A simple ceremony when someone close to you dies
When someone close to us dies, our connection with that person is broken and cannot be restored. Yet the web of connections does not disintegrate right away. It gradually unravels — strands releasing one by one. Each strand is a memory or a recollection, arising in no particular order, triggered by a word, a thought, a familiar object, or just arising on its own in the quiet of the night.
Grief can be understood as the pain we experience as those strands unravel. It usually comes in waves, and those waves may continue to roll in for some time, months or even years after the person we were close to has died.
People react to death in different ways. Some go into shock, some become numb, some go about their lives as usual, some feel a release. However death affects us, there comes a time when we begin to let go of what was and to move into the next phase of our own lives.
The purpose of this ceremony is to complete our relationship with the person who has died and, in doing so, to allow the process of letting go to begin.
To this end, we create a sacred space, a small shrine perhaps. We place a picture, if we have one, of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Limitless Light, not as a figure to be worshipped, but as a symbolic representation of mind nature, the clear and unrestricted knowing that is our human heritage. In front of the picture, we set traditional offerings, or offerings of flowers, candles, incense, and food. And then we place a picture of the deceased, arranged in such a way that it can be lit with a candle and it can burn and the ashes can fall without endangering anything else.
I take refuge in all the sources of refuge,
The three jewels — buddha, dharma and sangha, and
The three roots — guru, deity and protector.
In order to lead all beings to buddhahood
I bring to mind the mind of awakening.
(Repeat three times.)
The ceremony opens with refuge and awakening mind, traditional reflections that renew our connection with the direction of our practice and our motivation.
e ma ho
Wonderful Buddha Limitless Light,
And Great Compassion, Great Power, and others,
Buddhas, bodhisattvas beyond reckoning,
I pray to you with single-minded devotion.
Inspire in me the awakening of Limitless Light.
om amidheva hri
(Repeat the mantra 21 or 100 times.)
Imagine that Buddha Amitabha is present in front of us, attended by Avalokiteshvara on the right and Vajrapani on the left. Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light, is red. He wears the traditional monastic robes, sits in lotus posture with his hands in meditation position holding the traditional mendicant’s bowl.
For us, he represents mind nature, the clear, empty knowing that is present in all experience. He also embodies compassion, the wish that all sentient beings find a relationship with life that allows them to be completely at peace, whatever they encounter in life. Avalokiteshvara, he who sees the pain of the world, and Vajrapani, the embodiment of power, appear as bodhisattvas, the former white in color, the latter blue. They represent how mind nature takes expression in life, as infinite compassion on the one hand, and as the power of fearlessness on the other.
Recite the mantra for Limitless Light a number of times, feeling your own yearning to be completely at peace with your life.
om ah hum
In this sacred and joyful setting, Realm of Joy,
Our family has gathered,
Brought together by noble wishes made long ago.
Here we present beautiful offerings, real and imagined,
And to them we add our profound thoughts of good will and well-being.
Great good and understanding come from these thoughts
And give power to these wishes we make.
When those close to us die and they see
The bewildering projections of confusion in the intermediate state,
May they recognize the unity of experience and awareness,
The mother and son clear light.
May they find a path free from fear, panic, and alarm
And be received by Lord Limitless Light
With his retinue of bodhisattvas.
Free from the threats and distress of ordinary existence,
May they be born in a lotus bud and meet the Buddha
In the lotus land of the Realm of Joy.
Receiving guidance, may they complete all the stages of the bodhisattva path,
Come to full awakening and develop the ability
To help all beings without discrimination become free of pain.
May this light that shines with the brilliance of intelligence and awareness
Clear away the darkness of conditioning, confusing emotions, and the distortions of reactions and concepts.
May it illumine the path of total purity
And reveal the way to a never-fading joy.
Light a candle, think of the deceased and say the Prayer of Guidance. The lighted candle symbolizes the clarity of mind nature that enables us to be at peace in the turmoil of our own reactivity and confusion. The lotus bud symbolizes buddha nature, the potential for awakening that unfolds naturally when the conditions are right. Here you are praying for the spiritual welfare of the deceased, praying that he or she recognizes mind nature and thus finds peace and freedom from the confusion of emotional reactions.
(Set a flame to the picture of the deceased.)
The fire that burns your form
Is the fire of pristine awareness.
Its blue base is the fire of Pure Being,
Its red foundation the fire of Limitless Light,
Its yellow light the fire of Source of Prosperity,
Its white intensity, the fire of Total Brilliance,
And its black tip, the fire of Effective Action.
The five buddhas, with their fires,
Burn away your five aggregates,
Remove forever the five poisons,
And lead you to the five aspects of timeless awareness.
(Read the Heart Sutra.)
Bring the flame of a candle to the photograph of the deceased. The flame represents timeless awareness in its five aspects: presence, balance, discernment, effective action and completeness.
In today’s world, we often do not see the actual body of this person who meant so much to us. With the burning of the photograph, we recognize clearly that the physical connection is no more. While the photograph burns, recite The Heart Sutra, which speaks to the emptiness of all experience.
Wonderful Buddha Limitless Light
With Great Compassion on his right
And Great Power on his left,
All surrounded by innumerable buddhas and bodhisattvas,
In the happy and joyous realm
Called Realm of Joy,
Through the power of the goodness done here today,
As soon as we leave this life,
Without any interruption in other lives,
May we immediately see the face of Limitless Light.
Thus, simply by my giving voice to this wish,
May the buddhas of the ten directions
Inspire in me its fulfillment
Free from impediments and obstacles.
Awaking mind is precious.
May it arise where it has not arisen.
May it not weaken where it has arisen
May it ever grow and flourish.
Then repeat the dedication prayers, praying that the good of performing this ceremony serves to help all beings in their spiritual paths.
After the ceremony, sit quietly for a few minutes and let your mind, body and heart absorb what has transpired. There may well be a mixture of feelings, sadness, joy, regret, relief, and so on. Don’t try to sort them out. Instead, let them all be there, swirling around like autumn leaves in the wind, and know that, whatever thoughts, feelings and sensations may arise, you are at peace, and your relationship with the deceased is complete.