Remembering the Departed

Venue: Venue: Residence of Mrs Long Heng Hua
Special occasion: to commemorate the death anniversary of Mr Long Heng Hua 

Mrs Long is having dana today in remembrance of her husband who passed away six years ago, as well as to share merits with her deceased parents and parents-in-law.

Most Chinese believe that when a person dies, his spirit may be still around, possibly for a few years or even as long as a few thousand years before he takes a new birth. During this period of time, they are in the spirit world which is very different from ours. The beings there have no livelihood to sustain themselves. Instead, according to the Tirokutta Sutta, those who are living should offer food and drinks to them as well as do dana and share merits with them.

The question that’s usually asked is, “Can they partake of such food offered?” It seems that in a way they can. Some say while we do not see any changes in the food that has been offered to the spirits, they may extract the essence of the food. That is why some say that such food loses its taste.

In a book, “Theodora Speaks”, the author related an experience she had during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar which the Chinese believe is the month when ghosts are active in the human world. Her deceased cousin appeared to her the day before her family made their annual offerings and asked for permission to camp in the house compound. He looked very well and was also well-dressed, so he could not have been a hungry ghost.

The next morning, when the time came to make food offerings to their departed relatives, her mother prepared the food and prayed to various deities. As soon as the mother had finished praying to the door deity, the author sensed some presence come into the house and then saw a whole group of spirits apparently helping themselves to the food that had been laid on the table for the departed. Before this, she had doubted the usefulness of such offerings. After that incident, she changed her mind.

So, we should offer food and do dana during this religious festival as well as during other festivals such as the Chinese New Year and Qing Ming. We can also do so at any other times, such as a death anniversary. One must have the intention to offer to the spirits and should remember to invite them to partake of the offerings.

Tirokutta Sutta also tells us that crying and lamentation are useless to the departed. It suggests that we make food offerings to the departed as well as offer dana to the Sangha then transfer the merits to them.

At times, people have experiences of being disturbed by spirits. After doing dana and transferring merits to the spirits, these people did not experience any more disturbances.

Ven Hye Dhammavuddho once related an incident of the spirit of a man who, 50 years after his death, possessed one of his living relatives to communicate with his brother who had recently become a Buddhist. He implored him to make offerings for him. The question then arises, “Why did this spirit brother wait so long before making this request to the living brother?” Ven Hye opined that the spirit probably figured that there was no hope for him when the brother was not yet a religious person. Now that he had become a Buddhist, the request would bring a response.

Sigalovada Sutta tells of five responsibilities we have for our parents: the final one says we should continually make offerings to them when they pass away.

Ven Aggacitta has written a book “Honouring the Departed”, which will be published soon and should be available before Qing Ming. So you can read more about this subject in that book.

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