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From the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha said on his deathbed:
“My disciples, my last moment has come, but do not forget that death is only the end of the physical body. The body was born from parents and was nourished by food; just as inevitable are sickness and death.”
“But the true Buddha is not a human body— it is Enlightenment. A human body must die, but the Wisdom of Enlightenment will exist forever in the truth of the Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings) and in the practice of the Dharma. He who sees merely my body does not truly see me. Only he who accepts my teachings truly sees me.”
“After my death, the Dharma shall be your teacher. Follow the Dharma, and you will be true to me.”
With this profound understanding of death, Buddhists have developed funeral rites and memorial services as a way of accepting human death, the teaching of impermanence. The Mountain View Buddhist Temple encourages members, family, and friends to embrace the Jodo Shinshu funeral and memorial rituals.
If you’ve had a loss and would like assistance with planning a service, please call the Temple office at 650-964-9426. Members of the Mountain View Buddhist Temple should refer to the Temple Handbook and Directory for additional information.
There are various ways to observe and share in remembering the life of a family member or friend who has passed. Traditional Jodo Shinshu funeral services are described here.
Makura-gyo is a short service traditionally conducted before the end of one’s life during which a person expresses gratitude for a life lived under Amida Buddha’s guidance. When someone we dearly love is nearing death, the minister gathers family and close friends around that person for the Makura-gyo. Once the service is completed, our loved one is able to close his/her eyes in peace as a true Shin Buddhist. For this reason, the Makura-gyo is the last service before one’s passing, not the first service after one’s death.
For Shin Buddhists, the Makura-gyo is not a ritual for the deceased but for the living person on the brink of death. For family and friends, this short service is meaningful because we are able to spend our last moments with our beloved family member embraced in the compassion of Amida Buddha. The Makura-gyo allows us to express both deep gratitude to our loved one to Amida Buddha and gives us the opportunity to promise one another we will meet again in the Pure Land as Buddhas.
The funeral service reflects the customs, beliefs, and traditions of Jodo Shinshu. Funeral services are not only a means of providing comfort, but to also express how the teachings interpret this matter of loss and grief. In our Jodo Shinshu tradition, the funeral service is meant to guide our attention towards the infinite life of the deceased. Therefore, the funeral service is not a “farewell” or offering of “last respects,” but rather the funeral service is a beginning. It expresses how we live this life from this moment on. The funeral service reminds us that through Namo Amida Butsu, we shall awaken to the infinite life that embraces us beyond all barriers of time and space.
Among Buddhist families, it is customary to conclude funeral and memorial services with a meal, called otoki in Japanese. In our living Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition, the word otoki has come to refer to light refreshments or a meal that takes place in conjunction with a Buddhist service, such as a funeral or memorial service. It may be held at the Temple or a local restaurant.
A nokotsu-gongyo (inurnment service) is held at a nokotsudo where an urn is placed in the deceased’s niche. A maiso-gongyo (burial service) is held at the gravesite to bury the casket or urn in the ground. The Mountain View Buddhist Temple has a nokotsudo for its members.
While memorial services are held in memory of a loved one who has passed away, the purpose of the memorial service is for us, the living, the ones who remain behind. The memorial service provides an opportunity to express appreciation and gratitude for the many benefits we have received from the person who passed away.
The 7th day memorial is considered important because there is a legend in Buddhism that the baby Buddha took seven steps as soon as he was born. With these seven symbolic steps at birth, Siddhartha had already transcended the six worlds of delusion we live in — hell, hungry ghosts, beasts, fighting spirits, human beings, and heavenly beings — and stepped into the world of enlightenment. From this legend, it has been thought in India that the number seven symbolizes a cycle of the beginning or closure of a new form of life.
In addition, the 49th day memorial is deemed important because it comes at the end of all the cycles, reaching life’s fulfillment and birth in the Pure Land. The number 49 is important in Buddhism because it refers to the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, who attained Buddhahood after 49 days of sitting in meditation under the Bodhi tree.
Hatsubon is a Buddhist ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of a loved one’s passing. This special service occurs during Obon and honors those who have passed away in the previous 12 months.
The Hatsubon/Kang-e service is typically held on the second Sunday in July. The exact date for the service can be confirmed by checking the Events Calendar on the MVBT website or by calling the Temple office.
Shotsuki Hoyo is a monthly memorial service where we honor loved ones who have passed away in that month in any year. As part of this observance, the minister reads the names of those who have passed away in that month and family and friends come forward to pay their respects by offering incense and putting their hands together in gassho. In this way we honor their memory and allow ourselves to appreciate how much we are indebted to these loved ones for their love and friendship in years past.
The Shotsuki Hoyo service is typically held on the first Sunday of every month except July and August. The exact date for the service can be confirmed by checking the Events Calendar on the MVBT website or by calling the Temple office.
Subsequent memorial services are expressions of gratitude for the sharing of life that a loved one provided. We express our gratitude to Amida Buddha and offer sutras, incense, and gassho for the benefits we have already received from Amida’s Great Vow to ensure Enlightenment for all sentient beings. The subsequent family memorial services may include, but are not limited to the 1st year (the first year after death), 3rd year (the second year after death), 7th year, 13th year, 17th year, 23rd year, 27th year, 33rd year, 37th year, 50th year, 100th year.
The word Eitaikyo is a contraction of the more formal term, Ei-tai Do-kyo. Ei means eternal. It is composed of the Chinese characters for a river with many tributaries that flows on and on. Tai means generations. Kyo means sutras or the words of the Buddha. Do-kyo means to read or chant. Thus, the meaning of Eitaikyo is to eternally chant the sutras on behalf of our loved ones for generations and generations to come.
A special Eitaikyo Perpetual Memorial Fund was established to ensure the continuation of the teachings of the Buddha and Nembutsu. It is to be used specifically for religious services such as to purchase candles and incense, religious articles, altar enhancements and altar repairs. This fund is established through the donations made in memory of deceased members of family, relatives, and friends. This ensures a perpetual service for the deceased even when there is no one left in the family to observe a Buddhist service.
After completing the Eitaikyo form and donating to the Eitaikyo Fund, the name of your deceased loved one will be entered into a special Eitaikyo Registry book. This is a calendar type book that lists the deceased names on the day of death. This book is kept in the Mountain View Buddhist Temple’s altar. By donating to the Eitaikyo Fund, a sutra will be chanted in memory of your loved one for eternal generations to come.
Every November an Annual Eitaikyo Service is conducted at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple. This service is dedicated in special memory to those loved ones newly recorded into the Eitaikyo Registry in the past year. Those families are sent an invitation to attend this special service so that they can oshoko in memory of their loved one during the service.
The service is typically held on the 3rd Sunday in November. The exact date for the service can be confirmed by checking the Events Calendar on the MVBT website or by calling the Temple office.