The early Buddhists followed the Indian custom of burning the body at death. The Buddha’s body was cremated and this set the example for many Buddhists, even in the West. When someone is dying in a Buddhist home, monks come to comfort them by chanting verses to them, such as:
“Even the gorgeous royal chariots wear out; and indeed this body too wears out. But the teaching of goodness does not age; and so Goodness makes that known to the good ones.”
After death, while the dead person is being prepared for the funeral fire, the monks continue to chant in order to help the dead one’s good energies to be released from their fading personality.
The monks come with the family to the funeral. The family and all their friends give food and candles to the monks. Goodwill is created by these gifts and it is believed that the goodwill helps the lingering spirit of the dead person.
In Tibet the day of death is thought of as highly important. It is believed that as soon as the death of the body has taken place, the personality goes into a state of trance for four days. During this time the person does not know they are dead. This period is called the First Bardo and during it Lamas (monks) saying special verses can reach the dead person.
It is believed that towards the end of this time the dead person will see a brilliant light. If the radiance of the Clear Light does not terrify them, and they can welcome it, then the person will not be reborn. But most flee from the Light, which then fades.
The person then becomes conscious that death has occurred. At this point the Second Bardo begins. The person sees all that they have ever done or thought passing in front of them. While they watch they feel they have a body but when they realize this is not so, they long to possess one again. Then comes the Third Bardo, which is the state of seeking another birth. All previous thoughts and actions direct the person to choose new parents, who will give them their next body.
Dying is easy . . .
In Japan a form of Mahayana Buddhism called Zen is practiced. Japanese Zen masters sometimes know when they are going to die.
Once master Hofaku called his monks together and said: “This last week my energy has been draining – no cause for worry. It is just that death is near.”
A monk asked: “You are about to die! What does it mean? We will go on living. And what does that mean?”
“They are both the way of things,” the master replied.
“But how can I understand two such different states?”
Hofaku answered: “When it rains it pours,” and then calmly died.