Saturday, January 27, 2007

An Unusual Invitation

One morning, a woman we have been visiting and have been coming to the church lately, dropped by our house and gave me an invitation card. Her mother-in-law has died and I was invited to attend a Buddhist funeral. I felt strange. I have never been invited to a funeral before. I grew up in a culture where nobody invites you to attend a funeral. If you know a friend or a family of the deceased person, you are expected to come. But of course, I am not supposed to reject the invite. A friend gave us a good advice; don’t wear anything bright-colored. I wore black.

The body was laid in the community meeting hall and the street was blocked off. It did not look like a funeral; it was more like a party. We ate and talked with people who looked like they were having a good time. The family hired catering company and constantly serving food. Then perhaps after a couple of hours of waiting the monks started their chanting. And everyone around us put their hands in a prayer position and just stayed still. But some just continue chatting in that position.

When the chanting was finished, the coffin was put on the pickup truck on elevated platform. However, when it was time to go, the poor thing won’t start. It was kinda funny, the driver kept turning the ignition for more than 30 minutes and the wretched thing won’t bulge. I thought of pushing it, but the coffin might topple and nobody wanted that to happen. The relatives talked to the dead and said “pai liao” meaning “you have to go.” They thought the dead wouldn’t want to be buried because she was waiting for her son who failed to come to the funeral. They believed that spirit or consciousness of the dead person was still around floating in the air aimlessly.

Anyways, to make the long story short, at the cemetery, before the body was cremated there was a very long ceremony of merit making. Relatives were called to give gifts to the monks in a very formal manner; it took forever, because evidently the clan was big. We looked at the monks during this time, and they were all sleeping at the back. After all the relatives finished their turns, it was now time for the monks to receive all the gifts. Suddenly they were all awake, they chanted again for 30 minutes and took all the gifts. And many more ceremonies like glasses of water spilled on the ground among others. I couldn’t remember everything now, and then they put the body inside the oven and finally it was cremated. I and my wife went home with a terrible headache but not after we had been splashed with a bucket of water on our way out from the cemetery.

It was more like a party than a funeral. And I guess the children had a reason to feel good. They had done all their best to make merit for themselves and for the deceased person. In fact, all the male grandchildren became monk for at least a day. They make merits so that the karma of the deceased person would give her disembodied consciousness would have a pleasant and heavenly subsistence until she is reborn again to a better condition than her former life. Until she reach “nirvana.”

Christians don’t need to make merits to gain a heavenly existence after death. Christ did the ultimate merit making so that we will experience eternal life that we have through Him.


Steve Hayes said...

Any idea what the monks were chanting about?

Joey said...

I asked the same question to the others, they didn't understand the chanting. The monks used Pali perhaps like Latin for Christianity. This is an ancient language used by monks in ceremonies. The ordinary Buddhists do not know the language because it is taught only to the monks as part of their education. They like it I guess because it adds a sense of mystery or mystical experience to the occasion.