About Performing RecitationBuddhism Your Questions Answered (171 FAQ)

Q&A 74. Performing recitations for family and friends on their deathbed

Q: Master Lu, as practitioners­­ of Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door, what should we do when someone is approaching life’s end?  Which sutras and mantras should we recite? After a person’s death, what is the proper ritual? How should we perform “end-of-life chanting”?
How long should we keep the body before the cremation? What should we prepare before and after the cremation? What should we do after it? What should we do within the 49 days after the death? Please kindly advise.

A:­­

  • When approaching the end of one’s life, the most important thing for practitioners of Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door to do is to keep thinking of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. As Guan Yin Bodhisattvais one of the Three Saints of the Western Pure Land; the Bodhisattvacan come and lead you to the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss if that is where you wish to go.
  • As a person comes close to death, whether they are at home or in hospital, they must keep Guan Yin Bodhisattvain mind and perform recitations if they are able to. Their family members and friends may perform end-of-life chanting alongside them at this time, that is, recite the Great Compassion Mantra, the Heart Sutra and the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance. These three sutras and mantras are the core of Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door. Once they are recited, Guan Yin Bodhisattva will certainly see, hear and know about it.
  • At the same time, the person needs to think and pray as follows: “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva protect and bless me, <the person’s full name>, allow me to transcend the cycle of rebirth within the six realms of existence, I want to be withGuan Yin Bodhisattva”. Meanwhile, their family members and relatives also need to pray as follows: “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva protect and bless him/her, <the person’s full name>, help him/her to transcend the cycle of rebirth within the six realms of existence, and ascend to the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss or the Four Sagely Realms”.
  • As for which realm this person will be reborn into, it is mainly determined by how much karma they carry, and the sum of their blessings and virtues.  A person with a good foundation for attaining Buddhahood and few karmic obstacles, with the assistance of “end-of-life chanting”, is likely to ascend to the Four Sagely Realms, including Sravaka (Hearer), Pratyekabuddha (Those enlightened to conditions), Bodhisattva, etc., or the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.
  • People who pass away with a terminal illness normally have heavier karmic obstacles. Those people are more likely to be reborn into the Three Evil Paths (three lower realms). If no one helps them ascend to a higher spiritual realm by reciting Buddhist scriptures, it would be very difficult for them to even be reborn into the human realm. In such cases, reciting the Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra (Wang Sheng Zhou) when they pass away should be able to help them be reborn into the human realm soon.
  • During the final hours, it is best if family members can stay with the person.  Within 8 hours after his or her passing, avoid touching or moving the body, and try not to cry. At this time, the family members should perform end-of-life chanting for the deceased softly, including the Great Compassion Mantra, the Heart Sutra, the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance, the Amitabha Sutra, and reciting the name of Guan Yin Bodhisattvaor the name of Amitabha Buddha(i.e. “Namo the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva” or “Namo Amitabha Buddha”). Meanwhile, recite and burn as many Little Houses as possible.
  • You may regularly accumulate recitations of the Great Compassion Mantra, the Heart Sutra, the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great RepentanceCundi Dharanithe Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth MantraGong De Bao Shan Shen Zhou and Amitabha Sutra by using the Self-Cultivation Record Forms. Burning these Self-Cultivation Record Forms at the end of someone’s life will make it easier for the deceased to ascend to a higher spiritual realm.
  • While it is alright to use a Buddhist chanting player, it is best to perform the recitation by yourself.
  • The family members can usually find out which realm the deceased will be reborn into by checking the temperature of various parts of the body. If the head is the last part to become cold, then the person would likely ascend to heaven.  If the feet are the last to become cold, then the person would likely go into the underworld. If the naval area is the last part to become cold, then the person would likely be reborn into the animal realm. If the chest area is the last part to become cold, then the person would likely be reborn into the human realm.
  • Within 49 days after the death, the spirit tablet or picture of the deceased can be placed on a separate altar for the family members to make offerings. After making daily offerings for the first seven days after the passing, you can invite the spirit tablet or picture off the altar, wrap and store it properly.

On every 7th day thereafter until the 49th day (that is, the 7th, 14th, …, 49th day), place the spirit tablet or picture on the altar (a different altar from the Buddhist one) again and make offerings. It is best to avoid putting the spirit tablet or picture on the altar in the home continuously. Making continuous offerings will not only cause the house to have a lot of Yin energy, but also cause other spirits to visit the house if the deceased does not, making the house to be filled with Yin energy. Therefore, beyond 49 days after the passing of the deceased, it is recommended that the spirit tablet or picture be wrapped with red fabric and stored flat. Otherwise, other spirits may come and occupy the tablet or picture, causing unrest in your home.

On important occasions such as the anniversary date of the deceased’s death (as per the lunar calendar), Ching Ming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Day), Zhong Yuan Festival (Ullambana Festival), Dong Zhi Festival (Winter Solstice), etc., you can place the picture of the deceased on a separate altar and make incense offerings. Burn some Little Houses for the deceased.

You can burn Little Houses as you finish reciting them. However, it would be better to burn them on the 7th, 14th, 21th, 28th  35th, 42nd and 49th day after the passing. For best results, burn more than 49 Little Houses on these days, as these days are very significant and crucial for the deceased. By doing so, it’s as though you are providing the deceased with power, helping the deceased overcome a barrier. This is much more effective than burning Little Houses on a regular basis or burning them all in one sitting.

  • The family members can help the deceased accumulate more merits and virtues by using the deceased’s money to perform life liberations or publish Buddhism-related books or DVDs. The family members can then pray to Guan Yin Bodhisattva to protect and bless <full name of the deceased> to eliminate karmic obstacles. This helps the deceased quickly eliminate their karmic obstacles, allowing them to ascend to a higher spiritual realm more easily.  Many cannot ascend to a higher spiritual realm even though they have recited several Little Houses. This is because they have too much negative karma accumulated from their past lives.
  • It is best to move out of any home previously shared with the deceased.  If this is not feasible, it is better to redecorate or adjust the layout of the house. In addition, it would be best not to keep any possessions once used by the deceased and to dispose of them as soon as possible.
  • It would be best not to talk about or think of the deceased too much after their death. If the deceased has ascended to heaven, it is easy for them to fall into lower realms if you miss them too much, talk about them too often, or burn joss paper and spirit money for them.
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