10

My original belief used to be that as long as you are a decent good person without any intentions to hurt others, you'll be fine. Meaning that no matter what religion you follow, no matter how flawed you are as a person (stubborn, short-tempered, basically all the imperfections of a human), you will not be damned to hell. To me, it used to be that there are so many religions and so many hells and heavens that comes with them, but they teach one main thing: to love and to be kind, and that would be all that we had to follow.

However, this belief was recently shaken with my grandmother's passing. She was a buddhist. I thought that because she was a good lady who never really harmed anyone directly, she would be at peace and with God/Buddha, but throughout her 5-day funeral service, there were so many things to follow (offering incense, chanting etc.) to ensure she moves on, and I developed this fear that if these rituals and rules weren't followed properly, she would go to hell/not be able to move on.

I'm an anxious person. I get fixated on things. On the final two nights of her funeral service we had to sit down and chant from some scripture books to help my grandma move on (again, what happens if there's no one doing that? Say a Buddhist that doesn't have a family who knows to follow these customs/a Buddhist with no family/a person of any other religion?). While reciting some of the scriptures, though difficult, I briefly read something about how humans are imperfect for wanting good things, being lustful, and basically all the things in human nature that makes us flawed and of course, all the very specific different kinds of hell that comes with.

It feels like we're all comforting ourselves that my grandma is resting in peace now, but this huge part of me has this crippling fear that my grandma (as well as the rest of us) will not rest in peace and instead be suffering at the end of our lives for being imperfect humans.

I'm only 22, and I start having this intense fear of doing virtually anything as a human. I'm afraid of not being wise and selfless like old monks, I'm afraid of wanting to strive for anything, or ranting about any dissatisfaction, feeling upset by things, having fun, treating myself with self-love and basically anything at all.

I feel so crippled by the fear I wake up unhappy and afraid to live and afraid to die as well. It's consuming me so much and I'm deathly afraid of it, because I'm spiralling. The more I read and research, the more afraid and unsettled I get. I even read that feeling fear and anxiety is bad and I'll also be damned for that.

Could someone kind enough maybe please offer me some words of comfort and lead me back to a rational mindset? I've been Buddhist since birth, but like I said above, I've always thought of Buddhism as a religion about love, forgiveness, and karma. Karma meaning if you do something bad, you can something on par in return. Not in a sense that if I feel anxious, live in fear I get reborn as an animal living in fear. That just makes me feel the whole religion is so scary like one misstep or one imperfection as a human, and you'll be damned.

This is still a grieving period for my family, and I want to be there for my mother for the loss of my grandmother, but I'm so scared right now. I want to be able to cheer her up, treat ourselves to nice meals and desserts, watch movies and basically just have fun like a human living their best lives, but after reading into Buddhism I feel like that's all wrong and there is no forgiveness like there is in Christianity or something else.

Maybe I got the whole perception wrong, but could somebody please help me? I'm not trolling, so please use kind words. Thank you so much.

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  • Can you tell us which part of the world you're living in? Are you in a majority Buddhist country, or part of a Buddhist community within a Western country, or somewhere else? – AirOfMystery Aug 14 at 0:27
  • 2
    I live in Singapore, it's very greatly diverse with buddhists, taoists, christians, muslims and so on. – scaredpotato Aug 14 at 11:39
  • Sorry for your loss. – EKons Aug 14 at 20:15
9

I hope SN 42.6 quoted below will give you comfort. A person's actions while they were alive determines their outcome, and not rituals performed after death.

Then Asibandhaka’s son the chief went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him:

“Sir, there are western brahmins draped with moss who carry pitchers, immerse themselves in water, and serve the sacred flame. When someone has passed away, they truly lift them up, raise them up, and guide them along to heaven. But what about the Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha: is he able to ensure that the whole world will be reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm when their body breaks up, after death?”

"Well then, chief, I’ll ask you about this in return, and you can answer as you like.

What do you think, chief? Take a person who doesn’t kill living creatures, steal, or commit sexual misconduct. They don’t use speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re contented, kind-hearted, and have right view. And a large crowd comes together to offer up prayers and praise, circumambulating them with joined palms and saying: ‘When this person’s body breaks up, after death, may they be reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell!’ What do you think, chief? Would that person be reborn in hell because of their prayers?”

“No, sir.”

“Chief, suppose a person were to sink a pot of ghee or oil into a deep lake and break it open. Its shards and chips would sink down, while the ghee or oil in it would rise up. And a large crowd was to come together to offer up prayers and praise, circumambulating it with joined palms and saying: ‘Sink, good ghee or oil! Descend, good ghee or oil! Go down, good ghee or oil!” What do you think, chief? Would that ghee or oil sink and descend because of their prayers?”

“No, sir.”

“In the same way, take a person who doesn’t kill living creatures, steal, or commit sexual misconduct. They don’t use speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re contented, kind-hearted, and have right view. Even though a large crowd comes together to offer up prayers and praise … when their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.”

When he said this, Asibandhaka’s son the chief said to the Buddha, “Excellent, sir! … From this day forth, may the Buddha remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.”

5

Along with all the excellent answers I would like to add a few cents of mine.

A student asked Zen master Hakuin, What happens after we die? The Zen master replied, "I don't know."

"But you're the master!" exclaimed the student.

'Yes,' said the Master, 'but I'm not a dead one.'

The point is that you can never know what happens after death. The rituals that are performed after death are to console the relatives of the dead, and not for the dead one. As it is said, don't ask for whom the bell tolls, it always tolls for you.

No nobody has power over the Karma of dead one, based on the karma of the dead one the person gets rebirth in the hell realm or heavenly realm.

To get over the crippling fear of hellfire you should start doing meditation and in those meditative spaces, you should realize, that there is no death. Death is just a starting point of next life. You have lived millions of lives and your goal should be Nirvana rather than fear of hell or greed for heaven.

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3

These rituals exist for the living, not for the dead. They are designed to inspire very lazy, shameless people to try become better. In your case, looks like the medicine was too strong, for someone as sensitive as you.

Relax and ignore it. Focus on basic principles:

  • If you create harmony and peace, you and others will reap harmony and peace.
  • If you create conflict and pain, you and others will reap conflict and pain.

As long as you create harmony and peace, and avoid creating conflict and pain, you will be fine.

1

Rights and rituals cannot determine the place one is born as in Asi,bandhaka,putta Sutta. But one can offer merit to the departed.

(a) offering to relatives,

(b) offering to guests,

(c) offering to the departed,

(d) offering to the king [the government], and

(e) offering to devas.

Adiya Sutta

Offering you ones departed relative can be material or practice offering with strong thoughts of passing merit before, during and after making the offering.

In some traditions, two different types of offerings are identified:

  • material or hospitality offerings (Pali: amisa-puja or sakkara-puja)
  • practice offerings (Pali: patipatti-puja[17])

In this context, material offerings are considered external offerings of "words and deeds."

Practice offerings may be manifested by practicing:

  • giving (Pali: dāna)
  • moral conduct (sīla)
  • meditation (samādhi)
  • wisdom (pañña)

In the Pali Canon, the Buddha declared practice offerings as "the best way of honoring the Buddha" and as the "supreme" offering. This is primarily an internal offering for mental development (Pali: citta, bhāvanā and samādhi).

Offering (Buddhism)

1

Have no fear, please read SN 55.22 for some insight from the Buddha.

"Suppose a tree were leaning toward the east, slanting toward the east, inclining toward the east. When its root is cut, which way would it fall?"

"In whichever way it was leaning, slanting, and inclining, Lord."

"In the same way, Mahanama, a disciple of the noble ones, when endowed with four qualities, leans toward Unbinding, slants toward Unbinding, inclines toward Unbinding."

1

You ask for "some words of comfort and lead me back to a rational mindset". Comfort first: you're grieving for someone close to you. It's difficult and it takes time. It will be some weeks or months before you feel like your usual self, and this is natural. I'd encourage you to focus on self-care before you try to help others. Talking to a good friend will help, as will talking to a professional who is outside the situation: lily's answer has some good suggestions. I am very sorry to hear of your loss. The first weeks are the most difficult, and the feelings will get less intense over time.

Now rationality. Being completely rational is deeply scary, it's a very challenging way to live your life. Your analysis of the situation is already very rational! But perhaps you're making some wrong assumptions about the purpose of the rituals.

I'm relatively new to Buddhism, but I'm already seeing that there are many types of Buddhism, and there's a big difference between the "pure" teachings of the Buddha and the "folk" Buddhism that comes with many layers of tradition, ritual and superstition. Others have already quoted some relevant scriptures. In the long term I think it will help if you can keep clear in your mind which teachings and beliefs come directly from the Buddha and which are mixed in from other sources. You can be part of a religion without taking on 100% of the beliefs of the people around you. But this is a long term project, and you might need to work through your grief before you can start changing your understanding of Buddhism.

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1

My original belief used to be that as long as you are a decent good person without any intentions to hurt others, you'll be fine.

Yes it's good -- ethical -- to intend to be harmless.

The last bit, the corollary -- i.e. that "you will be" this or that -- I treat that as being a bit unknowable:

  • because the future doesn't exist
  • because it may presume a continuous self (e.g. that there is a "you now" and a "you later")
  • because it presumes that existence is and remains controllable and as we want it to be, but that kind of thinking might lead to craving and attachment and desire for becoming and ... problems

Perhaps for any action you're supposed to ask,

  • Will doing this be skilful or unskilful?
  • Is doing this skilful or unskilful?
  • Was doing this skilful or unskilful?

But obsessing about what the goal (the future) will look like is maybe less important than paying attention to the path (the present and the vehicle).

Meaning that no matter what religion you follow, no matter how flawed you are as a person (stubborn, short-tempered, basically all the imperfections of a human), you will not be damned to hell.

I think there's two aspects to it.

In order to "have no intention to hurt others" you might want to train yourself to reduce your flaws. If for example you're short-tempered and don't train yourself then you might get into situations or relationships where anger increases and something unpleasant (a metaphorical "hell" if not a literal one) might be a consequence.

So perhaps you shouldn't be telling yourself, "It's OK to be short-tempered -- it's perfectly justified, and especially with him because I don't like him!"

On the other hand I think the proper consequence of a flaw is "remorse", for example telling yourself, "On that occasion I allowed myself to be short-tempered. I see that had consequences, that was unskilful of me, I resolve not to make the same mistake again in future." -- I wouldn't describe this consequence as "hell", instead I think you'd describe it as remorse, training, maybe the beginning of wisdom.

To me, it used to be that there are so many religions and so many hells and heavens that comes with them, but they teach one main thing: to love and to be kind, and that would be all that we had to follow.

Yes.

Technically, Christianity for example has two commandments (i.e. love God and love your neighbour).

I think that in Buddhism, being kind to your neighbour is very good, but people are also taught to try to emulate the Buddha or to begin to follow the path or training he laid out -- to pacify the mind -- to see dukkha, its origination and cessation -- to let go of hindrances and fetters, and wrong "views", to make right effort and so on.

there were so many things to follow (offering incense, chanting etc.) to ensure she moves on

I think these rites are intended to benefit the living.

Say a Buddhist that doesn't have a family who knows to follow these customs/a Buddhist with no family/a person of any other religion?

Yes.

In DN 16 the Buddha tells people something like,

Dwell making yourselves your island (support), making yourselves your refuge, and not anyone else as your refuge.

I don't want to downplay the importance of good friends and so on, but still.

It feels like we're all comforting ourselves that my grandma is resting in peace now, but this huge part of me has this crippling fear that my grandma (as well as the rest of us) will not rest in peace and instead be suffering at the end of our lives for being imperfect humans.

Perhaps I'm wrong, I think that Buddhist doctrine says that the "suffering" for a good but imperfect human is to be reborn -- not in hell but for example to be reborn human.

I start having this intense fear of doing virtually anything as a human

I think you're supposed to distinguish right from wrong. So do things because they're kind, or necessary, wise, good for you -- and don't do things which are motivated by anger and other hindrances.

I'm afraid of wanting to strive for anything

I think that "striving", making an effort, isn't inherently bad -- for example the noble eightfold path includes "right effort". So striving to be kind, for example ...

ranting about any dissatisfaction, feeling upset by things

Maybe "ranting" isn't a good habit -- like if someone insults, your "hitting" them wouldn't be a good habit, a good training.

Instead maybe reflection, "from what cause did this dissatisfaction arise, what now would be a good intention and course of action?"

I feel so crippled by the fear I wake up unhappy and afraid to live and afraid to die as well.

That sounds canonical.

The translation of the four noble truths, as I first learned them, talked about craving -- "the craving to have what you can't have, the craving to keep what you can't keep, the craving to live, even the craving to die" -- all, different forms of craving.

And I think that Buddhists see "lust" and "aversion", and so maybe "craving" and "fear", as two sides of the same coin -- i.e. perhaps you fear something because you crave its opposite.

But craving is suffering -- and it may be associated with a "wrong view" somehow -- a wrong view about whether something is desirable, about the proper way to relate with it, and wrong view about the self perhaps.

I think that the best bits of Buddhist doctrine -- the bits which help me most -- are the "four noble truths" and the doctrine of anatta (though I also like that it's not separate from inter-personal ethics and praises e.g. harmlessness).

there is no forgiveness like there is in Christianity

Perhaps I'm wrong but I do think there is.

In (at least one major school of) Christianity I think that forgiveness follows from "confession of sin", e.g. "I did X, which I now see is wrong, I repent and I resolve not to do it again, so please forgive me, thank you."

I think that Buddhism is the same, except that it's people who do the forgiving -- i.e. people forgive each other and even forgive themselves -- see the first few verses of the Dhammapada, for example -- though perhaps with a bit less "I" and so on than in Christianity).

I think that in Buddhism the "root" of the problem is seen to be "ignorance", so i.e. "I did wrong" or "This or that bad thing happened", "because of ignorance" or "because I was ignorant", and "knowing better now, the cause of that bad thing (i.e. ignorance) no longer exists and that bad thing won't arise again in future".

That just makes me feel the whole religion is so scary like one misstep or one imperfection as a human, and you'll be damned.

There's a sutta -- Lonaphala Sutta: The Salt Crystal (AN 3.99) -- which talks about going to hell for a trifling deed:

"Monks, for anyone who says, 'In whatever way a person makes kamma, that is how it is experienced,' there is no living of the holy life, there is no opportunity for the right ending of stress. But for anyone who says, 'When a person makes kamma to be felt in such & such a way, that is how its result is experienced,' there is the living of the holy life, there is the opportunity for the right ending of stress.

"There is the case where a trifling evil deed done by a certain individual takes him to hell. There is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by another individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

"Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual takes him to hell? There is the case where a certain individual is undeveloped in [contemplating] the body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment: restricted, small-hearted, dwelling with suffering. A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual takes him to hell.

"Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in [contemplating] the body, developed in virtue, developed in mind, developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the immeasurable.[1] A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

"Suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into a small amount of water in a cup. What do you think? Would the water in the cup become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?"

"Yes, lord. Why is that? There being only a small amount of water in the cup, it would become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink."

"Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?"

"No, lord. Why is that? There being a great mass of water in the River Ganges, it would not become salty because of the salt crystal or unfit to drink."

"In the same way, there is the case where a trifling evil deed done by one individual [the first] takes him to hell; and there is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by the other individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

And so on. I think the first paragraph says that if you did go to hell for a trifling deed then there'd be no point in "living the holy life" -- but that's not what happens, if you live the holy life then any trifling bad deed is experience in the moment.

I'm an anxious person. I get fixated on things.

Well I don't know.

Maybe that suggests you should practice non-fixation -- and/or fixate on good things (like being kind -- encouraging your mum to be kind to others too, to be in situations where she can be kind, if you see an opportunity to).

Also the opposite of "fear" might be confidence or faith -- e.g. confidence in the refuge[s], confidence in the three jewels.

Reading about hell and so on might be like reading about diseases -- it can make some people fearful. Instead you might want to read about what's "healthy" and what's good, including what's "praised by the wise" and so on.

1

As someone who lost my grandmother about 4 to 5 years ago. Let me share my experience to see if it can help you.

"but throughout her 5-day funeral service, there were so many things to follow (offering incense, chanting etc.) to ensure she moves on"

" While reciting some of the scriptures, though difficult, I briefly read something about how humans are imperfect for wanting good things, being lustful, and basically all the things in human nature that makes us flawed and of course, all the very specific different kinds of hell that comes with."

First of all, do you mind if I ask you whether you attended a Chinese Buddhist funeral service? I am familiar with Thai and Chinese Buddhist funerals. And I suspect that it is the Chinese Buddhist funeral, because you were able to read the scriptures even though you had minimal experience with Buddhist practice. (Thai Buddhist funerals generally involved monks chanting the Abhidhamma in Pali while most attendees looked on.)

In the Chinese Buddhist tradition, the most common scriptures associate with funerals are the Amitabha Sutra 阿彌陀經 and Ksitigarbha (Dizang) Sutra 地藏經. It is the latter that has chapters dedicated to describing various hells that people end up in.

Now back to my own experience. When my grandmother was passing away, it occurred agonizingly over a number of days where she lay dying surrounded by her children and grandchildren. I was advised by my own teacher to repeatedly chant the Amitabha Sutra and dedicate merits to her. At that time I was still fairly new to the practice, but it gave me a meaningful purpose. There was actually something I could do for her rather than to feel helpless in the hopes that it will benefit her in the afterlife somehow. Although she never quite had that peaceful death as her organs slowly fail and her struggle to breath throughout the ordeal, my father was convinced that when I chanted the Great Compassion Mantra 大悲咒 his mother felt better. When she finally passed, although filled with sadness I was also relieved that at least this suffering is over. While my cousins sobbed and cried, and my brother felt angry that prayers to save her did nothing, I felt like I have done something worthwhile.

In the Chinese Buddhist (and apparently Tibetan), it is said that the dead have an intermediate stage of 49 days if they do not have particularly strong karma for a destination for rebirth to go where they need. This allow mourners to perform meritorious deeds and dedicate the merits to them. And that's what I did, chant for her through out that 49 days, reminding myself to dedicate the merits to her. Some people might argue that each person's karma is their own and others cannot influence it, but if we believe that we can do things for another person in this life, perhaps we can also help them along in the next. And it works, by the end of the 7 weeks, I was happy, believing I have done the best I can for grandma.

Indeed, my Buddhist practice only grew throughout the years, I went on monastic and meditation retreats as a novice monk, did many volunteer contribution to my community. I even went on to get married and have a baby boy. And I attribute the practice I did for my grandmother to becoming the person I am today.

Indeed the Ksitigarbha Sutra contain a relevant famous story of the Brahmin girl. A previous incarnation of Ksitigarbha, the Bodhisattva of Great Vow/ Aspiration. The gist of the story is that in the long distant past, a lovely Brahmin girl was born into a wealthy family and she was very pious towards the Buddha (not the current Buddha, the story is set in the immeasurable past). However, her mother has Wrong View and always slander the Buddha. The Brahmin girl loved her mother, but became concerned of her behavior. Eventually her mother dies, and the Brahmin girl was anguished fearing that her mother will befall a bad fate. So she sold her possessions and use them to buy all the incense and lamps to offer to the Buddha. At the temple, she had a vision of the Buddha who told her to go home and meditate on his holy name, so that she may know her mother's whereabouts. That night, she found herself descending to a horrifying place, an ocean of suffering. With beings fighting and tormenting each other. She asked a demon where and how she ended up here. The demon replied, ah, Great Bodhisattva, this is the ocean towards the hells, and there are two ways to get here, either through evil karma, or like yourself through the immense power of your vows. The Brahmin girl asked if her mother is here. The demon replied, do not worry, while your mother was here, thanks to the merits you have dedicated, she has been released and ascended into the heavens. While the Brahmin girl was relieved, she saw that there are many more beings suffering in hell, and realized that at one time or another, they had all been her mother in a previous life, and resolved to free them all from suffering. In the present life, the Brahmin girl is the Great Bodhisattva of Great Vow Ksitigarbha, and her mother as well as the demon have also become bodhisattvas. The message is that great bodhisattvas are people who selflessly face suffering themselves so they can save people from suffering as if they were their own mothers. (You can find an animation of this story here The story of Ksitigarbha Brahman Girl on Youtube, be warn that the hellish scenes at the beginning are violent and rather disturbing).

Do not despair, be a lamp that light a path for yourself and others!

  • 1
    Yes, you seem to have almost the same exact experience as me! We are still in the process of the 49 days too. The monks have instructed us to gather every '7th' day to peform chanting and rituals for my grandmother. And I recognize that it is called the 地藏经 too! – scaredpotato Aug 16 at 1:52
  • Great, I didn't know for sure, but I just had a feeling that you went through a similar experience. 地藏經 is hard work, I am still far from being familiar with it since it takes 3 hours to chant and I could never be discipline enough to devote that time without doing it with everyone at the temple. However 阿彌陀經 shouldn't take more than 20 minutes to chant through so that can easily be your daily practice. – Yinxu Aug 16 at 4:17
  • Indeed I think it is meritorious that you are having an emotional reaction to these sutras. People have reported crying and various experiences while chanting these text. I generally find a sense of calm and clarity after having chanted, but have shed tears during repentance ceremonies. – Yinxu Aug 16 at 4:25
0

In general, the Buddha taught two types of Dhamma, namely:

(i) Dhamma for monks; and

(ii) dhamma for lay people.

The Dhamma for monks (and for a minority of very committed laypeople) is about ending lust and leads to Nibbana.

The dhamma for laypeople is about being good (non-harmful) and leads to 'heaven', as follows:

The ascetics (monks) and brahmans thus ministered to as the Zenith by a householder show their compassion towards him in six ways:

(i) they restrain him from evil,

(ii) they persuade him to do good,

(iii) they love him with a kind heart,

(iv) they make him hear what he has not heard,

(v) they clarify what he has already heard,

(vi) they point out the path to a heavenly state.

Sigalovada Sutta: The Layperson's Code of Discipline

The path to the heavenly state above is to honor the Buddha, Dhamma & Noble Sangha and to follow the Five Precepts, as explained in the Abhisanda Sutta: Rewards:

Monks, there are these eight rewards of merit, rewards of skillfulness, nourishments of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable & appealing, to welfare & happiness. Which eight?

1. Gone to the Buddha for refuge...

2. Gone to the Dhamma for refuge...

3. Gone to the Sangha for refuge...

4. Abstains from taking life...

5. Abstains from taking what is not given (stealing)...

6. Abstains from illicit sex...

7. Abstains from lying...

8. Abstains from taking intoxicants [causing carelessness]...

Other Buddhist practises leading to heaven include generosity (Iti 26) & honoring parents (Iti 106).

Having given much food as offerings

To those most worthy of offerings,

The donors go to heaven

On departing the human state.

Having gone to heaven they rejoice,

And enjoying pleasures there,

The unselfish experience the result

Of generously sharing with others.

Iti 26


When he performs such service

For his mother and his father,

They praise that wise person even here

And hereafter he rejoices in heaven.

Iti 106

Therefore, you can and should cheer your mother up, treat yourselves to nice meals and desserts, watch movies and basically have some fun. This, in itself, will not prevent you from heaven.

protected by Andrei Volkov Aug 14 at 13:34

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