Remembering the Departed

Venue: Teh Family’s House

The chanting we have just done is in Pali – the language in which the ancient scriptures are preserved. Many people might wonder why we chant in Pali considering that it is a foreign language for most of the devotees who therefore would not understand what is being said. This is done to ensure that the original meaning of the Buddha’s teachings is preserved in its pure form through the passage of time and will not be distorted by translations. As long as there are monks and layman who still study the Pali language, the Buddha’s teachings will never be lost.

As Buddhists, we believe that rebirth (one of the 6 worldly Right Views) is a result of the past kamma of our thoughts, speech and actions. When death occurs, the departed can be reborn into any of the 31 planes of existence depending on his past merits/demerits. A being who is reborn as a peta is dependant on the offerings of his living relatives for sustenance. It is thus a good practice to offer dana to the departed for, unless they are “invited”, the petas cannot enter the dwelling to partake of the feast. They will feel happy to know that they are still remembered and will in turn bless the family. Just like a river that flows naturally to the sea, dana that is offered, naturally benefits the departed and this is far better then crying and ranting in sorrow, which only serves to bring unhappiness to the departed.

One of the meritorious acts is the offering of dana. There are 2 kinds of dana:

  1. Dana to the departed
    If a departed person was virtuous in his past life and is reborn in the heavenly states, he will not need the food offered, for the sustenance available in heaven is far better in quality. However, he could still rejoice in the good deed done. If he is reborn in hell, he cannot enjoy the food because he has to suffer for his past misdeeds. Neither can one who is reborn as a human or an animal. Only a peta can physically enjoy food dana.
  2. Dana to the living
    The merits obtained when one offers dana to the living increases in value according to the sila of the recipient such as to an ordinary person, a precept-holder, a practising monk, an arahant and a Buddha.

Apart from dana, merits can be obtained when a devotee takes refuge in the Triple Gem, then observes the 5 precepts (Pañca Sila) or better still the 8 precepts (Atthanga Sila). A person who keeps the Pañca Sila well: –

  1. Through careful attention to his affairs will gain much wealth.
  2. Will get a good reputation for his good morality.
  3. Will be confident (as he is not bothered by a guilty conscience).
  4. Will die unconfused.
  5. After death, will arise in a good destination.

There is a qualification here however. He must avoid the five major akusala actions namely the killing of either mother or father, injuring a Buddha, killing of an arahant and causing schism in the Sangha.

Better merits are obtained when one practices metta towards all beings. If such a person then practices vipassana meditation and realises the arising and passing away of conditioned phenomena, the merits obtained are indeed superior. A person can understand anicca, dukkha and anatta when he listens to the Dhamma and reflects on it. However, it is only through the practice of vipassana meditation that he can achieve the ultimate understanding into the reality of existence.

To recapitulate, when food dana is offered, only petas can enjoy it. However, the merits obtained from all the above-mentioned meritorious acts can be shared among all beings.

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