Changing And Cleaning The Deceased

Question: As we should minimise touching and moving of the deceased (to minimise physical and mental disturbance, as there will be greatly magnified pain and anger if the consciousness is still within), why should there be cleaning and changing of clothes before encoffining?

Although actually optional, there is the rather common preference by many to do so, to express respect to the deceased and to the Buddha, for the person’s final journey from this life to Pure Land (although it is not the body but mind that departs). Good practitioners who know when they are departing often personally bathe and put on clean clothes in advance too. The black robes for lay Buddhists (hǎiqīng: 海青) are commonly worn over ordinary clothes too.

How should cleaning and changing be done with minimal movements?

 It is not very different from how sensitive nurses clean and change paralysed patients. You might be able to find such videos online. (Note that although the body becomes lighter due to eventual expelling of gases in the lungs, there might be the illusion of it becoming heavier without cooperative lifting of body parts.) It will be easier to do it with close family members and/or with the undertakers, to turn the body sideways, lift limbs and such.

Whatever movements needed, minimise them, and do them gently and quickly. For those already bedridden, there can be prior ‘practice’ on the bed. Perhaps clothing that is easier removed and worn should be used in everyday life too. Remove clothes, wipe with clean (or lightly scented) water and put on clean clothes. Before starting, offer guidance one more time, tug the hair on the crown to stimulate exit of the consciousness. Wipe the skin from top down gently while continuing support-chanting. If the body is clean, not every part has to be wiped.

Question: With so many movements ‘needed’, is it better to leave the body as it is?

Answer: If there are clear auspicious signs that the deceased has already departed well, changing and cleaning is clearly optional. If the deceased when alive was habitually a stickler for cleanliness, it is better to clean and change. If the clothes are stained with pee and poo due to natural muscle relaxation, there should be change too, for hygiene. Remember – this is done only after (and not before) ample offering of post-death guidance and support-chanting.

Related Teaching:

The Third Great Essential: Avoid Touching Or Moving The Body And Crying

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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