The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Cycle of Birth and Death
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So the body is tied by a sacred cord at the ankles to stop the feet spreading out, around the wrists with hands joined together for the same reason. An banana leaf envelope containing a flower, incense and a candle is put in the hands. If the dying person can put his or her hands together, it is believed that he or she has a high degree of mindfulness which will enable such an individual to go to heaven. If the person does not know how to pay respect to the Buddha, his or her hands will be put together in the manner of veneration. So bended hands are clasped together.
If the hands and feet are spread out, the body will be a frightening sight. So it is necessary to tie them. The same cord is used to tie around the neck, and stretched to link with the wrists and feet for the convenience of lifting the body easily.
After death everyone will be treated in the same way by undertakers. The cord around one's neck stands for attachment to children. The one around the wrists symbolises attachment to wives and husbands, and the one around the feet means attachment to property. Finally these cords will have to be cut before the cremation.
At the time of the circumambulation of the crematorium three times, a monk will lead the cortege holding the sacred cord which is attached to the coffin. At some temples, the procession moves around the crematorium from right to left. This practice represents the cycle of birth, old age, decay and death. Some says it should be done this way to be correct. It means that we are going around and around in the wrong direction, taking rebirth in the cycle of existence, where old age and death are inevitable. Our amount of tears shed is larger than the entire water of an ocean because death makes people cry and so does pain and disappointment. Living one's life brings a lot of suffering.
On the other hand, at some temples, the procession goes from left to right. This way of movement illustrates three kinds of prosperity, namely human prosperity, heavenly prosperity and successful attainment of Nibbana. It depends on the Abbot's idea to choose the type of ceremony whether walking clockwise or anticlockwise.