True Way to Remember Our Deceased Loved Ones

The answer is in Tannisho

The dreadful earthquake and tsunami on 3/11 deprived many of their precious lives in a instant The ocean-like pile of rubbles seems like a burnt ruins after a thorough asir assault. In some areas, priests are seen chanting sutra or praying in front of the dead bodies. However, is that the real role of Buddhism? Master Shinran, whose sole mission was teaching the Vow of Amida Buddha, clarified the true way to remember our deceased loved ones. Shall we learn that through UNLOCKING TANNISHO Part II, Chapter 11?

Yet today, many self-styled Buddhists take it for granted that rituals of funerals, services, and sutra readings do benefit the dead. Some superstitions die hard.

In the midst of such turmoil, the confession at the top of this chapter resounds like thunder from the blue: I, Shinran, have never once said the nembutsu for the repose of my mother or father.

“Repose” refers to requiem services, which are carried out in the belief that they will ensure the happiness of True Way to Remember Our Deceased Loved Ones The answer is in Tannisho the dead. Shinran lost his father at the age of four and his mother at the age of eight; what must have been his grief when he thought of them? Surely the image of his dead parents haunted him above all else. Even so, he denies ever having said a single nembutsu on their behalf. Of course, this statement refers not only to the act of saying the nembutsu, but to all Buddhist services carried out with the intent of ensuring the happiness of the dead. It may thus be rephrased: “I, Shinran, have never once said the nembutsu, read a sutra, or held a memorial service to please my dead parents.” Shocking, you may think. To priests who calmly urge services for the repose of ancestors’ souls, on the pretext that the dead appreciate nothing more than having sutras read on their behalf, and to lay people who accept this is a given, Shinran’s pronouncement is baffling. To many people it may sound cold and callous. But with this sensational confession, Shinran, who revered his parents more than anyone, shattered the common people’s deep-rooted illusion and showed them the true way to honor their dead.

The monk Kakunyo (1270 - 1351), Shinran’s descendant, lamented the existence of monks who made funerary and memorial rites their main job, ignoring the fact that Shinran never performed them. Let us quote Kakunyo’s words:

Shinran used to say, “When I die, cast my body into the River Kamo and feed it to the fishes.” This was because he wanted to impress on people that they should care little for the body and make faith their top priority. Therefore it is wrong to make much of funerals. They should be stopped. Why did Shinran make this shocking declaration? He did it to instruct people that rather than worry about the disposition of remains, which are like the empty shell of a locust, they should hurry above all to resolve the fate of the eternal self (acquire other-power faith). Therefore, concludes Kakunyo, rather than give importance to funerals, it would be better to call a halt to them.

Kakunyo disinherited his son, Zonkaku, for violating this teaching of Shinran’s. In his Record of Memorials and elsewhere, Zonkaku actually wrote such things as this: “After your parents die, you should strive to repay the debt you owe them, taking special care to carry out Buddhist services for the repose of their souls.” “The best way to memorialize your parents is to say the nembutsu on their behalf.” Such ideas are clearly subversive to􀉹Shinran’s teaching that the practice of seeking the repose of the􀉹dead should be entirely done away with, and so it is fitting that Zonkaku was disowned.

The Buddhist world today is clearly violating Shinran’s teaching, just as Zonkaku did, and is in that sense suffering from a sickness unto death. Without prompt reflection on the golden words of Shinran, Buddhism will become an empty shell.

Occasions to Seek the Resolution of a Crucial Matter

Then are funerals, memorial services, and gravesite visits meaningless? No. To those who have heard Buddhist truth they􀉹are occasions for thanksgiving and rejoicing in Amida’s salvation, and to those in ignorance of the truth they are chances to form􀉹bonds with Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Life.

Year in and year out, we read of significant traffic deaths. Told that many thousands of people died in accidents the previous year, we register no surprise but only stare aimlessly at the statistics, numb to the reality of death. Our desires keep us in a whirlwind of activity from morning to night, with no time to sit and contemplate the self. In the midst of such busyness, attending a funeral or kneeling at a grave can provide a precious chance to take a hard look at one’s life: “I too must one day die. Am I not idling my life away?” Being forced to face the cold fact of one’s mortality is sobering.

It is our hope that funerals and memorial services will be not empty rituals but occasions to deeply consider the crucial question of one’s ultimate fate of eternal suffering or eternal bliss and seek liberation: the acquisition of other-power faith.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #07 | 2011, True Way to Remember Our Deceased Loved Ones

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