the ‘Verse For Repentance’ above and the ‘Verse For Taking Refuge’ below, before reciting in sequence with the dying person, or on his or her behalf, in his or her presence for rejoice. Assure that there will be blessings for peace of mind. This ceremony is best formally conducted by a monastic unless not possible due to lack of contact or time.

皈依文

我,弟子 _____[助念者名],
代 _____[临终者名],三皈依。
皈依佛,皈依法,皈依僧。

皈依佛,两足尊。
皈依法,离欲尊。
皈依僧,众中尊。
皈依佛竟,皈依法竟,皈依僧竟。(三称,每句礼佛一拜)

Verse For Taking Refuge

I, disciple _____ [name of reciter], on the behalf of _____ [name of dying person], receive the Threefold Refuge. I take refuge in the Buddhas, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Saṅgha.

I take refuge in the Buddhas, the honoured ones doubly and fully endowed [with meritorious virtues and wisdom]. I take refuge in the Dharma, the honoured teachings for departure from craving. I take refuge in the Saṅgha, the honoured one among assemblies. I take refuge in the Buddhas completely, I take refuge in the Dharma completely, I take refuge in the Saṅgha completely. [Recite thrice, prostrating before Buddha image once after each line]

[12] Guidance To Family, Friends & Visitors: Out of the dying person’s earshot to avoid interruption of Niànfó, the following should be read aloud to family, friends and visitors who have come to ‘bid farewell’. The message should be repeated for newcomers. It can also be put up as a prominent sign on the main door for reading before entering, to lessen repetition. Copies of this book turned to this page can be passed around too.

Agreement Before Entry

‘Now that _____ [name of dying person] is dying, we must do our best to guide him/her towards the best rebirth possible ­– in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, where there is no more suffering, where there is only bliss. The way to do this is by taking hourly shifts to Niànfó sincerely without interruption in his/her presence, to encourage him/her to do the same. We must not disturb him/her by speaking, crying, holding the hand or even touching as these can cause great pain and distress. If you must cry, please do it where it cannot be heard or seen. Let us Niànfó sincerely now. Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’

[13] Āmítuófó Image: Bring an Āmítuófó picture or statue within sight of the dying person for occasional glimpses to inspire and remind him or her to be continually mindful of his name. The image on the inside front cover of this book can be used.

There is no need to cover Buddha (or Bodhisattva) images upon death, as death is natural, not impure or offensive, but a fact of life to be faced by all. Buddhist images are not only harmless, they can be helpful as mentioned. If some prefer to cover images of non-Buddhist religious images, let them do so.

[14] Proximity Of Chanting: Chant near the dying person, but not too near till it becomes overbearing. If the dying person is unconscious (e.g. heavily drugged or in a coma), there should be at least one support-chanter chanting slightly closer to a ear, but without breathing into it, to ensure audibility without physical disturbance. The consciousness is usually in or near the body even if unable to respond. Let the dying person rest naturally when tired after much chanting.

[15] Clarity Of Chanting: Chant calmly, clearly and continually without coughing, sniffling, sneezing and such, which can be disruptive. All sound-emitting devices such as phones, tablets, and (alarm) clocks should be silenced. Use of prayer beads by support-chanters is alright if not noisy.

After chanting the six-word version (南无阿弥陀佛: Námó Āmítuófó) for a few times to express refuge and reverence in Āmítuófó, change to the four-word version (阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó) to have easier focus and to conserve energy, using the simplest tune (for pacing) with the least changes in tones (downloadable at purelanders.com/mp3).

[16] Shift System: The shift system covered as the Second Great Essential of the section on ‘The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death’ (see page 39) should be followed.

[17] Guiding Bell: If a guiding (hand) bell (引磬: Yǐnqìng) is used to guide and pace chanting of ‘Āmítuófó’, it should be struck upon chanting of ‘Ā’ (阿) and ‘Tuó’ (陀). This is the only instrument to use as it has an awakening yet calming and purifying sound.

[18] Chanting Devices: Devices (Niànfó devices, CDs, MP3 players, phones, tablets, computers) playing the name of Āmítuófó can be used to guide support-chanting. However, by themselves, they should only be used when there is no one available for support-chanting. This is so as unlike recordings, ‘live’ sincere chanting creates merits, while providing motivation, guidance and protective power.

[19] Earphones: In the absence of support-chanters, do not put earphones or headphones on the dying person for hearing recorded Niànfó as the volume is difficult to suitably control and can cause physical discomfort due to increased sensitivity. If in a hospital but not in a private room, to not cause ‘disturbance’ to others, a Niànfó device turned to a low volume can be placed nearby.

[20] Freshness Of Air: There should not be too many support-chanters in the room if it is small, so as to keep the air fresh for the dying person and the support-chanters. Excess support-chanters can practise silent chanting outside the room or rest between shifts to conserve energy for their actual shifts. (Shrine incense should not be offered too near.)

[21] Instruction Of Family: If dying process is prolonged or a false alarm as dying is not so soon, family members should be taught how to practise support-chanting according to these instructions. Copies of this book should be given to them too. Experienced support-chanters can offer assistance when needed. Those who cannot come to the dying person can chant by themselves and share merits too. (See page 97 for ‘[16] Sharing Of Merits’.)

[22] False Recovery: Towards the moment of death, due to a natural final burst of energy, the dying person might have some moments with sudden physical strength and even speak clearly. As this is not true recovery and usually does not last long, support-chanting should not stop.

[23] Other Practices: Do not allow other religious ceremonies with conflicting beliefs and objectives in the presence of the dying (or deceased) to avoid creating confusion and frustration. There should only be Buddhist chanting, with focus on the name of Āmítuófó (Niànfó).

[24] Rewards: As volunteers, support-chanters must never, from the dying person or the family, take any payment or tokens of gratitude. This is to keep the motivation of helping pure and unconditional, untainted by any greed or worldly expectations.

Needs that involve money, such as transport and meals should be self-provided as far as possible. However, accountable donations for Dharma propagation (e.g. printing and distributing of Dharma books, such as this one), proper animal liberation and signing up for Dharma ceremonies (法会) can be collected for facilitation of creating and sharing of merits with the dying (or deceased).

[25] External Aids: Although external aids (such as the below – Sand Of Golden Bright Light, Mantra Wheels, Rebirth Blanket and even support-chanting) can facilitate birth in Pure Land, we must not assume that we will personally have enough merits to deserve use of such aids when dying, as this might lead to complacence in nurturing the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration (Vow) and Practice, which are the actual essentials for reaching Pure Land.

The stronger these provisions are, the more effective will such supportive aids be, while those already with strong provisions do not really need them. For greatest efficacy, only consecrated aids from authentic Buddhist temples, centres or shops should be used.

[26] Sand Of Golden Bright Light: Before and/or after death, put a fingernail’s amount of the Sand Of Golden Bright Light (金光明沙), as consecrated by the Mantra Of Vairocana Buddha’s Light Of Great Empowerment (毗卢遮那佛大灌顶光真言) on these five areas of the person’s body – (1) centre of forehead (between and above eyebrows; between hairline and eyebrows’ line), (2) throat, (3) heart area (centre of chest), and (4)–(5) both palms of hands. Where the sand cast shadows, there will be protective golden light with blessings.

After closing the casket, sprinkle the sand on the area aligned to the same forehead area. Transparent tape can be used for holding it in place. After burial, sprinkle the sand upon the grave at the same area.

After cremation, sprinkle the sand on the ashes in the urn. If difficult to reopen, the sand can be transparent-taped onto the lid. If deceased for a long time, after some Niànfó, merits should be shared with all beings, including the deceased and possibly nearby wandering spirits.

[27] Mantra Wheels: With some similar functions as the Rebirth Blanket, before and/or after death, under it, place the consecrated paper Mantra Wheels (咒轮) on the chest of the person, with the Esoteric Dhāraṇī Wheel Of The Great Precious Vast Pavilion For Good Abiding (大宝广博楼阁善住秘密陀罗尼轮) as the highest, with the top of its stupa pointing to the head.

As mantras represent the Dharma, they should not be destroyed or burnt, although they can be buried with the body. If to be cremated, they can be first placed on the casket aligned to the chest with a paperweight, and after cremation placed on the ashes in the urn with the Sand Of Golden Bright Light. If difficult to reopen, they can be transparent-taped onto the lid.

[28] Rebirth Blanket: As the consecrated Rebirth/Dhāraṇī Blanket (往生/陀罗尼被) contains many important mantras with inconceivable powers of blessing, contact with it can help to eradicate negative karma. It should be placed on the dying (and deceased) above the usual blanket.

As unseen beings see it as protective bright light, this prevents disturbances from karmic creditors who might be around to distract the person from Niànfó. Note that the Rebirth Blanket is not the Lotus Blanket (莲花被), which is just decorative and not needed. If used, the Rebirth Blanket should be placed above it.

After putting the Sand Of Golden Bright Light and placing the Mantra Wheels, the dying or deceased should be fully covered to the chest with the blanket, with the words ‘Námó Āmítuófó’ (南无阿弥陀佛) at the front and top.

If the facial expression is unpleasant and might spur the grief of anyone, the body should be covered completely with the Rebirth Blanket, over the head as well. After change of clothes later, the blanket should be placed back on the body.

As mantras represent the Dharma, they should not be destroyed or burnt, although the blanket can be buried with the body. If torn or stained beyond cleaning, it can be burnt respectfully while chanting ‘Āmítuófó’ to return it to the elements.

If the body is already in a sealed casket, use the blanket to cover it to the chest level and use transparent tape to hold it in place. If to be cremated, remove the blanket before cremation. After cremation, use it to wrap the urn with the Sand Of Golden Bright Light and Mantra Wheels within. The blanket can be placed in the urn too.

[29] Dementia & Such Illnesses: For those with forgetfulness or confusion, beyond regular guided Niànfó in everyday life to create strong mental impressions of Āmítuófó, guidance and support-chanting before and after death should be similarly offered as above.

All brain-related mental illnesses cease when the consciousness cease operating through the brain after death. Even if still in the body, the mind will have clarity magnified beyond the normal then. This moment, which should be anticipated, is when guidance and support-chanting is extra important and effective.

English text © Shen Shi’an (Recirculation with permission via purelanders.com/contact)

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