No Inside or Outside
Student: What is the significance of a 49-day ceremony? Chong Hae Sunim JDPS: When someone passes away, in addition to a funeral service that usually occurs three or seven days after the death, we have a ceremony on the 49th day. Traditionally, the period of 49 days after someone dies is seen as a time for that person to check their consciousness and digest their karma. According to Buddhist teaching the bodhisattva Ji Jang Bosal helps the deceased during these 49 days to perceive their karma so when they return they are reborn to help this world, rather than continue in the cycle of birth and death. Religious Buddhism teachers that there is a life in this body, then a time of investigation or consideration, and then a new life in a new body.
But the truth is, we don't know what happens when we die. The Buddhist teaching about death can be helpful in that it gives us a good feeling, some sense of comfort in this mystery. This framework that can be helpful in the grieving process, but the Buddha taught that originally there is no life or death?our true self is infinite in time and space. Don't Know Mind doesn't have a beginning or an ending. Zen Master Seung Sahn's teaching is to wake up in this moment and attain our true nature. When we keep a Don't Know Mind we are addressing the big question of life and death moment to moment. The big meaning of a 49-day ceremony is to wake up just now. Actually, whenever anybody dies, they are teaching us that we must wake up, because our lives only occur in this moment [snaps fingers]. Just that.
We don't actually have a thing called a "life." When we talk about our lives we are usually referring to what happened in the past or speculating about what might happen in the future. But that is only thinking about what has already happened, already gone, or what may never happen. In Zen we say, "The past is already dead, and the future is just a dream." In the midst of all that talking and thinking about our so-called lives we overlook something? this moment. This moment is the only place where anything that we might call "our life" is actually happening. Indeed, the poignant meaning of someone dying is: wake up now!
Zen Master Seung Sahn has said that there are only two kinds of people: soon die and later die. We all like to think that we are in the later die category, but we really don't know, do we? So will we wake up, or will we just keep dreaming about the past and the future? During the ceremony we invite the deceased to wake up and attain their correct job. We invite all the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, all the great teachers and the deceased to the dharma room and we chant so that everybody wakes up together. At that moment, we wake up, the deceased wakes up, and this whole universe wakes up.
Someone once said to me, "It seems that these ceremonies with all the chanting are not about the inside Buddha, but about some outside Buddha, asking some outside Buddha for help." I explained that when we just chant Ji Jang Bosal, at that time the true meaning of Ji Jang Bosal appears. That is not an idea about Ji Jang Bosal. We're not looking inside or outside. We're not chanting to anything. We cut off all thinking and just do it. At that point, the whole universe completely becomes one. Life and death fall away. There is no inside or outside, coming or going. We completely become one?Ji Jang Bosal. This is the way we attain our life.