Stay focused | Sunday Observer

Stay focused

20 February, 2022

Following are excerpts from an interview with Theravada bhikkhu Venerable Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Thera of Thailand. The Thera is well known across the globe for his effective Dhamma teaching methods and meditation practice.

Q: When a close family member dies, some Buddhists are curious to know as to when and where their beloved family member will be reborn. Can Buddhists depend on an Arhant to get an idea about where one’s Citta (mind) goes after death or where he/she will be reborn?

A: It depends on whether the Arhant can trace the spiritual being or not. If he has the psychic power then he can trace where this spiritual being is reborn. The Buddha had psychic power with which he could trace where his mother was born. So the Buddha could contact her and was able to teach her the Dhamma until she became a ‘Sotapanna.’ Not every Arhant or a disciple of the Buddha has this psychic power. From what I heard, only a few, maybe a five percent has this psychic power or the ability to connect in order to know where the spiritual being exists during that particular time.

However it is not really important. Whether you know where your loved one goes after his/her death does not change your problem. So it is better to know how to deal with your problem or how to solve your problem rather than trying to know where this person goes after death. It is a waste of time on your part. You should spend your time practising meditation to get rid of your defilements - to get rid of your stress, the Dukkha and stop rebirth in the process.

Q: We usually offer alms or engage in meritorious deeds to invoke merit on our deceased family members. But not all are in a position to acquire merit. Could you elaborate on who can acquire merit and who cannot?

A: Once the body dies then the mind will either be elevated to a higher level of existence or to a lower realm of existence. If the mind of the person who died is elevated due to ‘the good Kamma” he or she performed while alive, then this person does not need any merit from us because he/she has their own merit to support them or keep them happy.

Those who have not acquired sufficient merit during their lifetime usually go to a lower realm of existence, below the realm of human beings which are animals and spiritual beings. They are called Hungry ghosts, Scary ghosts or Hellish ghosts.

Of those, only Hungry ghosts will be able to receive merit, not others. When they were alive they have not done any charity and they have acquired wealth dishonestly by breaking the Precepts. Then once they die they become Hungry ghosts or hungry spirits. They come and ask for merit. Merit is like food for those spirits. When they get merit, they can have some ‘food’ to keep them satisfied for a while. This is the only type of spirit who can get merit that we dedicate to them.

Q: Millions of people fall prey to the deadly pandemic with each passing day. Over four million people have succumbed to this deadly virus. When people die in millions within a short period, where will they be reborn?

A: They will be reborn in the spiritual realm of existence which does not have any definite area like the physical realm of existence. All of them can be accommodated. In the spiritual realm of existence, there is no space like the physical space we occupy here, because the spirit or the mind does not have any size, shape, or form.

Q: If they are being reborn as humans, the world may experience a sudden population rise in the future. Your view?

A: That depends on the humans who populate the world at that time. If they have control over the birth rate then these spiritual beings cannot force human beings. Spiritual beings will then have to wait until they get an opportunity.

Even though many spiritual beings are waiting to be reborn as humans, if there is no human “to give them the human birth” then they cannot be reborn soon.

It is important to know that the sudden population surge is not because spiritual beings are waiting to be born. It depends on the human population themselves. In short, if human beings feel that they should have more babies then they will make more babies. If they don’t feel like having any more babies then there won’t be any more babies!

Q: Not all those who die will be born as humans. Some will be born in ‘animal’ or ‘Preta’ worlds. Could you explain this from the perspective of Buddha’s teachings?

A: This is just what I mean. The spirits will become whatever they have done - based on the good or bad Kamma they have committed. If they have done good Kamma they will go to the Deva realm. If they have done bad Kamma they will be reborn as humans [in pathetic condition], animals, Pretas, spiritual beings in hell or as spiritual beings full of fear. So they have their place to go. Don’t worry!

But as far as coming back to being born as a human, it depends on the human population, whether they want to create/give birth to more humans or not. If they don’t want to increase the birth rate, then the spiritual beings who want to be born as humans will have to wait.

Q: What is the best way to start your day?

A: Start the day with mindfulness. As soon as you wake up, start reciting a Buddhist mantra or keep focusing/ start watching what your body is about to do -is it about to wash, brush teeth or whatever.

Stop reciting the mantra only when you have to think seriously. Otherwise just keep reciting the mantra. This will make your mind calm, empty, peaceful and happy.

Q: We have read that throughout his Sansarik journey the Buddha (the Bodhisattva) had done many wrongs, but he had never uttered a lie. However, today ‘telling lies’ has become very common and it seems that many are unaware of the gravity of it. People may tell a lie, even soon after observing the five Precepts. Is ‘lying’ a grave sin?

A: I think telling lies is the forerunner of doing other sins. If you can lie then you can do any other sin. But if you cannot lie then you will find it harder to do other sins. Normally you lie to protect your other sins. For example you may steal something and when people start questioning you as to whether you committed that wrongful act, you would say ‘no’. It is because you want to cover your other sin.

Q: Offering “Katina” Robe is considered to be a great meritorious deed. Devotees gather in thousands and spend lavishly to conduct Katina Poojas in Sri Lanka. However, unlike in the time of the Buddha, today robe materials are not scarce. Does the Katina Pooja still hold the same significance as it did in the past?

A: Well, I think there is a misunderstanding as far as the ‘meritorious deed’ is concerned. During the time of the Buddha, bhikkhus underwent problems as robe materials were scarce. The Buddha then asked the lay people to give cloth material to the monks, so that they could prepare robes.

The Buddha said that this is very meritorious as far as the bhikkhu’s necessity is concerned. The bhikkhu needs the robe material to make the robe with. But as far as the person who donates the robe material is concerned, he/she will not acquire more merit by offering the robe. It is as same as offering food or other necessary items.

So the idea that offering Katina Robe will help one acquire more merit is a misunderstanding. It is not the case. It was beneficial to the bhikkhus/receiver because during that time bhikkhus had no material to make their robes with. The giver still gets merit, but the merit they get depends on the amount they give, not whether they give a Katina robe or ordinary robe or food or anything like that. The more the person gives the more merit he/she gets.

(Ajahn Suchart Abhijato became a bhikkhu at the age of 27 and ordained at Wat Bovornives in Bangkok on February 19, 1975. Venerable Ajahn Suchart Abhijato resides in Wat Yansangwararam, Thailand.)