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Important Guidelines: (3) After Dying (Pure Land Passport Section 4C)

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[1] Guidance To The Deceased: The following should be read aloud sincerely near the body of the deceased for encouraging Niànfó, as he or she might be within or near, due to habitual attachment. It should be put in words familiar to the deceased, by the person appointed or closest.

Only when it is not convenient should it be thought ‘aloud’, for the consciousness of the deceased to read one’s mind for the message.

‘Dearest _____ [name of deceased], as you are now deceased, it is time 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.

Please do not be attached to your wealth and family, as you have to leave them behind. We assure you that all will be well. They too will Niànfó to reach Pure Land when it is time to meet you there.

Please Niànfó with us as sincerely as you can because this is the only way to have the best rebirth before it is too late. This is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones.

_____ [number of] days later, your body will be cremated/buried. Please do not be attached to your body. Please continue to Niànfó sincerely all the way, until you see Āmítuófó come to guide you to his Pure Land. Please follow only Āmítuófó and no one else. Let us Niànfó sincerely now. Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’

[2] Continual Chanting: There should be uninterrupted support-chanting for as long as possible after death (between 3 to 8 hours), before touching or moving the body. (8 hours is a popular duration.)

[3] Eyes & Mouth: If the eyes and/or mouth of the deceased are open after death, do not forcibly close them or place items on them. With continual support-chanting, they might close naturally.

[4] Before Moving Body: The Third Great Essential of the section on ‘The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death’ (see page 48) should first be understood.

Before touching the body of the deceased anywhere or moving it, announce the need, and with ongoing Niànfó, tug at some of the hair at the centre of the crown (about eight fingerwidths back from hairline), or tap that area if bald, to stimulate the consciousness, if still present, to exit from there for Pure Land.

Avoid touching the hands, legs and anywhere below the heart area for as long as possible, as this might stimulate lower rebirths. Whenever there is handling of the body, there should be announcement with ongoing Niànfó.

[5] Minimise Moving Body: If in a hospital, do your best to request medical personnel to let the body be untouched for as long as possible, to lessen touching while certifying death, and to touch only gently when needed (e.g. when removing medical apparatus). The bed or bedding should be moved together with the body if it has to relocate before sufficient time has passed. Some hospitals have prayer rooms for this purpose, where there can be further Niànfó. Refrigeration of the body should be avoided.

[6] Death Notification: To certify death, medical personnel should be notified after the above support-chanting, as extended after end of breathing, so as to not touch the body too soon, which might disturb the consciousness.

[7] Death Administration: The following procedure is in the Singapore context. (For updates and details, please see nea.gov.sg)

(a) Certificate of Cause Of Death (CCOD):

(i) Death at home

Contact family doctor of the deceased or any doctor who can make a house call, to certify death and issue CCOD if possible. If not, contact the police for the body to be sent to mortuary for certification.

(ii) Death at hospital from natural cause

Get CCOD from ward nurse by producing identity card of the deceased.

(iii) Death at hospital from unnatural cause

On the next day, bring all of the deceased’s medical documents, medicine consumed and identity card (with the informant’s) to the mortuary, where the body would have been sent to.

(b) Death Certificate (DC):

Bring CCOD and identity card of the deceased (with the informant’s) to register death within 24 hours of death at any police station or Registry Of Births & Deaths for exchange of DC. (Death will be registered at mortuary if body was sent there.)

[8] Cleaning & Changing: When undressing, cleaning (wiping with clean or scented water) and re-dressing a stiffened body, use a warm towel to soften the joints. (Suppleness of the body is an auspicious sign of a good rebirth.)

[9] Choice Of Clothes: The deceased should be changed to his or her preferred clothes (if they are not already on), with no need to insist on an outer layer of Hǎiqīng (海青: black robes for those who have taken the Threefold Refuge or not) if the deceased did not like it when alive.

The second outer layer of Mànyī (缦衣: brown robes for those who have committed to the Five Precepts or Bodhisattva Precepts) is optional too.

While the Hǎiqīng can be cremated, the Mànyī should not be, as it is regarded as a Dharma robe. It can be washed, reused and kept at the home shrine to remind family members to continually Niànfó to help the deceased.

[10] Funeral Arrangements: A trustworthy funeral service, ideally run by an authentic Buddhist organisation should be engaged to collect the body for sending to location of the funeral. Following the instructions in this book, there should be strictly Buddhist arrangements with minimal touching of the body.

[11] Embalmment: Avoid embalmment as it might cause pain and distress if the consciousness is still within the body or near, and is attached to it. Make-up which involves more touching is not needed. Casket should be closed if facial expression is unpleasant.

Incense can be put in the sealed casket and offered nearby to mask any possible bad smell, with cotton wool inside for absorbing it. Ice can also be placed nearby, but not too close.

[12] Casket: There is no need for a lavish casket, especially if it will be cremated. One as environmentally friendly as possible should be used. Even if to be buried, it will eventually decay.

If the deceased is likely to be attached to its quality, one of reasonable expected quality should be used. An Āmítuófó image can be placed near the head of the casket at the funeral as a reminder to Niànfó.

[13] Save Expenses: There is no need for lavish expenses on big obituary advertisements and banners (unless they share the Dharma) or wreaths. Jewellery need not be worn by the deceased and should be considered for donations. Money is better contributed 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) to create and share merits with the deceased.

[14] Guard Body: Guard the body during the funeral to ensure there are no disturbances, as the consciousness might still be attached to the body’s welfare.

[15] Ongoing Chanting: Following the support-chanting sessions before and after death, there should be as much regular chanting as possible within 49 days after passing, as rebirth usually occurs within this duration. The section on ‘Guidance To The Deceased’ (see page 88) can be read near the body at the funeral before each Niànfó session.

Do not stop regular chanting unless there are unmistakable signs of having secured birth in Pure Land or a good rebirth. In case of uncertainty, and for peace of mind, Āmítuófó should be sincerely prayed to for clear signs, followed by sincere Niànfó. However, do not keep asking for signs, as this distracts oneself from continuing sincere Niànfó to guide the deceased, who might not yet be reborn.

Even if the deceased is already reborn in a less fortunate realm, merits from Niànfó shared can alleviate suffering there, and expedite a better rebirth. There should be some shifts to continue support-chanting, instead of wasting time during the funeral, or merely chatting with relatives and visitors.

[16] Sharing Of Merits: Each Niànfó session should be concluded with the ‘Verse For Sharing Of Merits’.

回向文

愿以此功德,
庄严佛净土,
上报四重恩,
下济三途苦。
若有见闻者,
悉发菩提心,
尽此一报身,
同生极乐国。

Verse For Sharing Of Merits

May these meritorious virtues, adorn the Buddha’s Pure Land [so as to be born there], repay the four weighty sources of kindness [which are our parents, the Triple Gem (Buddhas, Dharma, Saṅgha), society (country) and all sentient beings] above, and relieve suffering of the three paths [of hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals] below. If there are those who see or hear this, may all give rise to the Bodhi Mind [(Bodhicitta) which is the aspiration to attain Buddhahood while guiding all sentient beings to the same goal], and at the end of this one retribution body [that is karmically subject to suffering], be born in the Land Of Ultimate Bliss [which is Āmítuófó’s Pure Land] together.

After reciting the above for all beings, the following can be added.

‘May _____ [name of dying/deceased], along with his/her karmic creditors be reborn in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land too.’

[17] Monastic Chanting: If possible, invite experienced monastics with right understanding of the Pure Land teachings from authentic Buddhist organisations for support-chanting when person is dying and during the funeral, with focus on Niànfó (to guide similar Practice to reach Pure Land) and the Amitā[bha] Sūtra (阿弥陀经: to introduce Āmítuófó and his Pure Land). Other chants might confuse the deceased as to where to go and what to do to reach there. Even though they offer general guidance and general merits, it is best to clearly align the power of guidance with the power of merits in terms of Āmítuófó and his Pure Land above.

Family and friends should sincerely chant with the monastics to create more merits for sharing with the deceased. If there are no monastics available, they should chant by themselves too. As the deceased can read the minds of those chanting, when those with right understanding chant sincerely, this offers proper guidance.

[18] Funeral Days: The funeral should offer enough time for the consciousness of the deceased, who might still be around, to have enough guidance for Niànfó Practice to reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land.

Depending on nature of the person and the passing, the number of days should be neither too few nor too many. For instance, one who died unpeacefully should probably be offered more time (such as 5 days), while one who is likely to become attached to staying indefinitely (although impossible) with the passing of time should be offered less time (such as 3 days).

The number of days left before cremation or burial should be periodically reminded, so as to urge more sincere and diligent Niànfó. The section on ‘Guidance To The Deceased’ (see page 88) can be read near the body before each Niànfó session.

[19] Peacefulness Of Funeral: There should be no drinking, smoking or gambling at the funeral as the deceased, if still around, might see these as celebratory and disrespectful, which distracts him or her from Niànfó. The funeral should thus be kept peaceful – without crying, singing, music, laughing, fighting and loud talking.

[20] Food Offerings: All food offerings to the Buddha and the deceased during the funeral and 49 days after death must be vegan (free of meat and animal products) and without the ‘Five Pungent Roots’ (see page 69). All meals offered to visitors during support-chanting and at the funeral must be vegan too, so as to not create the slightest negative karma in the name of the deceased linked to direct or indirect killing or harming of any sentient being through the cycle of supply and demand.

[21] Veg[etari]an Food: Family and friends should go vegetarian (or ideally, vegan) during the above period or even beyond, to create merits for sharing with the deceased. Even if the deceased is already reborn in Pure Land, merits created can still benefit oneself.

[22] Other Offerings: Periodically make offerings (e.g. water, light, incense, fruits) and prostrate at the funeral and home shrines to Āmítuófó and the Triple Gem (Buddhas, Dharma and Saṅgha) on behalf of the deceased.

[23] Paper Offerings: There should be no burning of paper offerings (of money, houses, cars and such) before and after death, especially not near the (dying person or) deceased, as this can (cause breathing difficulties and) confuse the person into thinking the offerings can be gotten, giving rise to attachment due to anticipation, and aversion when not received. Burning leads to pollution, waste of paper, time, energy and money too.

[24] Dreams: If the deceased used to stubbornly believe in the need for paper offerings, to give peace of mind, just a little can be burnt to prove it is pointless. Likewise can be done if there are requests for paper offerings in dreams, although these might arise in the minds of family members due to their own attachment to such offerings. Whether real or not, the deceased who appears in dreams should be guided to Niànfó sincerely, to be reborn in Pure Land swiftly.

[25] Family Funeral Wear: There is no need for family members to wear traditional funeral clothes, headdresses and badges. For instance, they can wear all white, all black or white tops with black bottoms to express purity, solemnity and respectful uniformity. There is no need to place clothes, shoes and other items of the deceased aside at the funeral as they might stir attachment, while the consciousness no longer has physical form for using them.

[26] Red String: There is no need for visitors of the funeral to collect and wear red strings, believed by some to be able to protect against unseen beings who might follow them home. As such strings are usually not consecrated, they offer no protection. As some might not understand this, some strings can be made available for them. Niànfó will be adequate for protection, for those who are fearful.

[27] Urn & Tablet: After cremation, there is no need for a lavish or traditional urn to store the remains, especially if it is going to be dropped into the sea. An urn (or a simple container) as biodegradable and environmentally friendly as possible should be used.

If the remains are to be scattered in the sea or on land, the urn need not be disposed. The name of the deceased can be written on it to serve as an ‘ancestral tablet’ at the home shrine to remind family members to continually Niànfó to help the deceased. (The Rebirth Blanket can be washed, reused and kept at the home shrine for the same purpose.)

A simple card with the name and/or a picture of the deceased can serve the same function as a ‘tablet’. Otherwise, a traditional tablet can be signed up for in an authentic Buddhist temple that has regular ‘live’ Niànfó. However, personal chanting by close family members and friends at home can be just as, if not more powerful, due to strong karmic affinities and concern. There can be a tablet at home and another in a temple too.

If the deceased did not like sea burial, and preferred the urn to be kept in a certain place, for peace of mind, it should be kept there (e.g. in a temple’s columbarium or at home). However, upon storing the urn, there should be reminder to the deceased, who might still be around, to not be attached to the urn or its location. As there will be rebirth eventually and possibly suddenly due to the law of karma, he or she should continue to Niànfó sincerely, to be reborn in Pure Land swiftly.

[28] Seven Sevens: Every seven days after death, on the 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th, 35th, 42nd and 49th days, make more offerings to Āmítuófó and the Triple Gem (Buddhas, Dharma and Saṅgha) and practise more Niànfó following chanting of the Amitābha Sūtra to offer guidance and merits – as these are days when the deceased’s consciousness is more likely to take rebirth, if not yet reborn.

[29] Seventh Day: Do not request or anticipate the deceased to return on the seventh, or any other day or night. Instead, there should be as much Niànfó as possible to encourage the deceased, if still around, to also Niànfó sincerely, to be reborn in Pure Land swiftly.

[30] Continual Broadcast & Chanting: Keep the name of Āmítuófó playing non-stop in day and night at the home of the deceased, using any device (e.g. Niànfó devices, CDs, MP3 players, phones, tablets, computers) for at least 49 days. This is to remind and encourage everyone at home to practise Niànfó to create merits for the deceased.

As the deceased’s consciousness might still be around, it is important that there is regular ‘live’ chanting to sincerely guide him or her to also Niànfó sincerely, to be reborn in Pure Land swiftly.

[31] Dharma Ceremonies: Dharma ceremonies (法会) for offering guidance and sharing of merits at authentic Buddhist temples and centres should be sincerely participated in as much as possible. If not, the name of the deceased should at least be signed up for dedication of merits.

Many Pure Land retreats have this function too, which are also best personally participated in to create more merits for dedication.

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

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