On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
Stillness
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On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Stillness » Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:22 pm

Asibandhakaputta-sutta at Saṃyutta-nikāya 42.6 which has a Chinese parallel in Madhyama-āgama 17

In the below sutta, the Buddha pointed out that the destiny of the dead will be solely decided upon their own conduct while alive, but not by any rituals or rites done by the crowd.

An important point to consider here is that the Buddha didn’t introduce a popular myth of later Buddhism—directing the dead to the heavens via transference of merits—as an alternative to the Brahmanical myth of sending the dead upward by rituals.
Gamini: “Venerable sir, the brahmins of the western region—those who carry around waterpots, wear garlands of water plants, immerse themselves in water, and tend the sacred fire—are said to direct a dead person upwards, to guide him along, and conduct him to heavens. But the Blessed One is able to bring it about that with the breakup of the body, after death, the entire world might be reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world.”

The Buddha: “Well then, Gamini, I will question you about this. Answer as you see fit. What do you think? Suppose there is a person here

1. who destroys life,
2. takes what is not given,
3. engages in sexual misconduct,
4. speaks falsely,
5. speaks divisively,
6. speaks harshly,
7. chatters idly,
8. one who is covetous,
9. full of ill will,
10. and holds wrong view.”

“Then a great crowd of people would come together and pray, ‘After death, may this person be reborn in a heavenly world.’ What do you think? Because of the prayers, would that person, after death, be reborn in a heavenly world?”

Gamini: “No, venerable sir.”

The Buddha: “Gamini, a person would hurl a huge boulder into a deep pool of water. Then a great crowd of people would come together and pray, ‘Emerge, good boulder! Rise up!’ What do you think? Because of the prayers, would that boulder emerge, rise up?”

Gamini: “No, venerable sir.”

The Buddha: “So, too, Gamini, if a person is one who engages in ten unwholesome deeds, even though a great crowd of people would come together and pray, ‘After death, may this person be reborn in a heavenly world.’ Still, after death, that person will be reborn in hell.”

The Buddha: “If a person is one who abstains from ten unwholesome deeds, even though a great crowd of people would come together and pray, ‘After death, may this person be reborn in hell.’ Still, after death, that person will be reborn in a heavenly world.”

“Gamini, a man submerges a pot of oil in a deep pool of water and breaks it. Then a great crowd of people would come together and pray, ‘Sink down, good oil! Settle, good oil!’ Still, the oil would not sink down or settle? So, too, if a person is one who abstains from ten unwholesome deeds, even though a great crowd of people would come together and pray, ‘After death, may this person be reborn in hell.’ Still, after death, that person will be reborn in a heavenly world.”

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Tue Jun 12, 2018 3:21 am

Transference of Merits is typically poorly understood primarily because of poor translation. What it could really be considered to be is "Sharing about Merit" and the procedure is the person performing Pattidana speaks of their good deeds, and shares it with fallen relatives and makes offerings in their name. By pure heartedly sharing about these deeds and performing a good deed in their name, the fallen relative can offer a clear pure-hearted action of rejoicing for their descendant's merits, often by saying "Sadhu! Good job!" (pattanumodana). By praising good deeds, they are wearing away their existing bad kamma. A hell-being often can't do that or experience the merit someone does in their name, but a peta being can.
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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 4:04 am

Here's a sutta from the Pettavatthu (Petta = hungry ghost or "shades" in Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation):
https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/Chant ... n0091.html
https://accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn ... .than.html
Thus those who feel sympathy for their dead relatives
give timely donations of proper food & drink
— exquisite, clean —
[thinking:] "May this be for our relatives.
May our relatives be happy!"

And those who have gathered there,
the assembled shades of the relatives, [i.e. the ghosts]
with appreciation give their blessing
for the plentiful food & drink:
"May our relatives live long
because of whom we have gained [this gift].
We have been honored,
and the donors are not without reward!"
Part of that sutta forms the start of this chant that is commonly used in Thailand to acknowledge a gift of requisites to monastics:
https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/Chant ... _toc_id_53
Yathā vārivahā pūrā
Paripūrenti sāgaraṁ
Evam-eva ito dinnaṁ
Petānaṁ upakappati.

Icchitaṁ patthitaṁ tumhaṁ
Khippameva samijjhatu
Sabbe pūrentu saṅkappā,
Cando paṇṇaraso yathā
Maṇi jotiraso yathā.

Just as rivers full of water
fill the ocean full,
even so does that here given
benefit the dead (the hungry ghosts).

May whatever you wish or want quickly come to be,
may all your aspirations be fulfilled,
as the moon on the fifteenth (full moon) day,
or as a radiant, bright gem.
During these verses lay people often pour water into a bowl, echoing the text:
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Stillness
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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Stillness » Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:44 am

Wizard in the Forest wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 3:21 am
Transference of Merits is typically poorly understood primarily because of poor translation. What it could really be considered to be is "Sharing about Merit" and the procedure is the person performing Pattidana speaks of their good deeds, and shares it with fallen relatives and makes offerings in their name. By pure heartedly sharing about these deeds and performing a good deed in their name, the fallen relative can offer a clear pure-hearted action of rejoicing for their descendant's merits, often by saying "Sadhu! Good job!" (pattanumodana). By praising good deeds, they are wearing away their existing bad kamma. A hell-being often can't do that or experience the merit someone does in their name, but a peta being can.
Pattidāna is a non-canonical term which appeared in the commentaries which were written around 500 C.E. (about 1,000 years after the Buddha). Pattānumodanā also a non-canonical term which was introduced in the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha which was written around 1100–1200 C.E. (about 1,600 years after the Buddha).
mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 4:04 am
Here's a sutta from the Pettavatthu (Petta = hungry ghost or "shades" in Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation)
Taking its reference to King Asoka, Prof. Bimala Charan places Petavattu after the King Asoka's reign. Also the Petavattu has no parallel in the Chinese Āgamas. All these and having contradictions among peta stories themselves proves it to be a later text.

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:16 am

Sure, I'm aware that much of the KV is historically later. However, it's interesting to see where these Theravada ideas and practices come from, and certain things being later developments does not prevent them from being a source of inspiration for practitioners.

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Stillness » Tue Jun 12, 2018 8:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:16 am
Sure, I'm aware that much of the KV is historically later. However, it's interesting to see where these Theravada ideas and practices come from, and certain things being later developments does not prevent them from being a source of inspiration for practitioners.

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Mike
Similar ancestral spirits (pitrus and pretas) can be found in the pre-Buddhist Brahmanical texts such as the Rig Veda (1500–1100 BCE) and the Upanishads 900–300 BCE. Even in present India, these rituals, as mentioned in the above sutta are a main source of livelihood for the brahmin priests. As noted by Gehman when he translated the petavattu to English in 1938, same reason may have caused Buddhist priests to develop and popularise the petavattu. His claim has weight when it's evident how the idea of direct food offering to petas later shifted to offering to monks—symbolic representatives of pretas—claiming that it's impossible to directly offer to petas.

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 9:14 am

Stillness wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 8:09 am
His claim has weight when it's evident how the idea of direct food offering to petas later shifted to offering to monks—symbolic representatives of pretas—claiming that it's impossible to directly offer to petas.
Was direct food offering to the petas mentioned in any suttas?

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Stillness » Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:23 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 9:14 am
Stillness wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 8:09 am
His claim has weight when it's evident how the idea of direct food offering to petas later shifted to offering to monks—symbolic representatives of pretas—claiming that it's impossible to directly offer to petas.
Was direct food offering to the petas mentioned in any suttas?

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Mike
AN 10.177 has the only reference to petas in the first four nikāyas. There, a brahmin asked the Buddha whether their offerings at the Srāddha ritual will reach the pretas. Srāddha ritual is where the brahmin priests will symbolically represent pretas by accepting the food offerings. Interestingly, the Buddha without saying anything about the Srāddha ritual, replied that the given food will reach the petas even though the preta world has own food.

By the time this sutta reached China in 435–443 CE, it already changed in India that only a certain type of peta can be benefited by such food offerings.

This sutta indicates the inclusion into the Buddhism the Brahmanical rites that were refused by the Buddha not long after his passing away. Professor Richard Gombrich remarked that all this is addressed to a brahmin points up the fact that the Buddhists were consciously adapting Hindu custom.

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Dhammanando » Tue Jun 12, 2018 11:56 am

Stillness wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:44 am
Pattidāna is a non-canonical term which appeared in the commentaries which were written around 500 C.E. (about 1,000 years after the Buddha).
The commentators present pattidāna as corresponding to that which in the suttas is denoted by the verb dakkhiṇaṃ anupadeti.
  • "In five ways, young householder, a child should minister to his mother and father as the East:
    1. They having supported me, I shall support them.
    2. I shall do their duties.
    3. I shall keep the family tradition,
    4. I shall make myself worthy of my inheritance,
    5. Furthermore, I shall offer alms in honour of my departed relatives (petānaṃ kālaṅkatānaṃ dakkhiṇaṃ anuppadassāmīti).
    (Sigalovādasutta, DN. iii.189. Cf. Puttasutta, AN. iii.43)
Stillness wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:44 am
Pattānumodanā also a non-canonical term which was introduced in the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha which was written around 1100–1200 C.E. (about 1,600 years after the Buddha).
I believe this too corresponds to some different term in the suttas, but what it is escapes my memory at the moment. I'll let you know when it comes back to me.

In any case, in the form of the verb pattānumodati we first meet with pattānumodanā in the Yasodharā section of the Therī Apadāna.

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Stillness » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:28 pm

Dhammanando wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 11:56 am
Putta-sutta (AN 5.39, no Chinese parallel)
“Bhikkhus, considering five prospects, mother and father wish for a son to be born in their family. What five? (1) ‘Having been supported by us, he will support us.
(2) Or he will do work for us.
(3) Our family lineage will be extended.
(4) He will manage the inheritance,
(5) or else, when we have passed on, he will give an offering on our behalf.
Considering these five prospects, mother and father wish for a son to be born in their family.”
Hindu tradition believes that the Srāddha ritual is more fruitful when conducted by a son. It’s well known the attitude towards the female birth even in modern India. Hence, this sutta simply states the attitude and the practises of the brahmins in ancient India, and the 5th point says nothing about a merit transfer. As the venerable already quoted, the Siṅgāla-sutta also confirms this. It's worth mentioning here the word peta in petānaṃ kālaṅkatānaṃ dakkhiṇaṃ anuppadassāmīti simply means “departed” but not a being of the peta world as mentioned in AN 10.177.

After about 1,000 years later, it was a deliberate attempt of inserting a later development into the sutta when the commentators wrote, “here ‘give offerings’ is actually ‘giving merits’”.
Dhammanando wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 11:56 am
in the form of the verb pattānumodati we first meet with pattānumodanā in the Yasodharā section of the Therī Apadāna.
Yes, first the word anumodanā appeared in Abhidhammāvatāra-ṭīkā (500 CE). Later the word patti was added to it.

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by WorldTraveller » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:49 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:16 am
Sure, I'm aware that much of the KV is historically later. However, it's interesting to see where these Theravada ideas and practices come from, and certain things being later developments does not prevent them from being a source of inspiration for practitioners.

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Mike
I think Buddha's teaching was to seek the root of the things and the truth rather than to inspire people even from wrong teachings. Of course, that might not be the case in modern times. :smile:
“Kālāmas, do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a canonical tradition, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’”
- Buddha

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:42 pm

WorldTraveller wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:49 pm
I think Buddha's teaching was to seek the root of the things and the truth rather than to inspire people even from wrong teachings. Of course, that might not be the case in modern times. :smile:
Do you think these are wrong teachings? Just because that particular sutta is a late one, or for some other reason?
Stillness wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:23 am
mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 9:14 am
Was direct food offering to the petas mentioned in any suttas?
AN 10.177 has the only reference to petas in the first four nikāyas. There, a brahmin asked the Buddha whether their offerings at the Srāddha ritual will reach the pretas. Srāddha ritual is where the brahmin priests will symbolically represent pretas by accepting the food offerings. Interestingly, the Buddha without saying anything about the Srāddha ritual, replied that the given food will reach the petas even though the preta world has own food.
Thanks, I had forgotten that sutta:
“We who are known as brahmins give gifts and perform memorial rites for the dead: ‘May this gift aid my departed relatives and family. May they partake of this gift.’ But does this gift really aid departed relatives and family? Do they actually partake of it?” “It aids them if the conditions are right, brahmin, but not if the conditions are wrong.”
https://suttacentral.net/an10.177/en/sujato#sc2
Bhikkhu Bodhi's comments on "memorial rites":
Pāli: saddhāni; Skt śrāddhāni. SED sv śrāddha says: “A ceremony in honour and for the benefit of dead relatives observed with great strictness at various fixed periods and on occasions of rejoicing as well as mourning by the surviving relatives (these ceremonies are performed by the daily offering of water and on stated occasions by the offering of piṇḍas or balls of rice and meal to three paternal and three maternal forefathers, i.e., to father, grandfather, and great grandfather; it should be borne in mind that a śrāddha is not a funeral ceremony but a supplement to such a ceremony; it is an act of reverential homage to a deceased person performed by relatives, and is moreover supposed to supply the dead with strengthening nutriment after the performance of the previous funeral ceremonies has endowed them with ethereal bodies; indeed, until those anteyeṣṭi or ‘funeral rites’ have been performed, and until the succeeding first śrāddha has been celebrated the deceased relative is a preta or restless, wandering ghost, and has no real body …; it is not until the first śrāddha has taken place that he attains a position among the pitṛs or Divine Fathers in their blissful abode called Pitṛ-loka, and the śrāddha is most desirable and efficacious when performed by a son …).”
Take someone else who kills living creatures … and has wrong view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in the ghost realm. There they survive feeding on the food of the beings in the ghost realm. Or else they survive feeding on what friends and colleagues, relatives and kin provide them with from here. The conditions there are right, so the gift aids the one who lives there.”
https://suttacentral.net/an10.177/en/sujato#sc7
Interesting to read that along with Pv 1.5, where there is a rejoicing in the merit (not a "transference"! ) by the petas viewtopic.php?f=29&t=32128#p476700, rather than some kind of physical transfer (though I wouldn't know what the belief was behind the Brahmanical ritual).

The overall message in AN 10.177 seems to be that giving is meritorious, even if one of the motivations (to provide merit for their deceased relatives to rejoice in) does not actually occur.

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by Stillness » Wed Jun 13, 2018 4:59 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:42 pm
Interesting to read that along with Pv 1.5, where there is a rejoicing in the merit (not a "transference"! ) by the petas viewtopic.php?f=29&t=32128#p476700, rather than some kind of physical transfer (though I wouldn't know what the belief was behind the Brahmanical ritual).

The overall message in AN 10.177 seems to be that giving is meritorious, even if one of the motivations (to provide merit for their deceased relatives to rejoice in) does not actually occur.
In Rig Veda food that provides ancestral spirits their essential powers are milk, ghee, honey and soma (all of which constitute the traditional sacrificial libations). In short, the realm of the spirits represent an ethereal projection of the perfect human existence which is merely the pleasant things of earth to the priestly imagination, heaped upon one another!

In Pv 1.5 petas depend on the food given by the living kin. This remark contradicts AN 10.177 but totally in line with the Brahmanical belief. There’s no rejoicing of merit in Pāli Pv 1.5 but only in the translations which follows commentarial interpretation. Some traditions and communities believe that the human food consumed by the peta looses its essence & nutrients (ōjā) and even reduced physically.

However, there’s an odd passage and a sudden shift at the end of Pv 1.5 which mentioned that the gift given to monks is beneficial to pretas for a long time and also provides much puñña for the giver.

Three commentaries interpret Pv 1.5 in three ways:
1. Kuddaka C.: It’s a direct food offering to preta.
2. Dhammapada C.: Merit was transferred to pretas which was somehow transformed and received by pretas as heavenly food and cloth.
3. Petavattu C.: At the end of the offerings to monks, the giver just recalled the pretas and they instantly received heavenly food and cloth.

When come to Pv 1.16, the preta directly appeared to humans and ask to offer to monks on behalf of it. At the end of the offering—food, cloth, seats & beds, umbrella, flower, various slippers—the preta was transformed into a heavenly being with all the sensual pleasures.

At the end of MN 35, there's a rejection of the idea of merit transfer by the Buddha.
Then, with his own hands, Saccaka served and satisfied the Sangha of bhikkhus headed by the Buddha with the various kinds of good food. When the Blessed One had eaten and had put his bowl aside, Saccaka took a low seat, sat down at one side, and said to the Blessed One: “Master Gotama, may the merit and the great meritorious fruits of this act of giving be for the happiness of the givers.”

“Aggivessana, whatever comes about from giving to a recipient such as yourself—one who is not free from lust, not free from hate, not free from delusion—that will be for the givers. And whatever comes about from giving to a recipient such as myself—one who is free from lust, free from hate, free from delusion—that will be for you.”

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by WorldTraveller » Wed Jun 13, 2018 11:15 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:42 pm
Do you think these are wrong teachings? Just because that particular sutta is a late one, or for some other reason?
Not because a particular teaching is late but because it contradicts with the early teachings and main concepts of Dhamma.

For example, the sutta in the OP says if engaged in ten unwholesome acts one will be reborn in a lower realm. But nowadays it is believed that just by transferring merits even a person who lived an unethical life can be redirected to the heavens as brahmins did. This clearly disrespects the Buddha and his teachings. How much time and money people spent on these secular practises out of ignorance is unbelievable.

"Ignorance is indeed a bliss for them!" :smile:
“Kālāmas, do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a canonical tradition, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’”
- Buddha

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Re: On Impossibility of Guiding the Dead to a Better Destination by the Living Kin

Post by WorldTraveller » Wed Jun 13, 2018 11:21 am

Stillness wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 4:59 am
In Rig Veda food that provides ancestral spirits their essential powers are milk, ghee, honey and soma (all of which constitute the traditional sacrificial libations). In short, the realm of the spirits represent an ethereal projection of the perfect human existence which is merely the pleasant things of earth to the priestly imagination, heaped upon one another!

......

When come to Pv 1.16, the preta directly appeared to humans and ask to offer to monks on behalf of it. At the end of the offering—food, cloth, seats & beds, umbrella, flower, various slippers—the preta was transformed into a heavenly being with all the sensual pleasures.
Need to add Louis Vuitton bags and Berkin slippers! :rofl:
“Kālāmas, do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a canonical tradition, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’”
- Buddha

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