Why Guidance Offered To The Dying Is The Way It Is 为何给予临终者的开示如此

An example of Guidance Text (开示文) offered to the dying is as above (with the Chinese version below). Although it might seem ‘short and simple’, its contents are meant to be comprehensive and effective. Thus, especially when too anxious, distressed and/or distracted to be mindful of what to say, it is all the more important to offer guidance as stated. Otherwise, other guidance offered might be incorrect and/or incomplete. Even if ‘technically correct’, it might be too long and difficult for the dying to readily understand, thus wasting precious time and effort. For understanding the rationale of the recommended Guidance Text, below is a line-by-line analysis.

Guidance To Dying Person

[Note 1: There are Guidance Texts for other occasions between pre-death and post-death states too, which can be seen in the first Related Article below, with an easy to remember web link for emergencies. The right guidance should be readily offered at the right time. For those alive, guidance should be offered in the language most familiar to the dying person. Likewise for those deceased, for better attention, although the consciousness of the deceased would also be able to directly read the minds those offering guidance, for its intended messages.]

Guidance: ‘Dearest _____ [name of dying person],

[Note 2: This is to express care and personalisation of the guidance, calling more attention to the instructions to come.]

Guidance: you have done much good already, having done _____ [list some outstanding good deeds] for your family, friends and society.

[Note 3: This praise and reminder is to urge the dying person to give rise to gladness and rejoice in his or her own meritorious virtues, which will counter any remaining regrets, that might lead to attachment to the expiring life. Even if there was not ‘much’ good done, as much good as possible should be recollected as a quick reminder. To save precious time, and to not distract from the main objective of the guidance, this list should not be too long.]

Guidance: 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. 

[Note 4: This is to further assure the dying person, that his or her life and death will not be in vain, to counter any fear and dread that not enough good had been done. The promise to do more good for the dying person will better settle the mind, to counter any remaining dissatisfactions and uneasiness.]

Guidance: 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.

[Note 5: This is to urge giving rise to ‘revulsed renunciation of the Sahā World’ (厌离娑婆), as the first part of expressing sincere Aspiration (切愿), as the central pivot of the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice (信愿行) to reach Pure Land (净土). To stop thinking about attachments and aversions is to no longer entertain greed and hatred, as the first two of the Three Poisons (三毒) of greed, hatred and delusion (贪嗔痴). (Greed and hatred arise together from and with delusion.) As all of those that one has attachment and aversion to will be departed from, to cling to them futilely will only destroy peace of mind. The last part of the instruction reminds that thoughts based on the Three Poisons are not only useless, they can be harmful too. Thus should they be let go off. Even pain should be let go of, with more sincere mindfulness of Buddha, which will dissolve it, replacing it with bliss.]

Guidance: 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.

[Note 6: This is to urge giving rise to ‘joyful seeking of the Land Of Ultimate Bliss’ (欣求极乐), as the second part of expressing sincere Aspiration (切愿). This emphasizes that it is with Niànfó (念佛) that a win-win situation can be created for both oneself and loved ones (who only wish oneself to swiftly and safely reach Āmítuófó’s [阿弥陀佛] Pure Land). As the dying person is usually with much suffering then, the last part of the instruction reminds that it can be transcended with the attainment of bliss by reaching Pure Land. This is to further urge sincere Aspiration, to practise Niànfó to reach Pure Land.]

Guidance: 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.

[Note 7: This is to offer further assurance, confidence and Faith in Niànfó, to connect to the Buddha. (If the dying person already has the two parts of Aspiration mentioned above, the person should already have Faith, as Aspiration is based on Faith.) This is also the simplest way of urging repentance, to give rise to the resolution for purity, as expressed by sincere Niànfó. With a repentant mind, it is easier to have sincere Niànfó, to connect to the Buddha, for reaching his Pure Land.]

Guidance: Please follow our Niànfó and chant along softly, or in your mind.

[Note 8: This is to offer the dying person the options of following the guided chanting by reciting softly (if tired), or silently (if weak). Sincere listening to others’ Niànfó is also a form of sincere mindfulness of Buddha. Although the support-chanters should chant loudly enough for the dying person to hear clearly, there should not be pressurising of the dying person to chant aloud. Sincere mindfulness of Buddha in the mind will do.]

Guidance: Focusing only on the name of Āmítuófó wholeheartedly, you will definitely see Āmítuófó come to guide you to his Pure Land.

[Note 9: This is to remind that after having the above ‘ten thousand things let go of’ (万般放下), there should only be ‘one thought taken up’ (一念提起) sincerely, with it being the Buddha’s name. The objective is to ‘be mindful of Buddha, to see the Buddha, and to follow the Buddha’ (念佛见佛跟佛) to his Pure Land.

Guidance: Please follow only Āmítuófó and no one else.

[Note 10: This is to remind to follow only the Buddha (跟佛), offering a singular clear goal to look forward to. This clarity of goal clears the third poison of delusion, of being ignorant and confused as to what to do and expect when dying. It is also taught that sincere mindfulness of Buddha will definitely lead to sight of the Buddha (亿佛念佛… 必定见佛). This instruction is also to prevent the following of karmic creditors (冤亲债主), especially those manifesting as familiar deceased loved ones, or even as other beings. With sincere Niànfó, karmic creditors will not be able to deceive by manifesting as the Buddha. Do not ask to look out for other objects such as lights, lotuses and such, as the dying person might be confused on which being which, and follow a wrong ‘manifestation’ instead.]

Guidance: 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.

[Note 11: This is to assure that surviving loved ones will do well, and can still be united with in Pure Land later. This is important as many dying persons’ final attachments are their loved ones, whom they cannot bear to part from. If not reaching and meeting in Pure Land, with rebirths in various other realms while forgetting previous lives instead, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully meet one another later.]

Guidance: Let us Niànfó sincerely now. 

[Note 12: The emphasis is on sincerity. Both the support-chanters and the dying person should Niànfó sincerely, the first as good examples to motivate the latter.]

Guidance: Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’  

[Note 13: This marks the beginning of the support-chanting (助念). Of course, it should be more than three recitations… extended to a significant duration, for guiding the dying person to connect to the Buddha firmly. There should be cycles of the above guidance and support-chanting offered until departure, with reasonable breaks in between for eating, sleeping and such. However, a Niànfó device (念佛机) should still be turned on during these breaks.]

[Note 14: If there is time, there can be recitation of the Repentance Verse (忏悔文) and Verse For Dedication Of Merits (回向偈) too. However, as these verses are technical in language, they should be explained in simpler language to the dying person first. As mentioned above, sincere Niànfó already contains the element of repentance. Every recitation is also already directly dedicated to reaching Pure Land. Thus, recitation of the two verses above is optional, especially if this might reduce or disrupt the Niànfó portion. The Amitābha Sūtra (阿弥陀经) should not be added for support-chanting of the dying as it is too long and difficult for the average dying person to easily understand. With the two verses, it can be recited separately by oneself elsewhere, for creating more merits for dedication.]

[Note 15: 
As can be seen in the notes above, with profound rationale within, there are no arbitrary or unnecessary elements in the recommended Guidance Text. Thus should it be used. Only when there are special circumstances should the text be altered or added with other elements.]

Related Articles:

More Chinese-English ‘Guidance Texts Before Support-Chanting’ 

What Should Be Chanted During And After A Funeral

Will All See The Buddha Receive Them When Practising Mindfulness Of Him?
Verses For The General Person

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