A zen funeral.
Following is typical of a Zen funeral. Any person claiming to be a Zen monk will be familiar with these rites and know the correct sutras, recitations, and rituals to be performed. Usually the only time a Japanese visits a Buddhist temple is to attend a funeral, sight seeing or during the new years celebrations.
Funerals are the central component of Buddhism in Japan. Buddhism in Japan exists solely to console the dead and provide a safe trip to the afterlife or a proper rebirth.
When a Zen monk is notified of the death of a parishioner, he goes to the home of the deceased to perform the rinju fugin - the series of sutras for the deceased. These are commonly called makura agyõ which means literally “pillow chanting.” The officiating monk chants the Yuikyõgyõ (last teaching sutra) and shariraimon (Buddha’s relics sutra). These outline the nirvana or death of the Buddha.
After this the officiating monk will then state: “I have offered incense, flowers, lanterns, candles, water and rice and have completed the chanting of the necessary sutras handed down by the Buddha. I dedicate the merit accumulated from this chanting to the newly released spirit of the deceased. We who are gathered here pray that the karmic combination of the four elements fades away and that this achieved merit will adorn the spirit of the deceased and bring retributive justice to the soul of the deceased.”
On the night prior to the funeral there is a night long vigil usually held at the house of the deceased when the relatives, co-workers and friends come together to reflect on the life of the deceased. Night long sutra chanting takes place affiliated by the monk.
On the day of the funeral, the dead person is ordained as a Buddhist monk (teihatsu) and the monk performing the rituals will shave the head of the dead body saying, “Right through the round of rebirth in the three realms, the bonds of love cannot be severed. To cast off human obligations and to enter into the unconditioned is the faithful repayment of blessings.”
This signifies that the dead person has cut all ties from his/her family and become a Buddhist monk. The officiating monk then shaves the head of the dead body after first purifying it with holy incense and says while doing so, “Shaving off the hair we pray that all living things should forever be free from mental afflictions and attain nirvana (death and freedom from cyclic rebirth).”
The dead person then takes the three precepts of Buddhism! The monk performing the rituals sounds wooden clappers three times and says, “Oh that you have returned to the source, if you wish to take the three precepts, you must first repent your sins. There is this repentance verse that must be repeated after me: I now completely repent all the evil deeds of my past arising from ignorance, anger, greed, and delusion and manifested through my actions through body, speech, and mind. Having repented for the three spheres of karma you have received purification. Now you will take refuge in the there jewels: Buddha, dharma, and sangha. The three jewels each have their own merit but are of one essence. Manifested by the Buddha and maintained by man. When you take refuge, all merit will be realised.”
The monk then sprinkles holy water in three directions, in front of the mortuary tablet of the dead and to the right (the Buddha side) and the left (the side of humans). He claps the wooden clappers loudly and chants, “Hail refuge in Buddha, hail refuge in dharma, hail refuge in sangha. I take refuge in the honoured and highest Buddha, I take refuge in the honoured and stainless dharma, I take refuge in the honoured and harmonious sangha. I have taken refuge in the Buddha, I have taken refuge in the dharma, I have taken refuge in the sangha.”
The precepts have now been taken and the dead body is now a Buddhist monk!
The monk continues, “From now on the true and perfect awakening of the Buddha shall be the great teacher to …………… who has recently returned to the source. He/she must not take refuge in other paths, for we hail great pity, great compassion, and great mercy. Next our new monk ……………will receive the three sets of sanju jõkai (pure precepts). First are the precepts of restraint, second of adopting good qualities, third the precepts of benefitting all living beings. Next, our new monk …………. will receive the juju kinkai (the ten major precepts of restraint). First is the precept not to kill, second is the precept not to steal, third is the precept not to engage in sex, fourth is the precept not to use false speech, fifth is the precept not to partake of alcohol, sixth is the precept not to point out the faults of others, seventh is the precept not to praise oneself over others, eighth is the precept not to be stingy with material things, ninth is the precept not to become angered, and tenth is the precept not to slander the teachings or disparage the three jewels. These refuges and precepts are holy teachings maintained by the prior buddhas and handed down by our patriarchs. I now give them to you. Beginning with your body and until you attain the body of a buddha you must uphold these things.”
The monk then gives the newly ordained dead monk a lineage certificate outlining all the past patriarchs of Zen from the Buddha down to the current head of the temple. He blesses the certificate with incense and says, “This is the holy lineage of the great bodhisattva precepts correctly transmitted unchanged and unadulterated by the buddhas and patriarchs. Buddha after buddha, patriarch after patriarch, all have inherited it and it has come to me as one in the line of the Great Buddha. I now give it to you new monk ………………. who has recently returned to the source. You should reverently protect it.”
The monk places it before the dead body so that the spirit may see it and says, “When living beings receive precepts they enter the rank of the buddhas. When one’s rank is the same as the greatly awakened, one is definitely the child of the Holy Buddha. Hail great pity, great compassion, and great mercy.”
The ordination of the dead body is now complete and so the body can be given a funeral in accordance with that of a Buddhist monk. This funeral rite originated in China and has been handed down practically unchanged since Zen was introduced from China.
The funeral itself is very long and involved and quite often assistant monks will be asked to help out. There is more dedicating of merit, lots more chanting (nyukan fugin) or sutras for putting the body in the casket. Then the officiating monk chants in front of the casket the kanzen nenju, “Aware that birth and death give way to each other, like lightening flashes in the sky, they pass like waves on the sea. Today that is the case with …………… who has recently returned to the source. His/her karmic conditions are exhausted and lifespan expired. Understanding the impermanence of all things, ……………… will take nirvana without constraint. I request that the assembly here today recite the holy names of the sacred beings that they may furnish the path of awakening.”
Everyone present then recites the names of the ten Buddhas.
The officiating monk continues, “Having recited sutras and recitations, we dedicate the merit we have accumulated to ………………..who has returned to the source. We pray that his/her spirit will cross over to the Pure Land, that his/her karmic afflictions will fade and be gone, that the holy lotus of the dharma will blossom, and the Great Buddha will predict a good rebirth.”
The coffin is then lifted up while another recitation is made (kokan nenju), a guiding dharma phrase is repeated while the coffin is being carried (indõ hõgo), and a recitation at the actual funeral site on the temple grounds or at the house (in the backyard, street or farm) is made to prepare the site to receive the new monk (santõ nenju). Tea is offered to the dead body before it is burned, then the officiating monk will wield the torch used to light the fire and start the cremation.
Following the cremation, the family members will be given white chopsticks and one by one they will sift through the ashes looking for holy shari (relics). Then a sutra chanting will take place in the temple’s mortuary hall where the dead person’s tablet will will be placed.
So, you claim Zen Buddhism isn’t a religion huh?