When I was on Kapaa, Hawaii, members often asked me regarding the service at the time of death. They asked me when to hold the service, before or after the death. What do you think? Most people tend to think that the service will be held only after the death. However, this is a misunderstanding. Actually, the service can be held before the death occurs. The reason is that the service is not held as a mean for the person to be born in the Pure Land or to wish the person’s peaceful repose after the death. It is solely to hear the teachings of the Buddha and express our appreciation to the Buddha for sustaining our life and embracing us, even after the death. Even though the person is about to expire, he or she can hear the sutra chanting and voices of family members and a minister. To tell the truth, previously, I did not think like this. I thought a person who was suffering on the bed and was about to expire, he or she could not hear the teachings. However, through my religious experiences on the teachings, I was made to realize that he or she could hear the teachings despite of his or her conditions. At the same time, those still remain could appreciate the teachings.
When I receive a call from a nurse or a family, I always recommend them to have a service before the death. However, the service also can be held after the death when they miss the opportunity to hear or appreciate the teachings before the death.
"The idea of Amida’s coming at the moment of death is for those who seek to gain birth in the Pure Land by doing various practices, for they are practicers of self-power. The moment of death is of central concern to such people, for they have not yet attained true shinjin. We may also speak of Amida’s coming at the moment of death in the case of those who, though they have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offences throughout their lives, encounter a teacher in the hour of death and are led at the very end to utter the nembutsu.
The practicers of our true shinjin, however, abides in the stage of the truly settled, for he or she has already been grasped, never to be abandoned. There is no need to wait in anticipation for the moment of death, no need to rely on Amida’s coming. At the time shinjin becomes settled, birth too becomes settled; there is no need for the deathbed rites that prepare one for Amida’s coming.” (The Collected Works of Shinran, P. 523)
Our founder, Shinran Shonin negated the thought of Amida’s coming at the moment of death as the condition for the person’s birth in the Pure Land. He emphasized that our birth in the Pure Land comes at the moment we are awaken to shinjin (true entrusting mind) from Amida Buddha. When we are awaken shinjin on Buddha, we are immediately assured the stage of the truly settled to be born in the Pure Land. It means that we are already in the embrace of Amida’s Compassionate Mind. It is neither our calculated workings nor the presence of Amida Buddha at the time of death. He emphasized the importance of shinjin in the present moment on how we live in the Dharma. In other words, Amida’s coming at the moment of death does not determine whether we will be born in the Pure Land or not. It is our everyday life as a result of awakening to the shinjin. This is why Shinran Shonin said that there is no need for the deathbed rites that prepare one for Amida Buddha and also the reason why I have a service before the person’s death so that he or she can listen to the teachings and express their gratitude at the moment of their final stage of life.
I believe that the teachings of the Buddha propagated by Shinran Shonin are central to my life as well as yours. I share the Dharma with you based on my appreciation and understanding of the Dharma through various occasions such as Sunday, funeral, memorial, bedside, wedding, etc. They are also great opportunity for me to listen to the Dharma with you. Let us realize the importance of listening to the Dharma in our daily lives and reflect upon the meaning of this life given by our ancestors and interconnected relationship with others especially in this Ohigan season.