The Day of the Dead – Ullambana, or Bek-jung

Today is Bek-jung here in Korea, with the ceremonies set to start in 30 minutes. It’s the day for remembering those who have passed away, and for practicing on their behalf.

In Sanskrit it’s called Ullambana, and is based upon a sutra of the same name. The premise is that we and the deceased are not separate, and that the thoughts we raise can benefit those around us.

So apart from the sincerity of the offerings, the parts of the ceremony that are chanted are also about compassion and understanding that we are not our bodies, (that they are composites that come and go) and so we are free to let go of those and be reborn at whatever level we choose.

And, as we internalize those truths (compassion, sincerity, and impermanence) and let them settle down within us, those beings we share a karmic connection with are also experiencing those truths. Because we know it, they do. Just intellectually knowing won’t do much good though, we have to input and let go of all of that to this very deep place where no fixed forms or concepts can survive. When we connect with this place, what we’ve input is communicated with all beings.

One of the big disadvantages about being dead is that, having no new sensory input, consciousness tends to “drift” along, stuck in whatever it was experiencing at the time of death, or in the very slowly changing karmicly conditioned states of consciousness.* So when we hold ceremonies like this, the purpose is to become one with the deceased, and, as they become one with our level, (which is hopefully focusing on these truths!) knock them out of the loop they were stuck in.

* If someone has experienced this inner light for themselves while alive, and is practiced at relying upon it, apparently “drift” isn’t a problem, because the person follows this inner light, instead of getting hung up in the various conditioned states of consciousness that arise.
My thanks to Roy, at Return to the Center, for getting me thinking about this topic.

The images are from the main Hanmaum Seon Center in Anyang, South Korea.

7 thoughts on “The Day of the Dead – Ullambana, or Bek-jung”

  1. “One of the big disadvantages about being dead is that, having no new sensory input, consciousness tends to “drift” along, stuck in whatever it was experiencing at the time of death, or in the very slowly changing karmiclyconditioned states of consciousness.”

    Is this consciousness waiting for rebirth?

    1. Hi Bill,
      I’m not sure “waiting” is quite the right word; what it’s attracted to karmically (or unfinished karma) will pull it towards another rebirth. How long this takes depends upon how well it can pass through the things it experiences after death without getting caught up in them. If it buys into the images and feelings it experiences, then rebirth will apparently take longer.

  2. I too thank you for this posting. Today is the 1 yr. anniversary of my Mother’s passing.

    A member of my cyber-sangha sent this to me:

    That year, although I was still very young,
    my Mother left me
    and I realized I was an orphan.
    Everyone around me was crying.
    I suffered in silence.

    Allowing the tears to flow,
    I felt my pain soften.
    Evening enveloped Mother’s tomb.
    The pagoda bell rang sweetly.

    I realized that to loose your Mother
    is to loose the whole universe.

    “A Rose for Your Pocket”
    -The Most Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh

    1. Hi Barry,
      If you’re dead, I’m in more trouble than I thought!^-^

      Actually, I do remember reading that there are some people who actually do attain enlightenment between death and taking on a new body. Though it’s pretty rare, apparently.

      I think it comes down to whether someone is “caught” by the conditioned states of consciousness that arise. If they are, then growth is difficult, whereas if they’re attuned to this numinous awareness, they continue to practice even after death.

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