Question: There are some, despite reciting the name of Amitābha Buddha: ‘Āmítuófó’ (阿弥陀佛) when dying, whose expressions did not look very peaceful upon death. However, with extended hours of support-chanting (助念), their expressions transform to be peaceful. How is this so?
Answer: Many dying persons of (below) average spiritual capacities might turn out this way, as described. When still energetic, they might be able to verbally or mentally be mindful of Āmítuófó’s name. However, as this is often with substantial physical pain and discomfort, mixed with habitual fear and attachment, their expressions naturally show all these disturbances at first, when yet to truly connect firmly to Āmítuófó.
For those who were offered guidance (开示) to practise sufficiently, with enough time to ‘warm up’ to the practice, who are able to connect to Āmítuófó’s blessings in time, they can transform to look blissful when still alive.
But what about those unable to connect before death? Upon death, as the mind is physically detached from the ideally undisturbed (i.e. untouched) body, even if the deceased is mentally attached to it, body-related suffering will be totally eliminated.
With the major distraction of bodily pain gone, this is when it can become easier to be mindful of Āmítuófó’s name with greater clarity of mind, instead of being wrongly ‘mindful’ of pain. Being mindful correctly then, there is connection to Āmítuófó, to receive his blessings. This is how their expressions then transform to be blissful.
There should also be timely informing by support-chanters upon death, that since death has already occurred, there must be even more sincere mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name, with a greater sense of urgency to reach his Pure Land.
In addition, with the mind free from the burden and limitations of the body, there will be magnified sensitivity to the guidance and support-chanting heard, while being able to directly read the minds of those present, to better understand and appreciate their efforts, to comply with their assistance.
Of course, it is safer and thus more ideal to connect to Āmítuófó directly, before death itself, as entering the bardo (i.e. intermediate) state can be dangerous, able to be swept away by the winds of karma suddenly. The above possible sequence of events during and after death reminds us that pre and post support-chanting (临终与往生助念) are equally important, for increasing the possibility of swiftly guiding the dying and deceased to Pure Land.
There should not be the mistaken thinking that support-chanting should only begin after death. This would had wasted precious time, by not earlier connecting the dying to Āmítuófó, to relieve needless suffering, while lessening the possibility of connecting to him in time after death, as there might be swift karmically forced rebirth to elsewhere.
What To Do Before, During & After Dying?