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How Can Wandering Spirits Be Delivered? 如何超度孤魂?

One without merits
can be offered guidance
to easier create merits.

– Shilashanti

There are wandering spirits (i.e. 孤魂野鬼: lonely spirits and ‘wild’ ghosts), who are those yet to be reborn, due to attachment to their past lives, while not having guidance (引导) on how to ideally move on. Such is the plight of the average (hungry) ghost, including those in the intermediate (bardo) state (中阴) between lives, not aware of how to practise mindfulness of Buddha’s name (i.e. Niànfó: 念佛) to reach Amitābha Buddha’s (i.e. 阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó) Western Pure Land (净土) with the best rebirth possible, that guarantees Buddhahood most swiftly. If they understand how to practise, they would surely do so in a jiffy, so as to be free from all suffering, and to receive ultimate bliss (极乐). Tragically, some wandering spirits can even haunt for decades or more, till karma forces them to be reborn, or when they finally receive and heed advice on how to relinquish their restless state.

Beyond haunting places attached to, which usually are previous homes, some wandering spirits might even visit Buddhist temples. They might do so with hope for solace, by listening to the Dharma through talks and chanting, and by receiving of meritorious virtues (i.e. merits: 功德) dedicated (回向) to them. Yet, if all of the above lacks clear guidance for giving rise to the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice (信愿行) to reach Pure Land, they remain stranded. Talks might be on general Dharma, without touching on the Pure Land teachings. That chanted might be lengthy sūtras, but not on them either. Even when merits are dedicated with verses expressing Aspiration to reach Pure Land, the ghost who hears might lack understanding to have Faith, what more the Aspiration hoped to be directed with. Also missing is the very Practice of Niànfó.

Yet, the ghost might continue to hang around, for the sense of well-being when receiving merits dedicated. However, these are but short-lived worldly blessings, without world-transcending and lasting benefits of liberation possible with reach of Pure Land. Knowing when to receive merits regularly, the ghost awaits, much like a hungry ghost (饿鬼) for offered meals, not knowing how to be free from hunger once and for all. Although merits (and food) can alleviate some suffering in the short run, guidance for liberation from all suffering has higher priority for the long run. Though Niànfó also creates great merits, it should be clearly known, that the Three Provisions enable reach of Pure Land, while unenlightened merits remain inadequate. This is so as Pure Land is the Buddha’s domain shaped by his immeasurable merits, beyond reach with only our limited merits.  

Even much merits created and dedicated by many loved ones cannot send anyone without the Three Provisions to Pure Land. Nevertheless, dedication is still done, to express the wish that the deceased be inspired to give rise to the provisions, and to offer boosts for a higher grade (上品) of birth in Pure Land. Even the Buddha with his immeasurable merits cannot simply dedicate his merits to any single being, to instantly send him or her to his Pure Land — or he would had done so for immeasurable beings already. As oneself is impure and the other pure, to qualify for entry, there must be combining of personal Self-powered (自力) merits of the non-Buddha aspirant, with the Buddha’s Other-powered (他力) merits. The very way to do so is to have Niànfó Practice with deep Faith (深信) and sincere Aspiration (切愿), to connect to him. Offering of guidance must be done to enable this.

An example of simple yet adequate words of guidance for the average deceased being are these — ‘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 it. 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…’    

These words function in disabling the Three Poisons (三毒) of attachment to the transpired life (贪生), aversion (with fear) of the next life (怕死), and delusion (愚痴) about what best to do. They also function in enabling the Three Provisions to arise. Once there is Practice accordingly, it can be said that these dual functions are working well. The guidance should be followed by support-chanting (助念) with Āmítuófó’s name, to further guide by setting an example of how Practice should be done. May none make the common mistake of offering lots of varied chanting without any focus, while not offering words of guidance first, for doing the crucial Practice. (The words can also be adapted for reciting before everyday Practice, in hope that other beings, if present, can practise too. Thus, personal Practice can also become compassionate support-chanting.) 

One without guidance
can be offered merits
to easier receive guidance.

– Shilashanti

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