Dhamma for the Dying

Dhamma for the Dying

This is another great article from Dr. Wong Yin Onn:

When someone is dying in a Buddhist home, monks and laypeople come to comfort them by chanting verses for them, and sharing the Dhamma. It is hoped that if the last thoughts of the patient are directed to Buddha and the Dhamma, taking refuge in the Triple Gems and Precepts, and recalling a virtuous life keeping the precepts, then the fruit of this meritorious act will bring good to the deceased in his/her new existence. 
The dying person must be put at ease from pain, and given a serene and familiar place to have a composed and calm mind. He and the family must be reassured that the wholesome acts done in the past will assure a good rebirth. He/she and the family must be counseled that Death is a natural process and merely a door to a new existence. Birth and Death are but 2 sides of a coin. 

Anathapindika was once very ill, and at his request the Venerable Sariputta visited him (S.v,380). On being told that the pains are excruciating and increasing Sariputta delivered a discourse reminding Anathapindika of his own virtues. Sariputta explained that the uninstructed worldling who has no faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and who has not cultivated virtuous moral habits goes to a state of woe on the destruction of the body. But Anathapindika has unshakable conviction in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and has cultivated noble moral habits.
Sariputta pointed out that uninstructed worldlings reach a state of woe on the disintegration of the body as they have not cultivated the Noble Eightfold Path. But on the contrary Anathapindika has cultivated the Noble Eightfold Path. 
We too must reassure our dying brethren on the above.
There is much material in the Canon on counseling the terminally ill. Speaking about death to a terminally ill patient and his family is not avoided as an unpleasant topic. On the contrary, the reality of death and perhaps its imminence are accepted without any pretense and the patient and relatives are made to face the prospect of death with confidence and tranquillity.

The family must be counseled to let go and give permission for the dying to die without worries or insecurity. They and Dhamma brothers and sisters can radiate Metta continuously to the dying person.

(A.iii,295-98). Once Nakulapita was seriously ill and his wife Nakulamata noticed that he was anxious and worried. She advised him thus: 
“Please, sir, do not face death with anxiety. Painful is death for one who is anxious. The Buddha has looked down upon death with anxiety. 
It may be you are anxious that I will not be able to support the family after your death. Please do not think so. I am capable of spinning and weaving, and I will be able to bring up the children even if you are no more. 
Perhaps you are worried that I will remarry after your death. Please do not think so. We both led pure wholesome lives according to the noble conduct of householders. So do not entertain any anxiety on that account. 
It may be you are worried that I will neglect attending on the Buddha and the Sangha. Please do not think so. I will be more devoted to the Buddha and the Sangha after your death. 
Perhaps you are worried that I will neglect keeping to the precepts. Please do not have any doubts on that account. I am one of those who fully practice the moral habits declared for the laity, and if you wish please ask the Buddha about this matter. 
Perhaps you fear that I have not gained inner mental composure. Please do not think so. I am one of those who have gained inner mental composure as much as a householder could gain. If you have any doubts about this, the Buddha is at Bhesakalavana, ask him. 
Perhaps it occurs to you that I have not attained proficiency in the Buddha’s dispensation, that I have not gone beyond doubt and perplexity without depending on another. If you wish to have these matters clarified ask the Buddha. But please do not face death with anxiety, for it is painful and censured by the Buddha.” 

Sudden Deaths
Mahanama tells the Buddha that when he comes to the serene atmosphere of the monastery and associates with pious monks of noble qualities, he feels quite calm and self-possessed. But when he goes out into the streets of Kapilavatthu, busy with constant traffic, he feels frightened over the future birth that would await him should he meet with a violent death in a traffic accident. 
The Buddha assures him that a person who has cultivated moral virtues and led a righteous life need not entertain such fears. He explains the situation with the help of a simile. If a pot of ghee is broken after being submerged in water, the potsherds will sink to the riverbed, but the ghee will rise to the surface. Similarly, the body will disintegrate, but the cultured mind will rise up like the ghee.
After Death
After death, while the dead person is being prepared for the funeral, the monks and laypeople continue to chant to console the family and to help all recall the Dhamma. There will understandably be grieve and lamentation but calmness must be encouraged and maintained as such negative emotional states will help no-one. Wailing and emotional outbursts are discouraged as this will only create more attachments for both the dying, the dead and the relatives.The mind that arises at the time of death is usually the one that the person is most habituated to. People tend to die in character, although this is not always so. So it is emphasised strongly that the time to prepare for death is now, because if we develop and gain control over our mind now and create many positive causes we will have a calm and controlled mind at the time of death and be free of fear. In effect, our whole life is a preparation for death and it is said that the mark of a spiritual practitioner is to have no regrets at the time of death. “It’s time we started swotting for the finals!”

The Funeral service

Don’t fall victim to funeral scams. 

Firstly we must realise that there is NO prescribed Funeral rite that MUST be done; the only prescribed rites are in the Vinaya for the Sangha community only. Secondly, rites makes NO difference to the departed. 
The Buddha however did not stop anyone from acts of respect and love towards the departed. Wisdom tells us that a simple solemn dignified service showing respect to the dead is adequate; this allows a rite of passage for the relatives and loved ones who needs closure. Local traditions as long as it does not violate the precepts are allowed as it gives the friends and relatives a sense of doing “something” and to facilitate mourning.
In the pristine practice of Buddhism, It should be as simple as possible Perhaps just a candle will do.  Some may want to add incense or jossticks. 
Whatever that is done, is not taught by the Buddha. Whatever suits the tradition and culture of the diseased, it is all right, so long as it is done with dignity and without harm to any being. What is discouraged is meaningless and wasteful practises based on superstition and abuse by priests and funeral directors. 
It is a basic teaching of Buddhism that existence is unsatisfactory and stressful, whether birth, daily living, old age or dying. This teaching is never in a stronger position than when death enters a home. To conduct the rites for the dead is one indispensable service rendered the community by the monks, lay Brothers and sisters and any Buddhist Temple or society. 
What can we do to help
When death occurs all the kammic forces that the dead person accumulated during the course of his or her lifetime become activated and set about determining the next rebirth. For the living, death is a powerful reminder of the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence.
Over the basic mood of gloom is the feeling that meritorious acts can aid the condition of the departed. For this reason relatives do what they can to ameliorate the condition with the offering of Requisites to the Sangha on behalf of the deceased. In fact, the Sanghikadana and sharing of Merits is the most important part of the funeral service. In concluding the service, a jug full of water is gradually emptied into a bowl, while radiating thoughts of metta towards the departed one. This is a symbolic gesture in which the water in the jug represents the merits acquired by the friends and relatives by good deeds and metta, which are then shared with the departed by pouring the water into the bowl.
It is quite common to print for distribution books sharing the Dhamma. Such books are not only a tribute to the dead and a means of making merit but they have practical educational value as well. 
Offering of Food
In Janussoni Sutta (AN 10.177), a brahmin named Janussoni asked the Buddha, 
“Master Gotama, we brahmins give dana and do things in full faith, thinking, ‘May this dana reach our departed relatives. May the departed relatives make use of this dana.’ Master Gotama, can this dana reach our departed relatives? Can the departed relatives make use of the dana?” 
The Buddha’s answer was: 
“If there is an opportunity, they can. If there is no opportunity, then they cannot.” 
He then clarified thus:~ conditions of non-opportunity: o those who do evil and hold wrong views and are reborn as hell beings o those who do evil and hold wrong views and are reborn as animals o those who refrain from evil and hold right views and are reborn as humans o those who refrain from evil and hold right views and are reborn as devas

~ condition of opportunity:
o those who do evil and hold wrong views and are reborn in the realm of ghosts.

It is clear here that food dana can only reach the deceased if he is read more

Mindfulness Meditation for Teens

Mindfulness Meditation for Teens

Recently, we ran a 4 sessions mindfulness meditation workshop with our SLBS teens. Each session was conducted in 1 hour during the Sunday Dhamma class for 4 consecutive Sundays.

The focus was on mindfulness of the body, feelings and thoughts.

Below is a short write up (about 19 pages) on what we did with the teens.

Mindfulness Meditation for Teens

Ethics: Why keep the precepts?

Ethics: Why keep the precepts?

The very IMPORTANT aspect of Buddhist Precepts is that it offers ethics without a divine imperative, this radically differs from the usual spiritual/secular dichotomy.

What is Ethically wrong is also religiously Wrong, eg It is wrong to KILL and even Killing to make an offering is also Wrong! There is NO sacrificial lamb or worse, a Human Being being killed for YOU!

We must clearly understand that the Precepts are NOT divine commandments BUT Training rules [sikkhapadam] that we voluntarily undertake to keep to our best abilty [samadiyami].

First Precept: not to kill living beings.
The negative phrasing of the precepts is noteworthy but the First Precept also lends itself to a positive reading, the development of Metta-Karuna [Loving Kindness], the positive aspect which encourages love, compassion and kindness to all living beings.
Buddhism teaches the interdependence of all living things, there must not be callous disregard for animal life or human beings.

The First Precept offer insights onto modern medical codes of Ethics. For instance, it prohibits assisted suicide or even encouragement of suicide, though they do not condone prolonging life at all costs.

Second Precept: not to steal. 
“I take upon myself the precept of abstention from taking that which is not given.”
If someone does not give us something, it is not ours to take. Without permission, taking is stealing. However Buddhism absolves one who takes something without knowing that it belongs to another .

The positive counterpart to the Second Precept is the Buddhist virtue of generosity [Dana]. To give is a greatly meritorious act.

Third Precept: 
This precept should be read in its original language: Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

The word kama refers to any form of sensual pleasure but with an emphasis on sexual pleasure, and a literal translation of the precept would be “I take the rule of training ( veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami) not to go the wrong way/ misconduct (micchacara) for sexual pleasure (kamesu)”.

For adolescents and other unmarried Buddhists, the precept advocates the virtue of contentment in sexual abstinence—not safe sex behavior;
for spouses, the precept calls for marital fidelity. The sexual health of everyone is thus guarded.

Although most Buddhists are not celibates, we recognize celibate monasticism as the ideal lifestyle for the attainment of Enlightenment, in which monks and nuns renounce all sexual conduct as an impediment on this path.

The positive result of keeping this Precept is obvious; for the Laypeople it assures every individual of mutual respect for the body and the instituition of marriage, and for the Monastics, of the most appropriate conditions for the path of letting go of attachments, sex being a fundamental craving [kamatanha], attachment [kama upadana] and latent defilement [kamasava].

Fourth Precept: not to tell falsehoods. 
Buddhists understand the negative consequences of lying, and this precept also covers gossip and other forms of unproductive and hurtful speech.

This precept calls Buddhists to a love of truth and clarity in thought and expression.

Fifth Precept: 
“I take upon myself the precept of abstention from taking any intoxicating drinks that give rise to carelessness/mindlessness.”

The prohibition has been extended to all intoxicants, including modern addictive drugs. The Fifth Precept is primary because of its potential comprehensiveness: break it, and the resulting mindlessness easily leads to transgression of the other four. In positive terms, the precept points up the virtue of a unclouded, disciplined, and wise mind.

Buddhism does NOT have the notion of an almighty, creator God who is the source of human ethics. There is no prologue to the precepts as there is to commandments eg: “I am the LORD your God” so do this OR….!

As Buddhists, we must understand WHY we want to keep the Precepts and do it VOLUNTARILY rather than being dictated to by an external force threatening fire and birmstone to those who disobey or lapse. The aim of the Buddha Dhamma is to enable us to evolve to be BETTER and Wiser people, to do that the change must come from WITHIN and with Insight. We keep the Precepts because we want to, not because we are ordered to.

The Buddha taught three criteria for making moral judgments.

The first is to act towards others the way we would like them to act towards us.

Eg In the Samyutta Nikaya he uses this principle to advise against adultery. He says: “What sort of Dhamma practice leads to great good for oneself?… A noble disciple should reflect like this: ‘If someone were to have sexual intercourse with my spouse I would not like it. Likewise, if I were to have sexual intercourse with another’s spouse they would not like that. For what is unpleasant to me must be unpleasant to another, and how could I burden someone with that?’ As a result of such reflection one abstains from wrong sexual desire, encourages others to abstain from it, and speaks in praise of such abstinence.”

In the Bahitika Sutta, Ananda is asked how to distinguish between praiseworthy and blameworthy behaviour.

He answers that any behaviour which causes harm to oneself and others could be called blameworthy while any behaviour that causes no harm (and which helps) oneself and others could be called praiseworthy.

Behaviour can be considered good or bad according to the consequences or effects it has and whether or not it helps us to attain our ultimate goal of Nibbana.

When asked how after his death it would be possible to know what was and was not his authentic teaching, the Buddha replied: “The doctrines of which you can say: ‘These doctrines lead to letting go, giving up, stilling, calming, higher knowledge, awakening and to Nibbana’ – you can be certain that they are Dhamma, they are discipline, they are the words of the Teacher.”

This utilitarian attitude to ethics is highlighted by the fact that the Buddha uses the term kusala to mean ‘skillful’ or ‘appropriate’ or its opposite, akusala, when evaluating behaviour.

The other thing that is important in evaluating behaviour is intention (cetana). If a deed is motivated by good (based upon generosity, love and understanding) intentions it can be considered skillful.

Evaluating ethical behaviour in Buddhism requires more than obediently following commandments, it requires that we develop a sympathy with others, that we be aware of our thoughts, speech and actions, and that we be clear about our goals and aspirations.

My Unfindable Self, by Dr. Diong Kok Hui

My Unfindable Self, by Dr. Diong Kok Hui

I once set out to get rid of my self.

My self was causing all sorts of problems, or so I thought.

It was seeking.

It was suffering.

Telling stories of self-importance.

My sole interest was to be rid of this pesky self. All happiness would come to me, once I was rid of this damn thing, or so I thought.

But then I began to look for it instead.

Instead of trying to get rid of it, I just began to see if it was really here.

I saw a thought here or a thought there. I saw the thought, “ME,” but that wasn’t it.

The self seemed like more than that. It must be a collection of thoughts. Yet I never experience a collection. I only experience a thought, followed by another thought…none of which is a self. The notion of a “collection of thoughts” is, itself, just another thought. It is not a self.

I saw a memory here or a memory there. For example, I saw the memory of graduating high school and the memory of being with my family on a holiday. But those were memories. Each one merely a passing thought. Still no self.

Where was it?

I continued looking. There was a feeling of fear or a feeling of anger there. I placed no thoughts on these things. Instead, I just observed them without thinking. I let them be there. And not a single emotion was this self character. The emotions never said a word. They never said they belonged to a self or that they were a self. They just did the only thing they could do. Arise, then fall.

I looked at an experience here and an experience there. Each was so fleeting that, by the time I looked at it, it was over. No self there either.

I experienced all sorts of things, including spiritual experiences. Each one came and went. Not a solid, fixed, separate self in any of it. Just fleeting stuff, like butterflies flapping away in the wind until they became distant memories.

But then I thought, I must be this body. This body seems so solid, so separate, so ME. But when I looked for the body, I found only mental pictures of body parts, each one arising and falling like every other thought. Or I found sensations of touch, heat, vibration, tingling. None of these arisings were a self.

And then I looked at sentences that I would write about this self, like the one I’m writing now. I kept seeing the word “I” pop up. Could that be it? No, that’s just a letter, a scribble on a page.

I could not find my self. It’s emptiness was so apparent. It could not be found.

I still cannot find it.

And yet thought continues. Emotions continue. Experiences continue. So beautifully, so perfectly, just like before. But each so fleeting, without a hint that any of them could do anything but arise and fall away into thin air, leaving no trace. And so no suffering is left. No seeking. Just the coming and going of everything. And even if suffering or seeking were to arise, they would be bursts of energy . . . without a self to fall back into . . . only space.

Each time I hear someone talking of being free of ego, I just want to ask, “Don’t you have to find it before you can be rid of it?”

Regardless of the answer, I just go on living my life as ME, the ME that cannot be found but that somehow makes its appearance anyway. Sweet and simple! No more bells and whistles. No big spiritual experiences anymore. None needed. They wouldn’t be a self either.

Just the unfindability of this ME. And the unfindability of everything else. And somehow that’s why everything feels so alive and cool and interesting and joyful. I can no longer be at war with things that aren’t really here. So there is nothing left to do but enjoy the emptiness of all these things. There is nothing left to do but be ME.