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49 Day Ceremony

February 18, 2012

By Stephen Damon

I’d like to talk about a 49 Day Ceremony we had for the wife of a colleague and friend of Rev. Val’s. A 49 – day ceremony in Buddhist tradition is a memorial ceremony for the family and friends of someone who has recently died. During the 49 days after a person has died, Buddhist teachings say the person’s mind stream examines the nature of the karma accumulated during his or her life in preparation for the next life. We join our departed friend in this journey by chanting:

All my ancient twisted karma,
from beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.

The amount of time that this journey of transition takes, varies from person to person but by the 49th day, everyone’s journey is complete. So this ceremony is a last “goodbye” and a first “hello.” I have read what feels like “firsthand accounts” of Tibetan Lamas who describe the incredible temptation they felt to end the transition period, or the Bardo, as soon as possible. Succumbing to this temptation might mean a rebirth in a less than propitious environment. So we pray to The Compassionate Ones to protect our loved one

Who is defenseless

Be to him/her like a mother and a father

Let not the force of your compassion be weak

But aid him/her.

Forget not your ancient vows.

We were told to expect about 10 people for the ceremony, but over seventy people showed up. Every pew and chair in the small church (Sei Ko Kai) was filled and the outside hallway was also crowded. Before the ceremony we sat quietly for five minutes during which time I felt the invisible presence of many buddhas and ancestors. In fact, I could feel the presence of everything in all ten directions and three times.

I won’t go into the details of this wonderful ceremony at this time. Instead I want to share a life-changing impression I had. After the ceremony was finished and family and friends were talking I was thanked many times. As people bowed to me, I knew as deeply as I’ve known anything in my life that they were not bowing to me but to the three jewels: The Buddha, The Dharma, and The Sangha. I felt that by wearing my priest robe, the okesa, over a formal, white kimono with my hands in shashu I was embodying our lineage of ancestors.

I know that I will never look at my life in quite the same way as I did before this ceremony.



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