The teaching or tradition which we call Buddhism arose from
the Buddha's experience of Enlightenment more than 2,500 years
ago. It is thus with the Buddha that Buddhism began. It is natural
that we would ask "Who is the Buddha?" The first thing
we have to note is that the word "Buddha" is not a name,
but rather a title. The Buddha means "The Awakened One"
or "He who Knows"
The one whom we call "the Buddha" lived in Nepal, in the foothills of the Himalayas. His father, Shuddhodana Gautama was King of a clan called the Sakya. The Queen was on her way to her father's kingdom when she gave birth to the Buddha to be. He was given the name Siddhartha.
As Prince Siddhartha grew up, he was given, by the standard of those days, the best education and is said to have performed exceptionally well in all areas. And at the age of 16, he was married to Yashodhara. (It was customary to marry young.) As a prince, we would expect him to live a luxurious life and he did. But despite his well-to-do way of life, he was deeply dissatisfied. The Buddhist Scriptures spoke of a kind of spiritual crisis, a turning point, when the Prince saw the Four Signs (an old man, sick man, dead man and an ascetic). He was deeply troubled by the suffering all people have to go through. They caused him to reflect on the problem of suffering. He thus felt a need to find the answer for himself. He also felt that he had to leave the palace and luxurious life to find the answer. And this was what he did.
For the next 6 years, he travelled from place to place seeking teachers who could show him the way. But as none could, he decided to seek the answer by himself. There was then a popular practice of extreme ascetisim. It is believed that one can realise the truth by torturing the physical body. And that is what Siddhartha did. However, after 6 years of hard practice, he could not find the answer. Knowing that it was no the way to the Truth, he had the courage to give it up.
Finally, he found himself a beautiful spot beside a river and sat under the shade of a great Bodhi tree.There he sat and made a resolution, "I will not rise from this spot until I am Fully Enlightened". So day after day, night after night, he sat in deep meditation. With his mind concentrated and controlled, he purified his mind and looked deep into the nature of all phenomena. On Vesak night, the night of the full moon of May, just as he was gazing upon the rising morning star, full illumination, full Enlightenment arose.
The Prince Siddhartha Gautama, had become The Buddha.
The Buddha wanted the first to whom he would try and explain what had happened to him to be those five ascetics whod looked after him and then left when he stopped fasting. They didnt really want anything more to do with him, but when he eventually found them in a deer park not far from Benares they were struck by the change in him and agreed to hear him out. So they sat around, out in the open, under the trees, and he talked and they listened.
First he spoke of his early life and how hed been very privileged and until hed left home had had just about everything he wanted - and a bit more, but had never been really content and at peace. Then he reminded them of the terrible way hed tormented his body with breath control and fasting and how that hadnt done much for him either. Left by himself, hed tried a middle way and that was the first principle he wished to impress upon them - the avoidance of extremes, the Middle Way. Then came Suffering: he drew their attention to the hurt in life with its aches and pains, perpetual tension in the face of ceaseless, unstoppable change, and our abiding selfishness. Not really understanding why were here or what its all about we allow desire to put us at odds with everything. We try to control, we want, and then we dont want. Wanting colours our relationship with everything. This thirst just leads to more thirst, and never satisfied we suffer.
The Buddha went on to say that it might be stopped and furthermore he concluded by explaining how, the practice that can overcome this problem. Many times throughout his long life, before passing away at the age of eighty.
Many people often talk about following the Buddha. But why should we follow the Buddha? What is its basic purpose?
This is something that a Buddhist should understand. The significance and purpose of following the Buddha is to attain perfection. If we can understand thoroughly our purpose in following the Buddha and feel confident that it is essential to follow the Buddhas teaching, then we will tread a true path and learn the essence of Buddhism rather than being side-tracked or practising incorrectly.
What is the purpose of human existence in this world? What
is its meaning? We have to begin by observing ourselves to find
an answer for this question. This is the only way to grasp the
purpose of following the Buddha because Buddhism aims at resolving
the problem of human existence. This aim may be common to all
higher religions, but Buddhism gives a more complete view to the
purpose of life and its meaning.
Birth and death
From the moment we were born to the day of our old age and death, several decades of our life seem to have gone in a split second. Most of us live in ignorance. Where did we come from? Where does death take us to? Nobody can answer these questions. Hence, we can only say that befuddled, we come into being, and befuddled we depart. In confusion we pass our life. More often than not, even our marriage seems a union of accident. Our life career, too, seems often a matter of muddling chance. Seldom is it the result of the execution of a plan carefully designed from the very beginning.
To follow the Buddha is to gain a clear and thorough understanding of this precarious human existence. Without this understanding, we will be like a ship sailing at random in a vast ocean from this shore towards a distant destination and such reckless sailing is extremely dangerous. Buddhism explains where life comes from, and where death leads to. It shows us what we are supposed to do now, in order to land safely on the other shore of light.
As the saying goes:
The benefit of persisting in doing good deeds
All religions advise people to do good deeds and refrain from doing evil. They all promote that, "we should strive to perform all good acts." But what is the benefit of doing good? What is the value of morality? We often say, "Good deeds bring about good rewards, and evil deeds harsh retribution." This is the Law of Cause and Effect. The Chinese expect kind acts to bring rewards largely to their family. They believe that if the parents do good deeds their descendants will live in abundance. Thus the saying: "House of accumulated good deeds shall be blessed with abundance." This contradicts reality! Because a kind and good family may have very wicked children. And many a wicked parent gives birth to children both filial and loyal. Our ancient Emperor Yao (who lived more than 2100 years ago) was a kind and magnanimous person. But his son Dan Zhu was notorious for his arrogance. Again, Gu Sou the Blind, father of Emperor Shun, was stupid and evil, while Emperor Shun was renowned for his filial piety. These are just a couple of examples.
Individually speaking, the wicked always find it easier to secure social reputation and power. However, more often than not, the good are down-trodden and have to lick their wounds in solitude. Was Confucius not a man of high moral and great erudition? Yet, he was nearly starved to death when he was travelling around the warring states in China. Neither did his political ideals met with appreciation. On the other hand, the notorious robber Dao Zhi had practically everything his way at the time. Then how can we say that there is a inexorable law governing reward and retribution of good and evil acts? What is the reason for us to perform good deeds? We can only answer these questions by the Law of Three Birth (past, present and future lives) and Cause and Effect.
Hence, "All religions advise people to do good deeds." In this, their motives are the same, but Buddhism draws a different conclusion. In following the Buddha, we persist in the performance of good deeds. May be our present circumstances are unfavourable and frustrating, but once our good karma (deeds) ripen, they will naturally bear good fruit. If we can perceive the world in this light, then and only then can we consider ourselves to have grasped the spirit of Buddhism.
There is no peace when the mind is not at rest
This restless mind is indeed a source of great suffering. Our mind is at all times craving for satisfaction from external objects: beautiful sights, music, luxurious commodities, profits, fame and power. Why should it be so? Because we seek contentment.
If we live without food and clothing, we will need to obtain money in order to solve the problem of livelihood. But once we have enough food and clothing, we will still be dissatisfied. This time we will seek for food and clothing of better quality. We will want stylish sedans to drive, and a magnificent mansion to live in. When we have all these, we will still remain dissatisfied. The human mind is just like that, forever seeking, never contented. It runs like a galloping horse, no sooner than its rear feet touch the ground, its fore feet are already in the air. Never will its four feet land at the same time.
A discontented mind always feels that the other person has all the advantages. Actually, it is not so. Scholars are discontent because they always seek more knowledge. Even kings who possess unlimited authority are not satisfied and they too have inexpressible sufferings of their own. If we do not find contentment, we will never have peace and happiness. Thus we say, "We have to be content in order to have peace and happiness." Yet the fact remains that the human mind can never be content. So how can there be peace and happiness? Religions in general try to give people comfort and make them content. Giving comfort may also be considered a common denominator of most religions. Some religions preach salvation through faith and say that salvation will naturally bring contentment and peace of mind. However, they can be seen to treat adults like children That is, they will give "toys" to the children if the latter obey their guidance and refrain from crying. In fact the problem remains unsolved, because a discontent mind cannot be satisfied by external gifts.
Buddhism shows us the significance of birth and death, and
what we gain by keeping ourselves busy in our whole life. Buddhism
also shows us the benefits of performing good deeds, and how to
gain inner peace and satisfaction. We must investigate life from
these points of view before we can grasp the core of Buddha-dharma.
Only then can we acquire true peace and happiness.
A product of heaven and earth?
The Chinese view of the human position in the universe seems more reasonable than that of some other religions. Chinese claim that heaven and earth give birth to the human, or that we are the product of the union of yin (the negative principle) and yang (the positive principle). Heaven here stands for the metaphysical or spiritual constituents of the human, while earth represents the physical or corporeal elements. Heaven and earth give birth to all beings. However humans are the only ones endowed with the essence of the natural principles, and are called the most intelligent of all beings. Humans are so great that we are sometimes equated with heaven and earth, and all these three are then called the "Three Potentials".
Thus, the human, standing between heaven and earth, is most noble. This concept is quite different from the Western master-servant relationship. However, can all human beings be equated with heaven and earth? No! Only the saints are capable of assisting heaven and earth in the evolution and development of the world. In addition, Chinese also say, "Heaven and Earth evolve without a mind. The saints, however, suffer with the myriad beings." All these statements serve to indicate the greatness of the saints.
It is a spontaneous act for heaven and earth to give birth to myriad beings. It is a natural phenomenon. It differs to Gods creation of the world because Creation is an act of will. Let there be life! And life there is. When we look at the world from a positive perspective, everything is lovely; flowers in blossom, the singing birds, every single plant and every blade of grass is beautiful. However, if we look at it from a negative perspective, we see big worms eat little worms, and big fish eat little fish. Everyone is hurting and killing each other. We see the scenes of mutual destruction. Is mutual destruction also the purpose of creation?
Confucianism says that the myriad beings are mindless. They are mutually destroying and conflicting; and also mutually assisting and complementing each other. The saints cannot disregard all these happenings and want to share the sorrow of the myriad beings. Heaven and earth represent the natural existence, and the saints and sages represent the humanistic and moral forces.
When the saints see mankind engaged in mutual destruction, they would advocate kindness, love and peace. When they see the masses live in ignorance, they would educate them to behave well. When there is no morality in the world, they would advocate moral disciplines. Everything that is bad in this world, the saints would try their utmost effort to improve it and uplift it to eventual perfection. In this way do all saints assist heaven and earth in their evolution and development.
This concept is more logical than that of some religions, owing to the concept that heaven and earth, or yin and yang, give birth to the human. The Chinese religio-cultural system is one of father-son relationship. The family system is patriarchal (i.e. father is the head of the family). Politically, the king considers his subjects his children, and people call the local magistrate as their "Parent-Officer". In a father-son cultural system, sentiments carry more weight than reason. It differs to master-servant system, as law predominates, the world is harsh and relentless.
To follow the Buddha is an advancement in life
In order to understand the basic purpose of following the Buddha, we must first recognise the value of human existence that we are playing a leading role in the universe. Having recognised this value, we can determine the correct direction of the path to head towards. It is ourselves who cause the human suffering and happiness, and the commotion and tranquillity in the world. There is no external authority who govern our lives. Since we possess such a initiative power, therefore we can uplift ourselves to perform wholesome acts.
To be progressive is to perform wholesome acts step by step until we reach the summit of ultimate truth. This is the purpose of following the Buddha. It is human nature for us to look up to the good. Unless we are confronted with failures in our lives and we are losers, then we may be low in our spirits. Once we give ourselves up we might as well be the scum of the community, but there are not many people acting this way, and there are many opportunities lying ahead waiting for us to discover them and improve ourselves.
"Average" people consider that good things in life consist of a happy family with many children, good health, wealth and holding high social positions, and this is certainly true to some extent. But according to Buddhism, these are good fruits, not the good seeds. If we want to continue to enjoy the good fruits then we must not be content with what we have at the time. This is because good times will eventually come to an end. Only by accumulating good seeds (performing wholesome acts) can we maintain and progress towards a better life.
This may be compared to our actions when we see a beautiful flower. Our greed urges us to pluck it so that it becomes ours instead of taking care and cultivating it. In this way, we may have possession of the flower but we will soon lose it as it is impermanent. In addition, it is also a wrong deed.
Although some people acquire wealth and social status within reasonable means, they exploit others benefits to their advantage. This is because they lack the understanding of the spirit of progressive life. Worse still, they do not establish the right outlook of progressive life.
Some people say, "I do not want to follow the Buddha nor attain Buddhahood. All I want is to be a good person". This is not a right attitude. As the ancient saying goes: "If we follow the best examples, we may end up as moderately good examples. If we follow the moderately good examples, then we may end up even below these". It is right to start following the Buddha by becoming a good person but if we are content in only trying to be good persons, then we may end up as not being such good persons after all. Therefore, to follow the Buddha is not just to be a good person, but we must set up a noble objective to strive to accomplish. And accomplish we must, if not in this time, then we should realise the objective in the future.
Most people think that it is good enough for them to be good
persons. They do not approve of setting goals of uplifting themselves.
The mentality of "muddling along" cannot help them to
improve themselves and make any progress in their lives. If this
is the mentality of the nation or the people, then there is a
crisis of degeneration. Most high religions set a long-term promising
goal. When we see the goal far in front of us, we will long for
it and admire it, and before we accomplish it, we will constantly
improve and uplift ourselves. Then these are the real benefits
that are yielded when we take up and practise a religion.
The essential practice and understanding in following the Buddha
In practising Buddhism from establishing faith to experiencing enlightenment, there are stages of "understanding" and "practice". The terms "practice" and "understanding" are self-explanatory. But there are infinite numbers and boundless ways of understanding and practising Buddhism. Now I will expound only the two most essential points. Regarding "understanding", we must know two things. Firstly, continuity of birth and death, secondly, mutual accretion of all entities.
Continuity of birth and death explains that the life is impermanent and continuous. This is consistent with the truth that all phenomena are impermanent. From childhood to old age, life is continuously changing. Although it is constantly changing, the state in the future is different to the present, the life forms of the present and future are forever inter-connecting, thus life maintains its seemingly identical and continuous individuality.
In a broad sense, death in this life marks the beginning of the next new life. Death is not the end of all existence. For example, when we go to bed tonight, we will wake up tomorrow morning again. Having understood this truth, then we can deeply believe in the Law of Conservation of Karmic Fruit (conditions of rebirth depending on previous karmic conduct). In terms of present time, the success or failure of our undertakings will depend on whether we receive proper upbringing and schooling. In addition, if we do not make an effort at young age to learn and master a skill, or we are not hard at work, then we will have no means to make a living at older age.
Extending this simple principle, it shows that if we do not behave well and fail to cultivate blessed-rewards in this life, then we will face unfavourable living conditions in our future rebirths. In other words, we have to behave well this life so that in future rebirths we will be better off, more intelligent and happy. This fact of continuity of birth and death, and the truth that every phenomenon is impermanent will help us to make an effort to uplift ourselves.
Now we come to mutual accretion of all entities. Here accretion means strengthening or growth through mutual dependence. No person can live independently in a society, as there must be mutual dependence and support among individuals. For example, young children depend on their parents for upbringing and guidance and when the parents grow old, they in turn, will need the support and care from their children. By the same token, all branches of activities in the society, such as agriculture, industry, commerce, politics, depend on the others for its growth.
According to Buddhism, in the universe we have an intimate relationship with all sentient being residing in all dharma-realms (forms of existence). It is possible that other sentient beings have been our parents, brothers and sisters in the infinite past. Due to the influence of karma, our living existence and circumstances now differ to that of the past, therefore we do not recognise each other. When we gain an understanding of mutual accretion, then we can cultivate the virtue of helping and loving each other. This in turn will lead us to a harmonious and happy co-existence with others. Otherwise, we can never achieve world peace and personal happiness if we harm each other, cheat each other, and kill each other. Thus we can play an active role in this world. If we wish to turn this impure world into a pure land, then it depends on whether or not we can start to lead a harmonious and happy life with our fellow sentient being of this world.
Regarding the methods of practice, although there are many, principally they are: purification of ones mind and performance of altruistic acts. To follow the Buddha is to hold the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas as our ideal objective to attain. Our chief aim is the accretion of blessed-rewards, virtues, and wisdom. But we cannot acquire these without practising what the Buddha has taught. The major tenet of practising Buddhism is the purification of our own minds. Since the beginning of time we have deluded our minds with greed, aversion, heterodox views (perverted views), arrogance, and doubt. They all serve as obstacles to prevent us from performing wholesome acts to profit ourselves and others. Thus, to follow the Buddha we must first purify our minds.
The purification of our minds does not require us to abandon all worldly affairs, do nothing and think nothing. We should do and think (i.e. contemplation) anything that is appropriate, however, we should cultivate a wholesome mind to act and think in accordance to the truth so that we can profit ourselves and others. These practices are similar to removing the weeds in a garden. Not only must we totally uproot the weeds so that they will not grow again, but also we must plant flowers and trees for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Hence, Buddhism states that the practice of concentration (dhyana) alone is not sufficient to solve the problems of birth-and-death. We must cultivate both concentration and wisdom at the same time, and sever the mental defilement to attain the fruits of enlightenment. Buddha-dharma states, "All sentient beings are pure if our minds are pure. The world is pure if our minds are pure." These revelations teach the dharma practitioners to purify themselves first. Then they should extend this purification to the world and other sentient beings. Mind-purification is the essential practice among all schools of Buddhism.
Next we can talk about the altruistic acts. According to the principle of mutual accretion, an individual cannot exist away from the masses. In order to find happiness and security for ourselves, we must first seek security and happiness for the masses. In terms of a family, you are one of its members, and in respect to a society, again you are one of its members. Only when the family is happy and secure can you find happiness and security for yourself. If everyone in society is peaceful and happy, then you will have real peace and happiness. This is similar to the observation of sanitary practices. If you care only for the cleanliness within your home, and pay no attention to the sanitation of the surrounding environment, then such sanitation is not thorough.
Thus, in the view of Mahayanists, practises that emphasis on self-benefit and self-liberation only are not ultimate, they are only expedient paths.
The Bodhisattvas emphasise altruistic acts. Altruism is always the first and foremost intention of their every word, every act, every where and every time. Purification of the mind is common to the two-vehicles (Sravakas and Pratyeka -Buddhas) and to put highest emphasis on acts of altruism is a special feature of Mahayana Buddhism. This is a practice that conformed with the spirit of the Buddhas teachings.
In the Buddhist viewpoint, there are 6 different realms we can be reborn into. And beings in each of these states has different degrees of happiness and suffering. These realms are namely:
|The Upper Realms||The Lower Realms|
|Gods ( Deva)||Animals|
These Realms represents 6 different states of existence. Though some cannot be readily seen, they can be experienced. These 6 realms also represent 6 different states of mind a person might continually go through.
It is important to note that in Buddhism, gods are not beings that control or intervene in our daily lives. Rather, they are beings who experience a great deal of happiness as life goes on smoothly for a long time with absence of general suffering. However, this state is only temporal. We all, at one time or other, have had such an experience. When "everything" goes our way, as we wish, we are experiencing a state very similar to the gods.
These are beings who are constantly in an aggressive or competitive state of mind. They have great wealth, yet they are always reaching out, striving for more. In our modern world many of us are not unlike them. We live a generally high standard of life. Yet, we are constantly seeking and reaching out for more endlessly.
In this state we experience a mix of happiness and suffering. It is also in this state that we are able to attain Buddhahood. Thus a Buddhist would strive not to be born as a god but as a human, as it is as a human that we are most able to best practice the Dharma.
The most powerful force acting on animals is ignorance. They are guided mainly by instincts where the preoccupying thoughts are food, sex and material comfort. Many of us have had experiences when craving for food or sex is so strong that we do things that we might regret later. A person who is too preoccupied by these thoughts is thus somewhat bestial or animal in nature.
In the ghost realm, beings are in a state of neurotic desire, and not having them fulfilled. They are always filled with great hunger or thirst. We have often seen people in less fortunate nations in great hunger due to drought or war. Their living is not unlike beings in the ghost realm. Closer to home, many people experience neurotic craving for relationships and cause great pain to both parties.
These beings, of all the realms, are the ones suffering from the most pain. These beings suffer from constant acute physical and mental pain. These descriptions fit the details of the ways in which many prisoners-of-war have been tortured.
The 1st Noble Truth: There are many dissatisfactions
in our life.
The first impression people get from a statement like that is that is it is very pessimistic! It is important to note that the Buddha is not saying that there is only dissatisfaction in life. He is just describing what, precisely, is problematic.
The 2nd Noble Truth: There is a cause to these dissatisfactions.
The 2nd Noble Truth tells us about the causes of these dissatisfactions. Craving and Aversion (Greed and Hatred). It is the dissatisfaction with the present that we want to reach out for something else out of Ignorance. We are thus never truly at peace.
The 3rd Noble Truth: There is a way out of these dissatisfactions.
There is a way out of suffering- this is the reason why Buddhism exists! In Buddhism, we call this state, the complete end of suffering, Nirvana. It is the goal of all Buddhists. The next Noble Truth tell us how to reach this state,
The 4th Noble Truth: The Noble 8 Foldpath.
The 4th Noble Truth provides us with a path and teaches us what practical steps to take in order to attain Nirvana.
The Noble Eightfold Path can be divided into 3 different sections, the 3-Fold Learning:
Good Conduct Buddhist ethics is not a rigid moral code. Nor are they about making judgements and arousing guilt. Rather, Buddhists try to be aware of a particular failing and resolves to do better, striving diligently to live up to Good Conduct.
Right Speech is about not telling lies, avoiding harsh speech, slandering and back-biting. Generally it is about not using our speech faculties in harmful and unproductive ways.
Right Action deals with our behaviour. To live a life where our actions are conducive to the happiness of ourselves and those around us. A lay person may, as part of their commitment to the Buddha's Way,observe the Five Precepts.
Right Livelihood. A good Buddhist does not compromises his integrity by becoming involved in any activities that harm other people, animals or the environment.
Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration bring us fully into the heart of meditation. Meditation is a gradual process of training the Mind to focus on a single object and to remain fixed upon that object without wavering. Constant practice of meditation helps us to develop a calm and concentrated mind. It is important to note that one needs a qualified teacher to guide one when one begins meditation.
Right Effort is required if we are to advance steadily on the spiritual path. It is important to note that spending too much energy, like using too little energy, can also be counter-productive.
Right Understanding refers to the need to understand, both in theory and practice, the Buddha's teachings, testing them against our experiences. Only then can sound faith and confidence arise.
Right Thought is that which motivates our practice- the right reasons. Practice is not for acquiring greater power or wealth, but to advance on the Buddha's path towards Enlightenment and True Happiness for one and all.
Rebirth refers to a one's mind taking one body
after another upon death. Our mind refers to all of our formless
emotional and cognitive experiences.
While we are alive, the body and mind are linked, but at death they separate. The body becomes a corpse, and the mind continues on to take another body. To emphasise the continuity of consciousness, we use the word "mindstream" to refer to our mind. Each person has a separate mind or mindstream.
Our Past Lives
Our minds being obscured by Ignorance finds it difficult to remember the past. Also, many changes occur in our body and mind as we die and are reborn, making recollection difficult. Not remembering something does not mean that it does not exist- we sometimes cannot even remember where we parked our car! However, some people can remember their past lives in meditation or through hypnosis.
Our Mind, that carries over from life to life has no beginning- its continuity is infinite.
Each moment of our Mind is a continuation of the previous moment. Who we are and what we think and feel depends on who we were yesterday. Our present mind is a continuation of the past mind. One moment of our Mind was caused by the previous moment of our Mind. This continuity can be traced back to childhood and even to when we were a foetus in our Mother's womb. Even before the time of conception, our mindstream existed in another body.
Reasons that causes Rebirth
Although all sentient beings have the Buddha nature or Buddha potential, their minds are clouded by Ignorance since beginning-less time. From Ignorance springs Craving and Aversion, which cause us to continually crave for life and its illusory pleasures while hating death and other displeasures. Each moment of Ignorance was produced from the preceding moment without a beginning. Although Ignorance has no beginning, it can be eradicated through the attainment of Wisdom in Enlightenment.
Is Being Reborn Good?
The idea of rebirth can be very comforting as it offers chances to amend the mistakes you have made in this life and time to further develop the skills and abilities you have nurtured in this life.
If we fail to attain Enlightenment in this life, you will have the opportunity to try again next time. If you have made mistakes in this life, you will be able to learn from your mistakes. Things you were unable to do or achieve in this life may well become possible in the next life.
Ultimately, the aim of the Buddhist is to end the wheel of rebirth- to be released from the cycle of birth and death. Out of Compassion, one who is released can also help to show others the path to liberation.
Factors that decides how I'm Reborn
The most important factor influencing where we will be reborn and what sort of life we shall have is Karma- our intentional physical and mental actions.
What we are is determined very much by how we have thought and acted in the past. Likewise, how we think and act now will influence how we will be in the future. A gentle loving person tends to be reborn in a heaven realm or as a human being who has a predominance of pleasant experiences. The anxious, worried or extremely cruel person tends to be reborn in a hell realm or as a human who has a predominance of painful experiences. The person who develops obsessive craving, fierce longings, and burning ambitions that can never be satisfied tends to be reborn as a hungry ghost or as a human being frustrated by longing and wanting. Whatever mental habits are strongly developed in this life will continue in the next life.
What Does Rebirth Explain?
Karma and rebirth together explain many "unsolved" mysteries:
1.The inequality of Mankind and their experiences (Even twins
are different in character)
2.Talents of geniuses and child prodigies
3.Spontaneous arising of instinctive likes and dislikes in infants
4.Intellectual differences between parents and their children
5.Sudden outbursts of emotion and changes in character
6.Untimely death and unexpected changes in fortune
Can I Decide Where I'm Reborn?
Yes- that is why one of the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path is Perfect Effort. It depends on our sincerity, how much energy we exert and how strong the habit is. Some people simply go through life under the influence of their past habits, without making an effort to change them and falling victim to these unpleasant results. Such people will continue to suffer unless they change their negative habits. The longer the negative habits remain, the more difficult they are to change.
The Buddhist understands this and takes advantage of each and every opportunity to break mental habits that have unpleasant results and to develop mental habits that have a pleasant and happy result. Meditation is one of the techniques used to modify the habit patterns of the Mind as does speaking or refraining to speaking, acting or refraining to act in certain ways.
Karma means action. It refers to the intentional
deeds we do with our body, speech and mind through action, talking
and thinking. Karma is the law that every willed deed, given the
conditions, produces a certain effect. How does Karma Work?
All deeds leave imprints or seeds on our consciousness, which ripen into our experiences when the appropriate conditions come together. For example, if we help someone with a kind heart, this action leaves an imprint on our mindstream. When conditions are suitable, this imprint will ripen in our receiving of help when we need it.
Karmic seeds continue with us from lifetime to lifetime. However, if we do not create the cause or Karma for something, we won't experience that result. If one doesn't plant a certain seed, that plant will not grow.
The Effects of Karma
Karma affects our future rebirths and influences what we experience during our lives: how others treat us, our wealth, social status etc. Karma also affects our personality and character: our talents, strong personality traits and habits. The kind of environment we are born into is also influenced by Karma.
Different kinds of Karma
If an action brings pain and misery in the long term for oneself and others, it is unwholesome or negative Karma. And if it brings happiness, it is wholesome or positive Karma. Actions aren't inherently good or bad - they are only so according to the results they bring. Whatever happiness and fortune we experience in our lives comes from our own positive actions, while our problems result from our own negative actions.
There is no one that decides the "rewards and punishments" for what we do. We create the causes of our actions, and we experience their results. We are responsible for our own experience. The Buddha discovered the law of Karma- He did not create it. By teaching us the law of Karma, the Buddha shows us how to work within the functioning of cause and effect in order to experience happiness and avoid pain.
Is Everything Subject to Karma?
The law of Karma does not apply to "mindless" actions such as walking, sitting or sleeping. Such actions do not produce effects apart from the actions themselves. However, Karma applies to the thoughts the person is thinking when he is doing them. Similarly, accidents are considered neutral action (Karma) because they are unintentional. However, we should always work towards increasing our mindfulness so that accidents will not occur. It'll be Fair
When we see dishonest people who are wealthy, or cruel people who are powerful, or kind people who die young, we may doubt the law of Karma. But many of the results we experience in this life are the results of actions in previous lives, and many of the actions we do in this life will only ripen in future lives- this is called long-term Karma. (Short-term Karma is that which show results within a short term of time.)
The wealth of dishonest people is the result of their generosity in past lives. Their current dishonesty is however, leaving karmic seeds for them to be cheated and to experience poverty in future lives. Likewise, the respect and authority given to cruel people is due to positive actions they did in the past. In the present, they are abusing their power, thus creating the cause for future pain. Those who die young are experiencing the result of negative actions such as killing done in past lives. However, their present kindness is planting seeds or imprints on their mindstreams for them to experience happiness in the future.
Ways to purify Negative Karma
Purification is very important as it prevents future suffering and relieves guilt. By purifying our minds, we are able to be more peaceful and understand the Dharma better.
The four opponent powers used to purify negative imprints
or seeds are:
2.Determination Not to Repeat the Action
3.Taking the Threefold Refuge and Generating Compassion towards Others
4.Actual Remedial Practice (Any Positive Action- including Meditation and Chanting)
The four opponent powers must be done repeatedly. As we have done many negative actions, we cannot, expect to counteract all of them at once. The stronger the four opponents powers are, the firmer our determination not to repeat the action and the more powerful the purification will be.
Does Karma Influence Whom We Meet?
Yes- but this does not mean that relationships are predetermined. We may have certain karmic predispositions to feel close to or to have friction with certain people. But, this does not mean that our relationships with them must continue along the same lines. If we are kind to those who speak ill of us and try to communicate with them, the relationships will change - creating positive Karma that will bring happiness in the future.
We are not karmically bound to others- there are no special people who are the one and only one for us. Since we had many past lives, we have had contact with every being sometime before. Our relationship with any particular person also changes constantly. However, past karmic connections can influence our present relationships. For example, if someone has been our spiritual mentor in a past life, we may be drawn to that person in this lifetime, and when he or she teaches us the
If Others Suffer Due out of Negative Karma, Can We Help
We know what it is like to feel miserable, and that is exactly how others feel when they are experiencing the results of their own destructive actions. Out of empathy and compassion, we should definitely help! Though others created the causes to experience their difficulties, maybe they also created the cause to receive help from us! We are all alike in wanting happiness and trying to avoid pain. It does not matter whose pain or problem it is- we should try to relieve it. For example, to think, "The poor are poor because of their own past lives' miserliness. I would be interfering with their karma if I tried to help", is a cruel misconception. We should never rationalise our own laziness, apathy or smugness by misinterpreting cause and effect. Compassion and universal responsibility are important for our own spiritual development and for world peace.
Karma can be change from you
Karma is not inflexibly fixed- it does not mean fate or predetermination. Intentional actions will at some time or other produce their effects under certain conditions. Though people in their present lives are experiencing the effects of their past actions (Karma), it is possible to change or reduce the effects of these past actions through present actions, which affect the immediate future and future lives. Understanding the law of Karma helps one realise that we are whatever we make ourselves to be. Our are entirely responsible for our destiny.
Upon the Full Moon of the month of Visakha, now more than two thousand five hundred years ago, the religious wanderer known as Gotama, formerly Prince Siddhartha and heir to the throne of the Sakiyan peoples, by his full insight into the Truth called Dharma which is this mind and body, became the One Perfectly Enlightened by himself. His Enlightenment or Awakening, called Sambodhi, abolished in himself unknowing and craving, destroyed greed, aversion and delusion in his heart, so that "vision arose, super-knowledge arose, wisdom arose, discovery arose, light arose - a total penetration into the mind and body, its origin, its cessation and the way to its cessation which was at the same time complete understanding of the "world," its origin, its cessation and the way to its cessation. He penetrated to the Truth underlying all existence. In meditative concentration throughout one night, but after years of striving, from being a seeker, He became "the One-who-Knows, the One-who-Sees."
When He came to explain His great discovery to others, He did so in various ways suited to the understanding of those who listened and suited to help relieve the problems with which they were burdened. He knew with his Great Wisdom exactly what these were even if his listeners were not aware of them, and out of His Great Compassion taught Dhamma for those who wished to lay down their burdens. The burdens which men, indeed all beings, carry round with them are no different now from the Buddha-time. For then as now men were burdened with unknowing and craving. They did not know of the Four Noble Truths nor of Dependent Arising and they craved for fire and poison and were then as now, consumed by fears.
The not-understanding of Dependent Arising is the root of all sorrows experienced by all beings. It is also the most important of the formulations of Lord Buddhas Enlightenment. For a Buddhist it is therefore most necessary to see into the heart of this for oneself. This is done not be reading about it nor by becoming expert in scriptures, nor by speculations upon ones own and others concepts but by seeing Dependent Arising in ones own life and by coming to grips with it through calm and insight in ones "own" mind and body.
This Pali word "avijja" is a negative term meaning "not knowing completely" but it does not mean "knowing nothing at all." This kind of unknowing is very special and not concerned with ordinary ways or subjects of knowledge, for here what one does not know are the Four Noble Truths, one does not see them clearly in ones own heart and ones own life.
In past lives, we did not care to see 'dukkha' (1), so we could not destroy 'the cause of dukkha' (2) or craving which has impelled us to seek more and more lives, more and more pleasures. 'The cessation of dukkha' (3) which perhaps could have been seen by us in past lives, was not realised, so we come to the present existence inevitably burdened with dukkha. And in the past we can hardly assume that we set our feet upon the 'practice-path leading to the cessation of dukkha' (4) and we did not even discover Stream-entry. We are now paying for our own negligence in the past.
And this unknowing is not some kind of first cause in the past, for it dwells in our hearts now. But due to this unknowing, as we shall see, we have set in motion this wheel bringing round old age and death and all other sorts of dukkha. Those past "selves" in previous lives who are in the stream of my individual continuity did not check their craving and so could not cut at the root of unknowing. On the contrary they made karma, some of the fruits of which in this present life I, as their causal resultant, am receiving. Depending on the existence of unknowing in the heart there was volitional action, karma or abhisankhara, made in those past lives.
VOLITIONAL FORMATIONS (sankhara)
Intentional actions have the latent power within them to bear fruit in the future - either in a later part of the life in which they were performed, in the following life, or in some more distant life, but their potency is not lost with even the passing of aeons; and whenever the necessary conditions obtain that past kamma may bear fruit. Now, in past lives we have made karma, and due to our ignorance of the Four Noble Truths we have been "world-upholders" and so making good and evil karma we have ensured the continued experience of this world.
Beings like this, obstructed by unknowing in their hearts have been compared to a potter making pots: he makes successful and beautiful pottery (skillful karma) and he is sometimes careless and his pots crack and break up from various flaws (unskillful karma). And he gets his clay fairly well smeared over himself just as purity of heart is obscured by the mud of karma. The simile of the potter is particularly apt because the word 'Sankhara' means "forming," "shaping," and "compounding," and therefore it has often been rendered in English as "Formations." Depending on the existence of these volitions produced in past lives, there arises the Consciousness called "relinking" which becomes the basis of this present life.
This consciousness may be of different qualities, according to the karma upon which it depends. In the case of all those who read this, the consciousness "leaping" into a new birth at the time of conception, was a human relinking consciousness arising as a result of having practiced at least the Five Precepts, the basis of "humanness" in past lives. One should note that this relinking consciousness is a resultant, not something which can be controlled by will. If one has not made karma suitable for becoming a human being, one cannot will, when the time of death comes round, "Now I shall become a man again!" The time for intentional action was when one had the opportunity to practice Dharma. Although our relinking- consciousness in this birth is now behind us, it is now that we can practice Dharma and make more sure of a favourable relinking consciousness in futurethat is, if we wish to go on living in Samsara. This is the third constituent necessary for conception, for even though it is the mothers period and sperm is deposited in the womb, if there is no "being" desiring to take rebirth at that place and time there will be no fertilisation of the ovum.
MIND - BODY (nama-rupa)
There is more included in rupa that is usually thought of as body, while mind is a compound of feeling, perception, volition and consciousness. This mind and body is two interactive continuities in which there is nothing stable. Although in conventional speech we talk of "my mind" and "my body," implying that there is some sort of owner lurking in the background, the wise understand that laws govern the workings of both mental states and physical changes and mind cannot be ordered to be free of defilements, nor body told that it must not grow old, become sick and die. But it is in the mind that a change can be wrought instead of drifting through life at the mercy of the inherent instability of mind and body. With the coming into existence of mind-body, there is the arising of the Six Sense-spheres.
SIX SENSE - SPHERES (salayatana)
These six senses are eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mind, and these are the bases for the reception of the various sorts of information which each can gather in the presence of the correct conditions. This information falls under six headings corresponding to the six spheres: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles and thoughts. Beyond these six spheres of sense and their corresponding six objective spheres, we know nothing. All our experience is limited by the senses and their objects with the mind counted as the sixth. The five outer senses collect data only in the present but mind, the sixth, where this information is collected and processed, ranges through the three times adding memories from the past and hopes and fears for the future, as well as thoughts of various kinds relating to the present. It may also add information about the spheres of existence which are beyond the range of the five outer senses, such as the various heavens, the ghosts and the hell-states. A mind developed through collectedness (samadhi) is able to perceive these worlds and their inhabitants. The six sense-spheres existing, there is Contact.
This means the contact between the six senses and the respective objects. For instance, when the necessary conditions are all fulfilled, there being an eye, a sight-object, light and the eye being functional and the person awake and turned toward the object, there is likely to be eye-contact, the striking of the object upon the sensitive eye-base. The same is true for each of the senses and their type of contact. In dependence on sensuous impressions, arises the Feeling.
When there have been various sorts of contact through the six senses, feelings arise which are the emotional response to those contacts. Feelings are of three sorts: pleasant, painful and neither pleasant nor painful. The first are welcome and are the basis for happiness, the second are unwelcome and are the basis for dukkha while the third are the neutral sort of feelings which we experience so often but hardly notice. But all feelings are unstable and liable to change, for no mental state can continue in equilibrium. Even moments of the highest happiness whatever we consider this is, pass away and give place to different ones. So even happiness which is impermanent based on pleasant feelings is really dukkha, for how can the true unchanging happiness be found in the unstable? When feelings arise, Cravings are (usually) produced.
Craving, leads to the making of new karma in the present and it is possible now, and only now, to practice Dharma. What is needed here is mindfulness (sati), for without it no Dharma at all can be practiced while one will be swept away by the force of past habits and let craving and unknowing increase themselves within ones heart. When one does have mindfulness one may and can know "this is pleasant feeling," "this is unpleasant feeling," "this is neither pleasant nor unpleasant feeling"and such contemplation of feelings leads one to understand and beware of greed, aversion and delusion, which are respectively associated with the three feelings. With this knowledge one can break out of the Wheel of Birth and Death. But without this Dharma-practice it is certain that feelings will lead on to more cravings and whirl one around this wheel full of dukkha.
Upadana is fourfold:
1. Attachment to sensual pleasures
2. Attachment to wrong and evil views
3. Attachment to mere external observances, rites and rituals
4. Attachment to self, an erroneous lasting soul entity.
Man entertains thoughts of craving, and in proportion as he fails to ignore them, they grow till they get intensified to the degree of tenacious clinging.
This is an intensification and diversification of craving which is directed to four ends: sensual pleasures, views which lead astray from Dharma, external religious rites and vows, and attachment to the view of soul or self as being permanent. When these become strong in people they cannot even become interested in Dharma, for their efforts are directed away from Dharma and towards dukkha. The common reaction is to redouble efforts to find peace and happiness among the objects which are grasped at. Wherever this grasping is found, Becoming is to be seen.
With hearts boiling with craving and grasping, people ensure for themselves more and more of various sorts of life, and pile up the fuel upon the fire of dukkha. The ordinary person, not knowing about dukkha, wants to stoke up the blaze, but the Buddhist way of doing things is to let the fires go out for want of fuel by stopping the process of craving and grasping and thus cutting off Ignorance at its root. If we want to stay in samsara we must be diligent and see that our 'becoming', which is happening all the time shaped by our karma, is 'becoming' in the right direction. This means 'becoming' in the direction of purity and following the white path of Dharma-practice. This will contribute to whatever we become, or do not become, at the end of this life when the pathways to the various realms stand open and we 'become' according to our practice and to our death-consciousness. In the presence of Becoming, there is also arising in a new birth.
Birth means the appearance of the five aggregates (material form, feeling, perception, formation and consciousness)in the mothers womb.
Birth, as one might expect, is shown as a mother in the process of childbirth, a painful business and a reminder of how dukkha cannot be avoided in any life. Whatever the future life is to be, if we are not able to bring the wheel to a stop in this life, certainly that future will arise conditioned by the karma made in this life. But it is no use thinking that since there are going to be future births, one may as well put off Dharma practice until thenfor it is not sure what those future births will be like. And when they come around, they are just the present moment as well.
AGEING AND DEATH (jara-marana)
In future one is assured, given enough of Unknowing and Craving, of lives without end but also of deaths with end. The one appeals to greed but the other arouses aversion. One without the other is impossible. But this is the path of heedlessness. The Dhamma-path leads directly to Deathlessness, the going beyond birth and death, beyond all dukkha.
Many special or holy days are held throughout the year by the Buddhist community.
They celebrate the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana
tradition or other significant dates in the Buddhist calendar.
Buddhist Festivals are always joyful occasions. Typically on a festival day, lay people will go the the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks and take the Five Precepts and listen to a Dharma talk.
In the afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to make merit and in the evening join perhaps in a ceremony of circumambulation a stupa three time as a sign of respect to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. The day will conclude with evening chanting of the Buddha's teachings and meditation.
Buddhist New Year
In Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Lao, the new year is celebrated for three days from the first full moon day in April. However, the Buddhist New Year depends on the country of origin or ethnic background of the people. As for Chinese; Koreans and Vietnamese, they celebrate late January or early February according to the lunar calendar while the Tibetans usually celebrate about one month later.
Vesak or Visakah Puja (Buddha Day)
Buddha's Birthday is known as Vesak or Visakah Puja (Buddha's Birthday Celebrations). Vesak is the major Buddhist festival of the year as it celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha on the one day, the first full moon day in May, except in a leap year when the festival is held in June. This celebration is called Vesak being the name of the month in the Indian calendar.
Avalokitesvaras (Kuan Yin) Birthday
This is a festival which celebrates the Bodhisattva ideal represented by Avalokitesvara. Who represents the perfection of compassion in the Mahayana traditions of Tibet and China. It occurs on the full moon day in March.
Uposatha (Observance Day) The four monthly holy days which continue to be observed in Theravada countries - the new moon, full moon, and quarter moon days. It is known in Sri Lanka as Poya Day.
Asalha Puja Day (Dhamma Day) Asalha Puja means to pay homage to the Buddha on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month. It commemorates the Buddha's first teaching: the turning of the wheel of the Dhamma (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) to the five ascetics at the Deer Park (Sarnath) near Benares city, India. Where Kondanna, the senior ascetic attained the first level of enlightenment.
Ulambana (Ancestor Day)
It is celebrated throughout the Mahayana tradition from the first to the fifteenth days of the eighth lunar month. It is believed that the gates of Hell are opened on the first day and the ghosts may visit the world for fifteen days. Food offerings are made during this time to relieve the sufferings of these ghosts.
Ulambana or Ancestor Day On the fifteenth day, Ulambana or Ancestor Day, people visit cemeteries to make offerings to the departed ancestors. Ulambana is also known as Obon (Japanese Buddhist festival) beginning on the thirteenth of July and lasting for three days, which celebrates the reunion of family ancestors with the living.
Magha Puja Day (Fourfold Assembly or Sangha Day)
Magha Puja Day is on the full moon day of the third lunar month
(March). This day is observed to commemorate an important event
in the life of the Buddha. This event occurred early in the Buddha's
After the first Rains Retreat (Vassa) at the Deer Park at Sarnath, the Buddha went to Rajagaha city where 1250 Arahats, (Enlightened saints) who were the Buddha's disciples, without prior appointment, returned from their wanderings to pay respect to the Buddha. They assembled in the Veruvana Monastery with the two chief disciples of the Buddha, Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Moggalana.
The Fourfold Assembly consisted of four factors:
(1) All 1250 were Arahats
(2) All of them were ordained by the Buddha himself
(3) They assembled by themselves without any prior call
(4) It was the full moon day of Magha month (March).
Kathina Ceremony (Robe offering ceremony)
It is held on any convenient date within one month of the conclusion of the Vassa Retreat, which is the three month rains retreat season (Vassa) for the monastic order. It is the time of the year when new robes and other requisites may be offered by the laity to the monks.
The Festival of the Tooth
Kandy is a beautiful city in Sri Lanka. On a small hill is a great temple which was especially built to house a relic of the Buddha - his tooth. The tooth can never be seen, aas it is kept deep inside may caskets. But once a year in August, on the night of the full moon, there is a special procession for it.
The Elephant Festival
The Buddha used the example of a wild elephant which, when it is caught, is harnessed to a tame one to train. In the same way, he said, a person new to Buddhism should have a special friendship of an older Buddhist. To mark this saying, Thais hold an elephant festival on the third Saturday in November.
In the Burmese tradition, this is the occasion when the Buddha is said to have gone to the Tushita Heaven to teach his mother the Abhidhamma. It is held on the full moon of the seventh month of the Burmese lunar year starting in April which corresponds to the full moon day in October.
This day marks the conclusion of the Rains retreat (vassa). In the following month, the kathina ceremony is held, during which the laity gather to make formal offerings of robe cloth and other requisites to the Sangha.
This Thai Buddhist festival goes on for several days during the middle of April. People clean their houses and wash their clothes and enjoy sprinkling perfumed water on the monks, novices and other people for at least two or three days. They gather around the riverbank, carrying fishes in jars to put into the water, for April is so hot in Thailand that the ponds dry out and the fish would die if not rescued. People go to the beach or river bank with jars or buckets of water and splash each other. When everyone is happily wet they are usually entertained by boat races on the river.
Loy Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls)
At the end of the Kathin Festival season, when the rivers and canals are full of water, the Loy Krathong Festival takes place in all parts of Thailand on the full moon night of the Twelfth Lunar month. People bring bowls made of leaves (which contain flowers) candles and incense sticks, and float them in the water. As they go, all bad luck is suppose to disappear. The traditional practice of Loy Krathong was meant to pay homage to the holy footprint of the Buddha on the beach of the Namada River in India.
The Ploughing Festival
In May, when the moon is half-full, two white oxen pull a gold painted plough, followed by four girls dressed in white who scatter rice seeds from gold and silver baskets. This is to celebrate the Buddha's first moment of enlightenment, which is said to have happened when the Buddha was seven years old, when he had gone with his father to watched the ploughing.
At the end of one rains retreat (vassa), the Buddha was so pleased with the progress of the assembled monks that he encouraged them to extend their retreat for yet another month. On the full-moon day marking the end of that fourth month of retreat, he presented his now-famous instructions on mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati).
Theravadins Buddhist follow the Indian custom of burning
the body at death. The Buddhas body was cremated
and this set the example for many Buddhists, even in the West.
When someone is dying in a Burmese home, monks come to comfort
them. They chant verses to them, such as:
"Even the gorgeous royal chariots wear out; and indeed this body too wears out. But the teaching of goodness does not age; and so Goodness makes that known to the good ones."
After death, while the dead person is being prepared for the funeral fire, the monks continue to chant in order to help the dead ones good energies to be released from their fading personality. The monks come with the family to the funeral. The family and all their friends give food and candles to the monks. Goodwill is created by these gifts and it is believed that the goodwill helps the lingering spirit of the dead person.
In Tibet, a Mahayana country, the day of death is thought of as highly important. It is believed that as soon as the death of the body has taken place, the personality goes into a state of trance for four days. During this time the person does not know they are dead. This period is called the First Bardo and during it lamas (monks) saying special verses can reach the person to them.
It is believed that towards the end of this time the dead person will see a brilliant light. If the radiance of the Clear Light does not terrify them, and they can welcome it, then the person will not be reborn. But most flee from the Light, which then fades.
The person then becomes conscious that death has occurred. At this point the Second Bardo begins. The person sees all that they have ever done or thought passing in front of them. While they watch they feel they have a body but when they realize this is not so, they long to possess one again. Then comes the Third Bardo, which is the state of seeking another birth. All previous thoughts and actions direct the person to choose new parents, who will give them their next body.
Traditional Chinese Funeral Arrangements
(Form of the Funeral Ceremony)
There are two main traditions that are observed:
The funeral ceremony, traditionally lasts over 49 days, the
first seven days being the most important. Prayers are said every
seven days for 49 days if the family can afford it. If the family
is in poor circumstances, the period may be shortened to from
3 to 7 days. Usually, it is the responsibility of the daughters
to bear the funeral expenses. The head of the family should be
present for, at least the first and, possibly the second, prayer
ceremony. The number of ceremonies conducted is dependent on the
financial situation of the family. The head of the family should
also be present for the burial or the cremation.
In the second tradition, the prayer ceremony is held every 10 days. The initial ceremony and three succeeding periods of ten days until the final burial or cremation.
After 100 days a final prayer ceremony is conducted, but such a ceremony is optional and not as important as the initial ceremonies.
In the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, to which most Chinese Buddhists subscribe, it is believed that, between death and rebirth, there is an intermediate period called Antarabhava in Sanskrit or the Bardo in Tibetan. It is an important period which has an influence on the form that the rebirth shall take. If the family ensures that proper assistance in the form of prayer and remembrance ceremonies are duly performed, the departed is better able to take a favourable rebirth.
Buddhist Funeral Rites
(as practiced in Thailand and other South East Asian Countries)
Funeral rites are the most elaborate of all the life-cycle ceremonies and the ones entered into most fully by the monks. It is a basic teaching of Buddhism that existence is suffering, whether birth, daily living, old age or dying. This teaching is never in a stronger position than when death enters a home. Indeed Buddhism may have won its way the more easily in Thailand because it had more to say about death and the hereafter than had animism.
The people rely upon monks to chant the sutras that will benefit the deceased, and to conduct all funeral rites and memorial services. To conduct the rites for the dead may be considered the one indispensable service rendered the community by the monks. For this reason the crematory in each large temple has no rival in secular society.
The idea that death is suffering, relieved only by the knowledge that it is universal, gives an underlying mood of resignation to funerals: Among a choice few, there is the hope of Nibbana with the extinction of personal striving; among the vast majority there is the expectation of rebirth either in this world, in the heaven of Indra or some other, or in another plane of existence, possibly as a spirit. Over the basic mood of gloom there has grown up a feeling that meritorious acts can aid the condition of the departed. Not all the teaching of Anatta (not self) can quite eradicate anxiety lest the deceased exist as pretas or as beings suffering torment. For this reason relatives do what they can to ameliorate their condition.
According to tradition, when a person is dying an effort should be made to fix his mind upon the Buddhist scriptures or to get him to repeat one of the names of Buddha, such as Phra Arahant. The name may be whispered in his ear if the person is far gone. Sometimes four syllables which are considered the heart of the Abhidharma, ci, ce, ru, and ni, representing "heart, mental concepts, form and Nibbana" are written on a piece of paper and put in the mouth of the dying man. It is hoped that if the last thoughts of the patient are directed to Buddha and the precepts, that the fruit of this meritorious act will bring good to the deceased in his new existence. In a village, at the moment of death, the relatives may set up a wailing both to express sorrow and to notify the neighbors who will then come to be of help.
After death a bathing ceremony takes place in which relatives and friends pour water over one hand of the deceased. The body is then placed in a coffin and surrounded with wreaths, candles and sticks of incense. If possible a photograph of the deceased is placed alongside, and colored lights are suspended about the coffin: Sometimes the cremation is deferred for a week to allow distant relatives to attend or to show special honor to the dead. In this case a chapter of monks comes to the house one or more times each day to chant from the Abhidharma, sometimes holding the bhusa yong, a broad ribbon, attached to the coffin. Food is offered to the officiating monks as part of the merit-making for the deceased.
The food offered in the name of the dead is known as Matakabhatta from mataka ("one who is dead"). The formula of presentation is:
Reverend Sirs, we humbly beg to present this mataka food and these various gifts to the Sangha. May the Sangha receive this food and these gifts of ours in order that benefits and happiness may come to us to the end of time.
At an ordinary funeral in northern Thailand the cremation takes place within three days. The neighbors gather nightly to feast, visit, attend the services and play games with cards and huge dominos. The final night is the one following the cremation. On the day of the funeral or orchestra is employed and every effort is made to banish sorrow, loneliness and the fear of spirits by means of music and fellowship. Before the funeral procession begins the monks chant a service at the home and then precede the coffin down the steps of the house, - stairs which are sometimes carpeted with banana leaves. It is felt that the body should not leave the house by the usual route, but instead of removing the coffin through a hole in the wall or floor, which is sometimes done, the front stairs are covered with green leaves to make that route unusual.
A man carrying a white banner on a long pole often leads the procession to the crematorium grounds. He is followed by some elderly men carrying flowers in silver bowls and then by a group of eight to ten monks walking ahead of the coffin and holding a broad ribbon (bhusa yong) which extend to the deceased. Often one of the monks repeats portions of the Abhidharma en route.
The coffin may be carried by pall bearers or conveyed in a funeral car drawn by a large number of friends and relatives who feel that they are performing their last service for the deceased and engaged in a meritorious act while doing so. If the procession is accompanied by music the players may ride in ox carts or in a motor truck at the rear. During the service at the cemetery the monks sit facing the coffin on which rest the Pangsukula robes. After the chanting the coffin is placed on a pyre made of brick; the people then come up with lighted torches of candles, incense and fragrant wood and toss them beneath the coffin so that the actual cremation takes place at once. Later the ashes may be collected and kept in an urn.
Frequently the bodies of prominent or wealthy persons are kept for a year or more in a special building at a temple. Cremations are deferred this long to show love and respect for the deceased and to perform religious rites which will benefit the departed. In such cases a series of memorial services are held on the seventh, fiftieth, and hundredth days after the death. In one instance a wealthy merchant did not cremate the body of his daughter until he had spent all her inheritance in merit making services for her. Another merchant spent the ten thousand baht insurance money received on the death of his small son entirely for religious ceremonies.
As along as the body is present the spirit can benefit by the gifts presented the sermons preached and the chants uttered before it. This thought lies back of the use of the bhusa yhong ribbon which extends from the body within the coffin to the chanting monks before it. The dead may thus have contact with the holy sutras. When the body is cremated the spirit is more definitely cut off from the world, it is best therefore not to force that spirit to enter the preta world finally and irrevocably until it has had the benefit of a number of religious services designed to improve its status.
At cremations it is quite common for wealthy people to have printed for distribution books and pamphlets setting forth Buddhist teachings in the form of essays, translation of the sutras, historical sketches and explanations of ceremonies. Such books, numbering in the thousands, are not only a tribute to the dead and a means of making merit but they have practical value as well.