Master Chin Kung
Guidelines for Spiritual Advisors:
Remind the patient of the sufferings of the Saha World and the joys of the Pure Land, so that he may develop a Mind of devotion to the Pure Land. The good advisor would also enumerate and praise the patients' good deeds, merits and virtues cultivated. This will make him happy and free of doubts, certain that when the time comes to die, he will, thanks to his good deeds, be reborn.
If the patient has any doubts, the advisor should, depending on the circumstances, explain the Three Points of Doubt and the Four Narrow Phrases. A critical detail to bear in mind here: the dying person should be reminded to eliminate all regret for wealth and property, as well as thoughts of attachment to close family and relatives.
If the patient has a will, so much the better, but if not, the advisor should counsel against all inquiries in this regard. He should also advise everyone to refrain from useless chitchat that could rekindle the patient's love-attachment to the world, which is detrimental to rebirth.
When relatives and friends come to visit, they should be discouraged from standing before the patient, inquiring about his health in a sad, piteous way. If they come out of true concern, they should merely stand aside, reciting the Buddha's name aloud for a moment. If through lacking understanding of the Dharma, the visitor's act in accordance with human etiquette [crying etc.], they are in effect pushing the dying person to the depths of the ocean of suffering - a most regretful occurrence indeed!
The patient should be counselled to practice charity and give away his personal effects to the needy. Or else, better still, in accordance with the Ksitigarbha (Earth Store Bodhisattva) Sutra, he should use the proceeds from the sale of his personal possessions to purchase Buddhist images or sutras for free distribution. All this helps the patient increase his stock of merits and eliminate bad karma, thus facilitating rebirth.
The good advisor should keep these general guidelines in mind, but be ready to improvise according to the situation.
Conducting Supportive Buddha Name Recitation:
Supportive recitation by family members or Dharma friends is most necessary when a patient is on the verge of death. This is because, at that time, he is weak in Body and Mind and no longer master of himself. In such trying circumstances, not only is it difficult for those who have not cultivated in daily life the practice of focus on the Buddha, even individuals who have regularly recited the Buddha name may find it difficult to do so in all earnestness - unless there is "Supportive Buddha Name Recitation".
Guidelines set out for Conducting Supportive Buddha Name Recitation:
Respectfully place a statue of the "standing" Amitabha Buddha in front of the patient, so that he can see it. Place some fresh flowers in a vase and burn light incense, with a soft fragrance. This will help the patient develop right thought. A reminder: the incense should not be overpowering, to avoid "choking" the patient and everyone around.
Those who come to practise supportive recitation should take turns…. It should be remembered that the patient, in his weakened state, requires a lot of fresh air to breath. If too many persons come and go or participate in the recitation session, the patient may have difficulty breathing and become agitated, resulting in more harm than benefit. Moreover, participants should consult their watches and silently take turns reciting, so that recitation can continue uninterrupted. They should not call to one another aloud. Each session should last about an hour. (Refer to The Three Essentials for those close to death).
According to Elder Master Yin Guang, the short recitation form (Amitabha Buddha) should be used, so that the patient can easily register the name in his Alaya consciousness, at a time when both his Mind and Body are very weak. However, according to another Elder Master, we should ask the patient, using the form he prefers (short or long), to conform to his every day practise. In this way, the patient can silently recite along with the supportive recitation party. To go counter to his likes and habits may destroy his right thought. Furthermore, we should not practise supportive recitation in too loud a voice, as we will expend too much energy and be unable to keep on for very long. On the other hand,neither should we recite in too low a voice, fearing that the patient's weakened Mind cannot register the words….
Generally speaking, recitation should not be too loud nor too low, too slow nor too fast, each utterance should be clear and distinct, so that it can pass through the ear and penetrate deep into the patient's Alaya consciousness. One cavea: if the patient is too weak [or is in coma], he will not be able to hear "external" recitation. In such a case, we should recite into the patient's ear. This helps the patient keep his mind clear and steady.
With regard to percussion instruments, it is generally better to use the small hand bell, instead of the fish gong with its bass tone. The hand bell, with its clear, limpid sound, can help the patient develop a pure and calm mind. However, this may not apply in all cases. For instances, an Elder Master once taught, it is best to recite the Buddha's name by itself without musical accompaniment… However, since each person's preference is different, it is better to ask the patient in advance. If some details do not suit him, we should adapt to the circumstances and be flexible.
After the Patient Dies (Between Death and Burial)
When a person has just died, the most important thing is not to rush to move him. We should wait for eight hours or more before cleaning the body and changing his clothes. Relatives should not weep and wail immediately before and after the actual death. Doing so can cause the dying patient to develop thoughts of attachment, which may prevent him from achieving liberation.
Concentrate on reciting the Buddha's name in all earnestness, without crying at lease until eight hours has passed. Why is it necessary? It is because, although the patient has stopped breathing, his Alaya consciousness has not yet left the body. If during this period, we move the body, clean him, change his clothes, or weep or lament, the decease may still experience feelings of pain, sadness, anger or self-pity, and sink into the Triple Realm. This is a crucial point that the relatives should note and remember well.
During the entire eight-hour period, someone, or groups of persons can remain near the deceased reciting the Buddha's name, so much the better. Except for recitation, nothing should be done.
After the eight-hour period, if the limbs have grown stiff and cannot move we should put a towel soaked in hot water around the joints. After awhile, the body can be repositioned.
Funeral arrangements should be kept simple, not accompanied by superfluous ceremonies occasioning unnecessary expenses. Only vegetarian food should be served and no animals should be slaughtered as offerings or to entertain guests -- for to "take life" is to saddened the departed with more karmic obstructions and "heavy baggage," making his liberation that much more difficult. Even if he has already been reborn, his grade of rebirth may be lowered as a result.
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