Sunday, November 2, 2014

Buddhist Offerings to the DEAD (sutra)

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Seth Auberon, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly translation based on Ven. Thanissaro, Janussonin Sutra, "On Offerings to the Dead" (AN 10.177)
The Buddha under the Bodhi tree surrounded by unseen beings oil painting "Temptations" by Eduardo Chicharro Aguera, 1921, Bellas Artes San Fernando, Madrid (borsheimarts.com)
The Buddha in Indo-Greco Gandhara style, Central Asia (relationalbuddhism.org)
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Mictlantecuhtli (Museo de AntropologĂ­a, Xalapa)
Janussonin the Brahmin went to the Blessed One [the Buddha] and exchanged courteous greetings with him. After this exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies, he sat respectfully to one side and said:

"Master Gautama, you know that we Brahmins give gifts, make offerings [saying], 'May this gift accrue to our dead relatives. May our dead relatives partake of this gift.'

"Now, Master Gautama, does that gift accrue to our dead relatives? Do our dead relatives partake of that gift?"
 
"In places where it is possible [depending on where they are reborn], Brahmin, it accrues to them, but not in places where it is impossible."
 
"In which places, Master Gautama, is it possible, which impossible?"
 
"In some cases, Brahmin, a person [engages in these Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct:]
  1. takes life
  2. takes what is not given
  3. takes sexual liberties (engages in sexual misconduct)
  4. takes liberties with the truth (engages in false speech -- perjury,
  5. divisive speech,
  6. abusive speech,
  7. idle chatter)
  8. is covetous
  9. bears ill will
  10. holds wrong views.
Aztec god of the dead (Buddhist Yama), Mexico
"Then with the breakup of the body, after death, that person reappears in [the downfall, states of deprivation or apaya, in subhuman worlds such as the animal plane, the realm of hungry ghosts, or even the] hells [which are purgatories].

"One lives there, remains there by means of whatever is the food (sustenance) of hellions (or denizens of those planes of existence). This place (the hell realms below the worlds of animals, ghosts, titans) is an impossible place for such a gift to accrue to one [abiding there].
 
Tibetan thangka shows desolate ghosts.
"In another case, a certain person [engages in the aforementioned Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct]. With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the animal womb. One lives there, remains there by means of whatever food sustains animals. This, too, is an impossible place for a such a gift to accrue to one.
 
"On the other hand, there is the case where a certain person [engages in the Ten Courses of Wholesome Conduct in that one]
  1. refrains from taking life
  2. refrains from taking what is not given
  3. refrains from taking sexual liberties
  4. refrains from perjury
  5. refrains from divisive speech
  6. refrains from abusive speech
  7. refrains from idle chatter
  8. is not covetous
  9. bears no ill will
  10. holds right views.
Section of the Hungry Ghosts Scroll depicting one of the 36 types of hungry ghosts who constantly seeks water to drink and explaining how those who have been born as such are saved by the offerings of the living (Kyoto Museum, Japan).
 
"With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the company of human beings. One lives there, remains there by means of whatever is the food of human beings. This, too, is an impossible place for such a gift to accrue to one.
 
Sakka, devas, and titans in space
"Then there is the case where a certain person [engages in the Ten Courses of Wholesome Conduct]. With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the company of devas [a diverse class of well born beings, literally "shining ones," who exist on Earth, in lower and upper space, in the Fine Material Sphere, and in the Immaterial Sphere which, being other spheres, might best be understood as other "dimensions." Hellions, titans (sometimes called demons), ghosts, animals, humans, and the shining beings inhabiting the lower heavens all live within the Sensual Sphere].

"One lives there, remains there by means of whatever is the food of devas [in various worlds, one of which is the Abhasara world, where devas feed on joy, but there are six physical planes of existence in space, which represents countless worlds like ours but better in certain ways; there are many other human worlds, the human plane not being limited to this planet].

"This, too, is an impossible place for that gift to accrue to one there.
 
"Then there is the case where a certain person [engages in the Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct]. With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the realms of the hungry ghosts (Pali petas or Sanskrit pretas). One lives there, remains there by means of whatever is food sustains hungry ghosts. One lives there, remains there by means of whatever one's friends or relatives give in dedication. This is the place where it is possible for that gift to accrue to one there.
 
Karma is not a b-tch, but Samsara is.
"But, Master Gautama, if that dead relative does not reappear [is not reborn] in such a place as that, who partakes of that gift?"
 
"Other dead relatives, Brahmin, who have reappeared in that place where it is possible to receive gifts."
 
"But, Master Gotama, if that dead relative does not reappear in that place where it is possible to receive gifts, and other dead relatives have not reappeared in that place either, then who partakes of the gift?"
 
"It is impossible, Brahmin, it cannot be that over this long period of time [as beings go wandering on through samsara] that such place is without one's dead relatives [Note 1].
  • 1. The Monastic Code of Discipline (Vinaya) counts as one's relatives all of those related back through seven generations beyond one's grandparents -- in other words, all those descended from one's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents.
"But at any rate, the giver does not go without reward." [The donor is rewarded as a result of the karma of giving, the intentional act of trying to benefit the departed.]
 
"Does Master Gautama describe any preparation for the places where it is impossible to receive gifts given by those here?"
 
"Yes, Brahmin, I do describe a preparation for the such places. In the case where a certain person [engages in one or more of the Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct], but one gives food, drink, cloth, transportation, garlands, scents, creams, bed, lodging, and lamps to Brahmins and monastics. [A "Brahmin" refers not to members of India's priestly caste, but to noble people who are Brahmins by their actions in this life, and to Buddhist monastics or shramans striving for spiritual nobility.]

Addicts become like ghosts.
"With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the company of elephants. There one receives food, drink, flowers, and various ornaments. It is because one took life, took what is not given, engaged in sexual misconduct, engaged in false speech, engaged in divisive speech, engaged in abusive speech, engaged in idle chatter, was covetous, bore ill will, and had wrong views that one reappears [is reborn] in the company of elephants.

"But it is because one gave food, drink, cloth, vehicles, garlands, scents, creams, bed, lodging, and lamps to Brahmins and monastics that one receives food, drink, flowers, and various ornaments.
 
"Then there is the case where a certain person [engages in one or more of the Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct]. But one gives [and accrues the merit of giving]. With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the company of horses... in the company of cattle... in the company of poultry. There one receives food, drink, flowers, and various ornaments.
  • 2. Apparently, "ornaments" for poultry would consist of brilliant plumage. Similarly, "ornaments" for elephants, horses, and cattle might consist of attractive markings.
Beliefs and thoughts are the basis of karma.
"It is because one [engaged in one or more of the Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct] that one reappears in the company of poultry. But it is because one gave [gifts and accrued great merit] that one receives food, drink, flowers, and various ornaments.
 
"There is also the case where a certain person [engages in one ore more of the Ten Courses of Wholesome Conduct]. And one gives [gifts and accrues merit in relation to Brahmins and monastics. With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the company of human beings.

"There one experiences the five strands of human sensuality [delightful sights, sounds, fragrances, tastes, tactile sensations]. It is because one refrained from [the Ten Courses of Wholesome Conduct] that one reappears in the company of human beings. And it is because one gave [and accrued merit in relation to] Brahmins and contemplatives that one experiences the five strands of human sensuality.
  • 3. For unknown reasons the Pali Text Society translation of this sutra ends here.
Some dead become ghosts
"Then there is the case where a certain person refrains [from engaging in the Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct]. And one [and accrues merit in relation to] Brahmins and monastics. With the breakup of the body, after death, one reappears in the company of devas.

"There one experiences the five strands of divine sensuality [delightful sights, sounds, fragrances, tastes, and tactile sensations]. It is because one refrained from [engaging in the Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct] that one reappears in the company of devas. And it is because one gave [and accrued merit in relation to] Brahmins and monastics that one experiences the five strands of divine sensuality.

"But in any case, Brahman, the giver [the one who remembers and donates on behalf of the departed] does not go without reward." [The karma of giving benefits the giver as a result regardless of what benefit accrues to one's specific relatives.]

"It is amazing, Master Gautama, it is astounding! It i enough to make one want to give a gift, enough to make one want to make an offering, where the donor does not go without reward."
 
"That is the way it is, Brahmin. That is the way it is. The donor does not go without reward."
 
"Magnificent, Master Gautama, magnificent! It is just as if one were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms that Master Gautama -- through many lines of reasoning -- has made the Dharma clear!

"I go to Master Gautama for guidance (sarana), go to the Dharma, and to the [noble] Sangha! May Master Gautama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for guidance, from this day forward, for life."



7th Month Hungry Ghost Festival Offerings in Singapore.jpg
7th month Ghost Festival offerings, Singapore.
(Ven. Seng Yen) Chinese Mahayana Buddhism has many folkloric beliefs from ancient Taoism, Shinto, Bon, shamanism in general and other indigenous systems which are conventionally true and need to be distinguished from technical discussions of ultimate truth (such as anatta or not self). There are "souls" (atmans, gandharvas, spirits, etc.) in Buddhism, but what is the nature of our "selves" or souls? To say "There is no self" is not to say there are no spirits, but to make a statement about the Highest Teachings (Abhidharma) and the ultimate nature of reality. That teaching is this: ALL PHENOMENA ARE BESET BY THREE CHARACTERISTICS: They are (1) impermanent, (2) unsatisfactory, and (3) impersonal. It is in this sense that there is no self, ultimately speaking. There is no soul, no ego, no unchanging personality. No one speaks in this way, so it is perfectly natural to speak of individuals, selves, egos, "souls." It gets very technical, philosophical, and in depth. There really is no self, but for all intents and normal purposes we speak as if there are, and this is fine. To find out first hand whether or not there is a self/soul (atman), practice meditation and find it, examine it, analyze it, and find liberation through insight. Thinking will not lead out, to freedom, nor will arguing or debating. The mind/heart must be calmed, concentrated, and systematically cultivated to see Dependent Origination. The Truth sets one free, and one sees that there was really never a self, ultimately speaking.

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