Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
(A Shinshu Funeral.)
In the older Jōdo Sect, there is a pretty custom connected with the death of a believer. A picture of Amida is hung on the wall near the head of the sick bed, and a silken or other cord, fastened at the one end to the picture, is fastened at the other to the wrist of the dying man. It is a vivid representation of a celebrated chapter in the Hokekyō, in which the glorified S’akyamuni, whom the Amidaist sects identify with Amida, is represented as throwing a rope (the merits of His Great Vow) into the midst of a burning house (this transitory life), in order that its frail and erring occupants may lay hold of it by faith, and be thus drawn out of the midst of the conflagration to the safe refuge of the Garden outside. The ceremony is, therefore, a symbolic expression of the belief of the Jōdo disciples, that it is this salvation that is put into operation at the moment of the believer's death.
In the Shinshu, the ceremony would be meaningless, for it is the firm conviction of the disciple of Shinran that the Rope of Salvation was thrown to him long ago, that he seized it at the moment when he fixed his faith on Amida, and that the only thing that remains for the dying man to do is to await death with thankfulness, and a with sure and certain hope.
Perhaps the best way to set forth the beliefs and practices of the Shinshu with regard to the solemn
question of death will be to describe an actual Shinshu funeral. Such a description has been furnished me by my friend, Mr. K. Tachibana, himself a priest of the Sōtō Sect. It is taken from an account which appeared in the Magazine called Fūzoku Gappō at the time of the obsequies of Kōsho, 21st Abbot of the Eastern Hongwanji, at Kyoto, who died on the 15th January 1894.
Three days after death, on the morning of the 18th, the corpse, arrayed in ecclesiastical vestments of a gokō * colour, was placed in a sitting posture on a Kyokuroku, or camp-chair, in one of the official rooms of his private residence. Devout laymen were constantly in attendance, and at intervals, as groups of mourners passed through to pay their last respects to the deceased prelate, the light curtain of split bamboo was silently raised, so that they might gaze freely upon the dead, the face, however, being veiled so that only the eyes were visible. †
On the evening of the following day the corpse was washed (for the second time), ‡ put into a coffin, and removed to the Head Temple, where a special mortuary chapel had been fitted up, with a picture of Amida hanging in a conspicuous place behind the coffin. Here it was kept for ten days, constantly attended by priests in minor orders, who silently burned incense before it every ten minutes, and watched by relatives and friends, by the ladies of
the late Abbot's household, and by representatives of Imperial personages, etc.
On the evening of the 29th, after a short ceremony, the corpse was removed from the mortuary chapel to the great Halls of the Temple, first to the Daishidō, or Hall Sacred to Shinran, and then to the Amidadō, or Hall of Amida, where it was exposed to the inspection of the Faithful, in general, being visited by thousands of pilgrims from every part of the country, who had flocked to Kyoto for the occasion.
It was then removed to a place called Uchino, for the funeral service proper. Uchino was in former times the place of cremation, but the growth of the city has made it an undesirable spot for the purpose. The cremation therefore took place elsewhere.
The service at Uchino, which began as soon as the whole congregation had taken their places (only near relatives, priests of high rank, and the representatives of Imperial Princes and the Nobility being admitted), was a comparatively simple one.
It began with the solemn Fourfold Invitation. "With reverence we invite the Buddhas of the Ten Directions (i.e. all the Buddhas) to come down upon the Sacred Altar. There is joy in the scattering of Flowers."
"With reverence we invite the Nyorai S’akyamuni to come down on this Sacred Altar. There is joy in the Scattering of Flowers."
"With reverence we invite the Nyorai Amitābha to come down on this Sacred Altar. There is joy in the Scattering of Flowers."
"With reverence we invite Kwannon and Seishi, and the other holy Bodhisattvas, to come down on this Sacred Altar. There is joy in the Scattering of Flowers."
It will be seen that there is in this Fourfold Invocation a pretty exact picture of the theological position of Shinshuism. It begins with a sort of polytheism. There have been "lords many and gods many"—there are Buddhas in all the Ten Quarters of the Universe, through whom the Saving Way has been made known since ages of immeasurable remoteness. (The names of some amongst them are to be found in the Sukhāvati Vyūhas and other Sūtras revered by the Sect.) Amongst all these Buddhas one has been preeminent, the only one for whom a claim to historicity has been set up, the. Buddha S’akyamuni. S’akyamuni, according to the Shinshu, not only teaches. the same broad way of salvation as did the rest, but he goes a step further, and bears witness to another Buddha—the Eternal Fount and Source of all Buddhaship—the Buddha Amitābha. And Amitābha is invoked in His threefold aspect, in the glory of his past, the glory which is His in the Dharmakaya, in the glory of His humiliation—the glory which He had when He became man; in the glory of His present, when, as Namu-Amida-Butsu, He sits as king of Paradise. And the Bodhisattvas, the ministers of Amida, are invoked, beginning with Kwannon and Seishi, and ending with the humblest of those in whom has dwelt the spirit of Amida. It is impossible, perhaps, to compress the Shinshu Faith into a shorter compass than this.
After this followed the chanting of the Shōshinge which, as the reader is aware, gives the history of the transmission of the sect, the chanting of the Nembutsu-wasan, or hymn in praise of Amida, which summarizes the belief of the sect, and especially its belief in the efficacy of faith in Amida at the supreme moment of death, and finally, after many repetitions of the Nembutsu formula, the Ekō, or prayer of transference.
"Let us pray that the merits (acquired by this our service) may be distributed equally among all Sentient Beings, that they may all alike conceive in themselves the desire for Bodhi, and may ascend and be reborn in the Land of Peace and Comfort."
With those Words ended the service in the Uchino ground. It is a distinguishing feature of the Shinshu funeral rites that they contain no indō, or 'guiding words' addressed to the deceased, to instruct him, in case he should be ignorant, how to behave himself, what to believe, and what to practice, in order to secure a safe passage through the realms of darkness. The firm belief of the Shinshuist that Amida has got sure hold of him, and that He will guide him safely to the mansion that He has prepared, makes the indō a needless and meaningless form of words.
There was, however, one piece of ritual, in the funeral I am describing, peculiar to such rites when celebrated at Uchino,—a symbolical cremation, the
burning of a bundle of straw in memory of the fact that Uchino had once been a crematory. When this was done, the coffin was removed to the crematory at Kwazan-in, accompanied by the strains of the Shōshinge, and the smoke of incense.
None but the successor of the deceased Abbot, a few near relatives, and ancient retainers, were admitted to the crematorium, and the fire was kindled by the new Abbot himself. Presently the smoke was seen issuing from the building.
Jhāyati! Jhāpeti! "He burns and causes to burn." The words used in this phrase are interesting, as giving Pali forms instead of Sanskrit, thus pointing to a Buddhism of Magadhan origin, by the side of that which came via Central Asia and China. * After the cremation, the ashes were carried back to Uchino, secretly and under guard, a custom observed in the Shinshu ever since the fifteenth century, when, on the death of Rennyo Shōnin, the jealous Tendai monks attempted to waylay the procession that was carrying back the hallowed bones, and to scatter the precious relics to the winds.
The next morning, with incense, Shoshinge, and Nembutsu, the ashes were again removed from Uchino to the Chūindō Hall of the Hongwanji, where they remained beneath an Altar until the 49th day after death, when they were finally placed in their permanent resting place. The 49th day is, in
[paragraph continues] Buddhist belief, a very critical day in the history of the soul after death. * On that day its future destiny is decided, and it goes from the intermediate state into its proper place in . the world to come. A Buddhist, who was much interested in Christianity, once pointed out to me the similarity between his beliefs, and the period recorded to have elapsed between Easter and Pentecost. "It was on the fortieth day after death," he said, "that Christ ascended into the Heavens, but it cannot have been till the forty-ninth that He definitely took his seat at the 'right hand' of His Father. And the very next day after He had come into His Kingdom He sent down the Holy Spirit!"
135:* Go is the honorific, Kō (#) is incense.—"Incense colour" is a sort of grey, smoky, colour.
135:† It is universal in the funerals of clerics, thus to expose the corpse in a sitting posture. This is not done for laymen.
135:‡ The first washing of the corpse (for laymen; the only took place a few hours after death.
139:* Jhāyati, Jhāpeti are not words peculiar to Shinshu. They are used in all sects. Of Pali words surviving in Japan we may instance dabi a cremation. Some words survive in two forms: e. g. biku, which is Pali, bishū which is the Sanskrit bhikshu, "a monk." Also abidon = the Pali abhidamma, and abidatsuma = Skt abhidharma.
140:* § 94.