By Nhat Quan
According to Vietnamese tradition, when you say ancestors, you mean nine lives or nine generations. Nine generations count from yourself as a landmark, four generations above you and four generations below.
1- Great great grandfather
2- Great-grandfather
3- Grandfather
4- Father
5- Yourself
6-  Son
7- Grandson
8- Great grandson
9- Great great-grandson
You worship the four generations above because these are your ancestors, but you have to worship four more generations below because life is a chain of interrelated milestones and co-arising.
You worship the four generations above who have had merit in giving birth, nurturing, and building your career as a human being, so you have to worship to commemorate the merits of being born and nurtured from the point of view of:
- When you drink water, remember the source.
In addition, you also have to worship the four lower generations, because in reincarnation no one knows that your descendants in the future may be your grandparents or parents reincarnated. If parents in the previous life did good deeds, their descendants will enjoy them, but if grandparents or parents of a previous spouse create bad karma, the next life will have to suffer retribution. Therefore, you worship the next four generations to remind you in this present life to do good things and believe in the three-life law of cause and effect:
- Past
- Present
- And the future is related to each other.
So in the human world, there is a saying:
- One person doing good deeds, thousands of people enjoy
One tree blooms and thousands of trees are fragrant.
Therefore, when you start to worship your ancestors, the souls of your ancestors have already testified to your sincerity. Moreover, worship is for remembrance, and worship is for gratitude. In fact, your main job is to do many good deeds to dedicate the merit to your ancestors to be reborn in a peaceful world.
That is why from the point of view of Mahayana Buddhism, death, no matter how long, is not the complete annihilation of a being. Because, although life ends, the potential for living beings is not destroyed. Like light, electric light is a visible manifestation of an invisible electric current, so the bulb may burst and the light may go out, but the electric current persists, and the light can be emitted reappears if you put in another bulb. In the same way, your human body is the outward manifestation of the invisible karmic stream, which, although disintegration of the physical body, does not disturb the karmic flow, and the cessation of present consciousness leads to the arising of a new person.
So, please confirm, a person after death is not completely lost, but it is just a distorted state of karmic consciousness. The body is dispersed, but the mind through the force of karma continues to search for the corresponding realm. And just like that, your human being, when you have not attained the path of liberation, will still be entangled in the cycle of birth and death.
Regarding this birth and death, according to Mahayana Buddhism, there are two views, one is immediate rebirth and the other is rebirth through the intermediate body transition stage, depending on the karma of each being.
- Instant Rebirth:
This view holds that rebirth occurs instantaneously in just a single moment of thought, leaving no moment in the middle. Like an electric wave that travels through space, it is immediately generated when a radio or television receiver is turned on. Birth and death from this point of view occur extremely rapidly and are seen as a continuous process. In this case, it refers to a person who is all good and all beautiful. This school believes that people with extremely good karma will immediately after death be reborn in pure lands, such as the Western Pure Land, the Eastern Pure Land, and so on.
- Transition:
The second view holds that, depending on merit, that being must pass through a transitional period, where the dead person may remain for a while in what is known as the Intermediate Existence Body from one to forty-nine days. During that time, the deceased still has a strong impression of their past life. And it is from this belief that people attach importance to praying or asking for salvation to help transform the souls of the dead, allowing their consciousness to be transcended into peaceful realms. So in Mahayana Buddhism, there is a tradition of praying for the dead for seven consecutive weeks.
But whether there are enough blessings or not, on the forty-ninth day, the twenty-fourth hour, the soul of the deceased must go to be reborn in a certain realm created by their own karma. Particularly for those who have extremely bad karma, after they die, they will be immediately reborn in the evil realms, such as Hell, hungry ghosts, or reborn as animals.
So requiem and doing meritorious deeds is a way to give thanks to the deceased, and at the same time to dedicate that merit to the spirit, similar to giving money and luggage to people traveling far away. Regarding the requiem, if the person has already escaped, he will quickly receive a prediction from the Buddha. People in the upper realm quickly ascend to higher positions, and the brighter the aura becomes. People who are falling into the three evil paths, also thanks to these merits, can be reborn in the Pure Land, escape suffering, be reborn in heaven, or be reborn as a human, etc.
So when the concept of requiem, or praying to give thanks for the nine generations of ancestors who have passed away, means praying for the nine generations of ancestors to be reborn in the world of the Buddhas.
Because the requiem is thanksgiving, is the wish for someone to be liberated or reborn in the world of Buddhas. Therefore, the word requiem is a shortened form of the phrase: Seeking transcendence or requiem birth or more fully seeking rebirth in the Pure Land. Thus requiem is gratitude, a wish aimed mainly at the deceased. In the Northern Buddhist countries, influenced by the Pure Land method, the sutras that are recited on funeral days are usually: Amitabha Sutra, Ksitigarbhapranidhana-Sutra, and The Ullambana Sutra.
Chanting the Amitabha Sutra is primarily an introduction to the Western realm of Ultimate Bliss, The Medicine Buddha Sutra is an introduction to the realm of the Medicine Buddha, and at the same time reminds the dead to recall the practice of reciting the Buddha's name. One-pointedness is not disordered as a prerequisite for rebirth in the Pure Land so that the souls can follow it to recite the Buddha's name and be reborn. Chanting the Ksitigarbhapranidhana-Sutra on the one hand is to review the merits of this bodhisattva's filial piety, and on the other hand to develop and cultivate the land of the mind. When chanting this sutra, the descendants of the deceased have the opportunity to learn about filial piety and also have the opportunity to improve their character. Read The Ullambana Sutra to learn from Moggallana's special example of filial piety. In general, the above suttas are not only useful for the deceased but above all, are intended to educate the relatives of the deceased about the methods of practice and doing merit.
According to Buddhism, no one can transcend anyone. No one can free anyone. Therefore, prayer is only in gratitude, thanksgiving, and showing respect and gratitude for the deceased, and in another way to remind the deceased about the law of birth and death without still being attached to the world, to easily leave or be reborn. Therefore, in the Sutra, the Buddha reminds us:
Whoever kills, takes what is not given, lives by wrong conduct in sensual pleasures, lies, speaks with two tongues, speaks cruelly, speaks frivolously, is greedy, hates, and holds wrong views." Then a great crowd came and prayed, clasping hands, hoping that after the breakup of the body, after death, he would be reborn in a good destination, in heaven, or in this world. But that person, after the breakup of the body, after death, must be reborn in an evil realm, an evil destination, a lower realm, and a hell. This is similar to a person throwing a large rock into a deep lake. Then a large crowd came to join hands and pray, saying:
- Stand up, a big rock! Rise up, a big rock! Let's drift ashore, a big rock! Such supplication is futile, for the rock with its weight cannot rise, nor float to the shore, as the masses plead.
On the contrary, a person does not kill, does not take what is not given, does not engage in sexual misconduct, does not lie, does not speak with two tongues, does not speak harsh words, does not speak frivolous words, is not covetous, and is not angry, hate, do not follow wrong views. Then a great crowd, coming to beg, clasped hands, praying that that person, after the breakup of the body, after death, will be reborn in the bad world, the evil destination, the lower realm, the hell! But that prayer is not fulfilled, he is still reborn in the excellent realm, in the heavens, in the human realm. This is similar to a person who drowns a pot of oil in a deep lake and then breaks it. The oil will float to the surface of the water. Even though there was a great crowd of people who came to beg, implored, and clasped their hands, praying that the oil would sink to the bottom of the water. That request was unsuccessful, and the oil was still floating on the water. So there's no benefit in praying.
Because the meaning of requiem is gratitude and thanksgiving, for those who have just passed away, especially praying for 49 days is really meant for those who have passed away who have not yet decided which realm to be reborn in or is in the waiting state of the bardo body. Such requiem offerings have the effect of reminding people who have passed or have just passed to turn their minds to good deeds done, or earnestly perform good thoughts so that the consciousness is reborn in a good realm, more beautiful.
Moreover, requiem, in addition to gratitude and thanksgiving, is also a way for people who are about to pass or have just passed to repent of their sins, in order to turn their bad karma, make them stay away from painful retribution, and leave the dark realm of damnation. At the same time, praying for the consciousness of the deceased to be gently relaxed, to be reborn in a peaceful world, and to quickly escape samsara.
From the date of death to forty-nine days, during this time, the family should put prayer and filial piety first. That is, should avoid all the killing of living beings and any other possible deeds sinful disposition. The most important thing is that the person praying must practice pure precepts, apply all his heart to focus on chanting sutras, reciting the Buddha's name, and repenting to pray. Relatives of the deceased need to do more charitable activities such as: Freeing living beings, giving alms, making offerings, printing sutras, etc.
The spirit of the dead person aspires to practice such as listening to sutras, meditating, and upholding the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts. The practice as well as the prayer of the people of the world will create energy, a refuge, and help for the people of the underworld. There are countless worlds in the universe, and right now, countless Buddhas are preaching the Dharma and countless sentient beings are practicing. However, the spirit of the dead person does not easily approach the Buddha's sermons like gods or humans, because of their karma and are prevented by karma.
The spirit of the dead person is not a dead person but a living person, just because they are in a different form, in a different realm, and carry a different energy. It is different, but in fact, they exist parallel to the human realm right here in this world and have a relationship like a picture with a shadow.
The fact that descendants chant sutras, and recite Buddha's name to pray for their ancestors for nine generations, or those who have just died within a period of 49 days, that is a very respectful thing, and also what the Buddha taught, no whatever is wrong. However, it is important that while chanting, everyone must be sincere, and wholehearted, to chant and pray. If so, the person who chants it will benefit, and the spirit of the dead person will benefit somewhat. According to the Ksitigarbha Sutra:
- The person who dies after 49 days, the spirit of the dead person of the deceased person, depending on the karma, is born and feels retribution. If they do many good deeds in their present life, they will be reborn in a peaceful realm. On the contrary, they are reborn in a miserable state. Depending on the place of creating good and evil karma, life is born through different species and realms in the six paths of reincarnation.
It is also according to this teaching that Buddhists often offer presents to monks and nuns on the last day of the seventh week. The purpose is that thanks to the prayer power of monks and nuns, called the merits of the masses like a great ocean, thank to that the spirit of the dead person is born in a peaceful realm. However, if you interpret the meaning of the word requiem, it's not just 49 days. Since requiem means praying to pass:
- From the dark and evil realm, overcome to the good and peaceful realm.
In that sense, you have to requiem all the time. Requiem for yourself, and at the same time requiem for everyone including the ancestors of the nine generations to be free from suffering, forever living in the realm of peace and liberation, not just within 49 days.
Therefore, if after 49 days, the family members of the deceased continue to chant and recite the Buddha's name, that is a very good thing. Whether requiem or not, Buddhists should also chant the Buddha's name to make their present life peaceful and the next life also peaceful. And after each chanting and reciting the Buddha's name like that, Buddhists should also pray for the souls of your loved ones, as well as for other souls, and broadly for the entire Dharma Realm, sentient beings, all involuntarily follow the Buddha. This is the expression of the compassion and altruism of Buddhists, so it's also very nice.
In short, requiem or thanksgiving for nine generations of ancestors is a fine tradition but should be seen as a day of remembrance, a day of thanks and remembrance of the deceased. The first is to show respect and remembrance, then to remind children and grandchildren to continue the custom of thanking parents. You can organize an anniversary ceremony at home, or at a temple just for the purpose of remembrance, only requiem to pray to the deceased, but should not burn houses, vehicles, or money made of paper, because this is not done benefit the soul, but it costs money.
As a reminder, It is good to organize an anniversary ceremony at home or at a temple, but at a temple is better. First of all, this is a good predestined relationship between the deceased's relatives for Buddhism, because this is an opportunity for descendants and relatives to approach the monks so that they can learn, to learn about the Buddhadharma. Secondly, the relatives of the dead can create a little blessing by making offerings to the Three Jewels, so that the temple can have more ability to publish scriptures, disseminate the Buddhadharma widely, and have more means to complete the Buddha's work. Monks and Nuns are Tathagata's eldest sons, and masters, with the sacred duty of propagating the Dharma in parallel with self-cultivation to liberate samsara. Lay Buddhists too, in addition to taking care of their families and society, also need to cultivate themselves and help the Gurus in the work of propagating the Buddhadharma and protecting the purity and brightness of the religion.
Thus, both praying and dedicating merit to the spirits of the dead person, but also creating favorable conditions for people in the present life to cultivate good karma.
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