Responsibilities of the Living to the Departed

Venue: Residence of Chuah family
Special occasion: Commemorative Dana for the Deceased

Today we chanted from two suttas, Tirokutta Sutta and Sigalovada Sutta.

Tirokutta Sutta tells us how people can help their departed relatives. Today, many people, especially the younger generation, do not believe in making offerings to their departed relatives and regard such practices as mere superstition. This Sutta tells us otherwise. Very loosely translated, it goes something like this:

Outside the door of their homes they stand.
To their own homes returning
Fine food and drinks are laid out
But nobody remembers them
Because of their bad kamma.

Those living relatives who have compassion
Should give to the departed
Suitable food and drinks
Thinking thus: ‘Let this be for my relatives
May they be well and happy.’

Those departed relatives gathered here
Will rejoice and wish their relatives long life.
Having given, the givers reap merits too.

There is a book written by someone I know personally, that tells of the following experience. On the eve of the day on which the Chinese observe the ‘Festival of the Hungry Ghosts’, the writer saw a departed relative outside her house, asking for permission for him and his friends to ‘camp’ in the house compound. He was well dressed, so he could not have been a hungry ghost. Nonetheless, she gave her consent. The next day, the family laid out food and drinks for offering. Prayers were said and when the food was offered to the door deity, the writer felt the presence of a group of people coming into the house. She then saw a crowd of spirits, who were not her departed relatives, helping themselves to the food. She saw them reach out for the food but the food still remained intact on the table. They seemed to have extracted the essence only.

After this incident, she did not, as she did before, belittle the practice of making offerings to the de-parted. She is a Buddhist, a meditator and reads Dhamma books. Knowing her personally, I believe that what she has written is credible and the event really happened.

The Sutta goes on to tell us that in the spirit world, there is neither farming nor trading and so the de-parted depend on the living to provide them sustenance. Just as the water in a river will surely flow down to the sea, so too will our offerings reach down to our departed relatives. One should have gratitude towards those who have passed away and remember the good things they have done for us while they were alive. We are told that crying and lamentation at the death of a loved one is of no help to the deceased. This, in fact may be an obstacle to their departure to a happier realm. The Sutta says that the right thing to do is to make food offerings to them. Another meritorious act that can help the departed is to offer dana to the Sangha and then transfer the merits thus accrued to the departed.

Other wholesome acts that you perform today, such as taking precepts and taking refuge in The Triple Gem, are also meritorious acts. The merits that you accrue by these acts can be dedicated to the departed as well.

The second Sutta, Sigalovada Sutta, also reminds us of the responsibility to continually make offerings to one’s departed parents.

Today you have performed, with knowledge and awareness, many wholesome acts including the offer-ing of dana as well as the observance of the precepts and taking refuge in the Triple Gem. You can now dedicate the merits you have accrued by these deeds to your departed mother.

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