Venue: Hokkien Cemetery Pavilion
After devotees have offered dana we recite Pali passages. I would like to explain the significance of this.
Previously, we recited a verse from the Tirokutta Sutta: Yatha varivaha pura…. This sutta is about departed relatives who return to their homes only to find that because of their past bad kamma, they cannot gain access into the house as their relatives have not remembered them.
The living must have the heart to remember the departed and make offerings to them. If they see this, they rejoice and in turn offer their good wishes for their relatives’ well-being.
During the seventh month of the lunar calendar, people have reported seeing these spirits helping themselves to the food offered to them. Although the food remains intact after these spirits have helped themselves to it, they have been seen eating the food. Possibly they extract the qi from the food.
A meditator who has an inborn psychic ability wrote about how her dead uncle and his spirit friends came to her home and requested for permission to enter the house to join in the feast of food offerings that had been laid out.
So the Tirokutta Sutta enjoins us to remember to make offerings to our departed relatives and they will, in return, make their wishes for us.
In the sutta, the Buddha uses a simile to describe the offerings. He said that just as the river water flows downstream into the sea, so these offerings that you make reach the departed. This is the meaning of the verse Yatha varivaha pur, that we used to recite every time before we transfer merits.
This is actually a Thai custom. On closer scrutiny of the Tirokutta Sutta however, we realised that the sutta actually mentions two types of offerings. Besides teaching us to make offerings to the departed, it also tells us to make offerings to the Sangha and then share the merits with the departed.
Since you offer dana to the Sangha only and do not make direct offerings to the departed, we thought that it would be inappropriate to continue reciting that particular verse from the Tirokutta Sutta. Instead, we now recite the concluding two verses from that sutta, which have the following meaning:
Further, this offering that has been given to
and firmly established in the Sangha
for (the departed) one’s long-term benefit
is immediately appropriate / reaches the departed one immediately.
The duty of relatives has been shown;
lofty puja has been made to the departed ones;
strength has been given to the bhikkhus;
and much merit has been accumulated by you.
According to the commentary to this sutta, if the relatives are aware of the offerings made to the Sangha on their behalf and as such, rejoice (by saying sadhu, for example), then merits also accrue to them. This will help them to be relieved of suffering and perhaps reborn into a better existence.
The Chinese observe the seven sets of seven days after the death of a relative. Devotees observe this custom by coming here to make offerings to the Sangha and by sharing merits with their departed relatives. This is a Chinese belief that cannot be substantiated by Theravada scriptures. What is the rationale behind it?
According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, when a person dies, his spirit is still around and he can see his relatives crying. He feels frustrated and sad as he cannot convey to them that he is still alive and well and that they should not cry. If he hasn’t enough good kamma to bring him rebirth immediately, then at the end of the first seven days he will experience another death similar to that which he experienced when he departed from the human realm. This is repeated every seventh day if he is still unable to have rebirth. If, at the end of the forty-ninth day, his kamma has not generated rebirth, he can be considered a hungry ghost or wandering spirit.
I’m doing research into cases of children who have spontaneous recollection of their past lives. Their claims can actually be verified when they are taken back to the places they claim to have existed in, in the previous life. The people and the things they speak about can be traced. Researchers have determined that some are reborn as human beings after a few years, while others after a few months. Some remember their intermediate existence between the two human lives but there have been no reports resembling the “seven sevens” experience. This seems to suggest that not everyone who dies has to go through the experience of the “seven sevens”.
We must remember the Buddha’s teachings on honouring departed relatives. Sometimes devotees give us names of their departed relatives which we read aloud, hoping that if they are aware, they will come. Once there was a famous forest sayadaw whose mother, herself a nun, died and went to a not so happy existence. She appeared to her daughter in a dream and asked for offerings to be made to her. The family had actually made offerings in a monastery, but because they did not invite her, she could not go in (the guardian devas of the monastery would not allow her in). The sayadaw advised the family to invite her into the monastery first and then offer robes to the Sangha. In this way the gate deva would be aware of her and allow her in. So, in reading out the names handed to us by devotees, we hope that the departed spirits can be aware of their relatives’ offerings, and that thedevas here (at the Hokkien Cemetery pavilion) will allow them to come to receive the merits.
Nowadays we also recite another sutta from the Anguttara Nikaya about the benefits of dana: Ayudo balado dhiro…. Translated, it means that when a person offers food, he is also offering five other things. He is giving life, strength and good looks because one needs sustenance to live, be strong and to look good. He is also giving wisdom and happiness as one who is hungry cannot study/meditate and is unhappy. After a person has consumed what has been offered, he gets all the above things as well. You too collect merits that will produce similar benefits in return.
Some people say that they are too poor to give. Yet, without giving any material offerings, they can still get the benefits of longevity, beauty, happiness and strength. How? This is found in what we recite after every dana:
Abhivadanasilassa, niccam vuddhapacayino;
Cattaro dhamma vaddhanti, ayu vanno sukham balam.
This means that if they habitually respect and honour their superiors (such as parents, teachers, elders, those who have higher moral virtues and spiritual attainments), they will grow in longevity, beauty, happiness and strength. This is, in fact, a practice of humility. All of you who come here to make offerings respectfully are already practising generosity as well as respect and humility. So you will be receiving these benefits in abundance. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!