1. Are Buddhist memorial rites acts of ancestor worship?
  2. Ancestor worship has two aspects. First, the rites are conducted as expressions of respect and gratitude to the deceased for the blessings and traditions left to us. In this sense it is not strictly a worship. As followers of the Buddha's teachings, of course, we must cherish this feeling.

    Secondly, the deceased are worshipped as having gained a status far superior to the humans, and this we believe is wrong, for then he becomes an object of worship. We believe that the teaching of Jodo Shinshu shows us the way to deliverance and worship is given just to Amida Buddha alone.

    We hold memorial rites in grateful memory and from these occasions welcome with devotion the opportunity to hear the Dharma of the Buddha.

    Return to Index page

  3. Why are funerals necessary? Is there any difference in the passing of a person and death of an animal?
  4. A funeral service is a spontaneous expression of affection and gratitude to the deceased: a natural manifestation of untainted and pure emotion. And to all in attendance it should be an occasion for sincere and deep reflection on life and death.

    Although the followers of Buddha cherish all lives, there is a difference in the passing of a person and the death of an animal even though superficial appearances may seem to be the same.

    The death of an animal that lives only by instinct and the passing of a person who needs to reflect on the meaning of life cannot be thought of in the same vein.

    There are some who upon the death of their pets will chant the sutra in their desire to have them at least 'listen' to the Buddha's words, and this practice is a show of compassion.

    Return to Index page

  5. What relationship is there between faith in Buddha-dharma and funerals?
  6. Shinran Shonin said, "After my death, throw the corpse into the River Kamo as food for the fish." Just so, because our birth in the Pure Land and attainment of Buddhahood are established through faith which is the beneficence of Tathagata, whether or not a funeral is held is of no consideration.

    But to those bereft and to those close friends of the deceased, is not a funeral the highest tribute that they could pay to the deceased? At a funeral the mourners should show their respect and also make this an occasion to reflect on the Dharma and the true way of life. For these reasons religion and funerals are in close relationship.

    Return to Index page

  7. Is it wrong to hold a funeral on tomo-biki, an augured-evil (aftermath) day?
  8. According to the superstition introduced into Japan from China around the end of Kamakura and the beginning of the Muromachi periods, there are cycles of six days that are supposedly good and bad. The beginnings of this belief may be found in the Chinese 'war manual' which was converted in Japan into the superstition of Rokuyo, a cycle of varying degrees of 3 good and 3 bad days. Actually though, there is no karmic relation of days to man wherein good and bad can be caused. Days only become good or bad according to how we live them.

    Do not be misled by such prattlings for there is no rhyme or reason for the superstitions thought up for the convenience of man to cover up his ignorant, irrational mind which does not understand the law of karma. How wrong and pitiful it is that some people say, "I know it's only superstition, but why buck against it when so many believe it"

    Let us rid ourselves, once and for all, of all superstitions.

    Return to Index page

  9. Why is it that in some countries the deceased is clothed in a traveller's attire?
  10. Such a custom is based on an old tale that the deceased must go on a long journey to a far off land of the dead. But this has no relation to the teaching of Jodo Shinshu.

    In Jodo Shinshu through the power of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, the follower attains instantaneous birth in the Pure Land upon death. There is no such thing as travelling to the land of the dead and no need for travel attire.

    We should discard such superstitious notions and make the last rites a meaningful one of loving respect to the deceased by accepting single-heartedly the great compassion of Amida Buddha.

    Return to Index page

  11. Why are 7th day services held?
  12. This Buddhist custom is based on the idea that a person enters his next rebirth after a period of seven times seven (49) days.

    In Jodo Shinshu the follower is born in the Pure Land and will attain Buddhahood instantaneously with death. But the custom itself was adopted from general Buddhism in order that the 7th day rites may become an occasion to cherish the memory of the deceased and also be an opportunity to hear the Dharma and awaken to the compassion of Amida Buddha.

    Return to Index page

  13. When are memorial rites held?
  14. A memorial rite marking the death of the deceased not only calls for the adornment of the altar and the reading of the sutra but also is a precious occasion for recalling the cherished memories of the beloved and most of all to realize the blessings of the Light of Wisdom which embraces us all.

    Traditionally, memorial rites are held from the afternoon for a period of a whole day and night on the day previous to that of the actual decease. Monthly rites are held on the memorial day each month and the annual rites are held on the day and month of decease. Besides these there are special rites held on designated years and these will vary according to local customs but usually the pattern that was set in China seems most prevalent. These are :

    49th day rites-Expiration of probationary period
    49 days from death
    1OOth day rites- 100 days from death.
    1st annual memorial- 1 year from death.
    3rd anniversary memorial- 2 full years from death.
    7th anniversary memorial- 6 full years from death.
    13th anniversary memorial- 12 full years from death.
    17th anniversary memorial- 16 full years from death.
    25th anniversary memorial- 24 fun years from death.
    33th anniversary memorial- 32 full years from death.
    50th anniversary memorial - 49 full years from death.
    Every fiftieth year thereafter.

    Unless we keep the deceased committed to heart we are apt to forgetUnless we keep the deceased committed to heart we are apt to forget, and a rite performed only when reminded loses its meaning.

    Return to Index page

  15. Why are memorial rites held on intervals of uneven number of years?
  16. The teaching of Buddha was transmitted from India to China and then to Japan, and has enriched the hives of all the people with whom it has come in contact, and has become an integral part of the customs of these countries. There is no special reason for choosing uneven number of years except that perhaps this came about because uneven numbers such as 3 and 7 are often mentioned in the sutras.

    Return to Index page

  17. The suppers and gifts at memorial services are getting more extravagant means. What shall I do?
  18. A memorial service should be an occasion of respectful remembrance of the deceased in order to hear the Buddha-dharma and adore with gratitude the blessings of Amida Buddha.

    Suppers should not exceed necessity. After all this Is not a social affair. The purpose of the occasion should be clearly understood and the services should be conducted wholeheartedly and sincerely.

    Return to Index page

  19. What does shojin mean?
  20. In Buddhism shojin means persevering devotion and refraining from evil deeds, adherence to good and adoration of the Dharma. But the common understanding is that shojin is abstaining from eating animal flesh and this is a very small and narrow interpretation of the original term.

    Therefore, in the observance of shojin , as for instance on a memorial day, it is not just the partaking of vegetarian food alone, but.is the reappreciation of all life by abstaining from taking any life, dedication to the Buddha-dharma and single-heartedly hearing the compassion of Amida Buddha with persevering devotion.

    Return to Index page

  21. Jodo Shinshu does not restrict one to vegetarianism. Why, then, is shojin food served on memorial days?
  22. Buddhism teaches respect for all living things and the refraining from taking their lives. At the same time it must be remembered that not a single day goes by but lives must be sacrificed to make it possible for us to live. And Jodo Shinshu teaches us that it is to us, this guilty person, that the compassionate Amida Buddha gives deliverance. This must be kept in mind when we think of shojin.

    On the occasion of the memorial day in which we cherish the memory of the beloved one, at least this one day, we should feel contrition for the lives that were sacrificed for our well-being and partake shojin food with humbleness.

    Return to Index page

  23. When and how should gravestones be erected? And when should the ashes be interred?
  24. There are no rules as to when gravestones should be erected nor are there any regulations as to what should be inscribed on them. Some people have superstitions as to the shape and the direction in which these markers should face, but the followers of Jodo Shinshu should not in the least be concerned with such notions.

    Many markers have the characters Namo Amida Butsu, and Kue Issho (together in Amida's Pure Land), or the 'grave of so and so family' inscribed on the face, while the reverse side will have the given name, date of decease and posthumous title on them.

    The time to inter the ashes depends upon local customs, but usually it is prior to the 49th day. It also has become traditional for Shinshu followers to divide the ashes and inter a portion at the Kyoto Otani Mausoleum where the ashes of Shinran Shonin are interred.

    Return to Index page