Shinranʼs Teachings and Ancestral Curses

Can Sutra Reading Save the Dead?

Q: When a difficulty or disaster occurs, people often say it’s because of an ancestral curse, or because ancestral memorial services have been neglected. Is there any truth to this? What did Shinran say?

A: The idea that difficulties and disasters befall us because of ancestral curses, or because we donʼt perform memorial services for our ancestors, is a stupid, heretical superstition.

Everything in this world proceeds according to the law of cause, condition, and effect. Difficulties and disasters we encounter in this life are the natural result of the seeds we ourselves planted in the past—our own individual actions. This is what Śākyamuni Buddha taught. Shinran of course taught the very same thing.

Seeds that arenʼt planted never bear fruit. The outcomes we experience in life are all the result of seeds we ourselves planted. There is never any exception to the law: my deeds bring my results. So when we encounter adversity, we should repent of the terrible evil we committed in the past and strive never again to sow such evil seeds. If we are blessed with good fortune, then, knowing that we fully deserve the most evil of outcomes, we should be filled with thanks for the protection of buddhas and patriarchs. This is how believers in the dharma (Buddhist truth) approach life.

Next, a word about memorial services for ancestors. This was originally a fine custom, an expression of human sympathy. But regrettably, because people did not know the proper way of honoring their ancestors, the custom became a hotbed of superstition.

Too many people believe that doing things like erecting fine graves, holding lavish funerals, and carrying out memorial services is the best way of honoring their ancestors. But if we really wish to honor them, we need to forget about such practices and think about what would make them the happiest. That is the right way to honor them. After all, however much money and effort we spend, actions that are not in accordance with our ancestorsʼ wills cannot bring them any repose.

How can we know what they would want of us? The answer is easy. All we have to do is ask ourselves what we want most for our children and grandchildren. The answer is clear. Surely we want them to live right and be happy. By the same token, there can be no doubt that what our ancestors want most is for us to live happy, upright lives.

In that case, there could be no better way to honor our ancestors than to seek Buddhist truth, receive diamond faith from Amida, attain absolute happiness, and live life to the full.

Close Translation

We must only abandon self-power and quickly use transcendent powers and expedient means to save first those with whom we share deep bonds, whatever karmic suffering they may have sunk to in the six realms through the four modes of birth.

Tannisho, Section Five

Amplified Translation

If we quickly abandon mind of self-power1, which seeks to fathom the Primal Vow, and obtain the enlightenment of a buddha in the Pure Land, then we can employ the power of a buddha2 to help others, beginning with those who share close ties with us, whoever they may be and whatever world of suffering they may be in.

These words of Shinranʼs tell the right way for us to honor our ancestors.

(Petals of Shinran, The Cherry volume, Chapter 12)

By Kentetsu Takamori

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #21 | 2012, Shinranʼs Teachings and Ancestral Curses

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