Part Two: Dharma Discourses

Chapter Two: The Way of Propriety


6. The attendant asked again, “According to common custom, cerements for the deceased are typically made of expensive cloth; alternatively, there is even a practice of making cerements to burn as an offering to the spirit of the deceased. However, in our Order, we are instructed to use even old clothes as cerements so long as they are clean. Isn’t this really rather ungenerous to the body that is leaving this world for good? Moreover, during the ancestral rites, food is offered for the spirits of the deceased to partake of; and, on other occasions honoring the spirits of ancestors, too, we demonstrate our devotion by preparing food. In our religion, however, we do not make a food offering at memorial services. Isn’t this also ungenerous to the deceased?”
The Master replied, “As for cerements, if no clean used clothes are available, it is fine to make new ones. However, if there are old clothes that are just as good, then there is no need to insist on making new ones. This is so we do not spend too much on the body that has already returned to dust. Furthermore, to make new clothes just to burn them, and so forth, leads to unnecessary expenditures out of superstition, which only diminishes the blessings of the deceased in the future. This practice must be prohibited.
“Furthermore, although it may be true that displaying food on the altar is a means of showing the relatives’ devotion, it is unclear exactly how the spirits of the deceased partake of those offerings. A spirit that no longer has a physical body cannot live by consuming human food. What is more, once they have all been reborn according to their respective karma, what does this food have to do with those spirits? If the spirits of the deceased are presumed to have the capacity to consume food, they would only be doing so because of their karmic-consciousnesses acquired while they were alive. But even granting traditional norms of propriety, why would they limit their food offerings to just once or twice a year if people really believed that the deceased spirits live off that food? Thus, those who are conducting memorial rites must understand this principle, and, as I said before, shift the spirit of offering food toward sincerely praying for the advancement of the deceased spirit, and toward adding to the blessings of the deceased in the other world through material donations. This is the true method of honoring the deceased