After circumambulations, the body will be placed on the funeral pyre. The undertaker will cut all these three cords around the feet, wrists and neck. The face will be washed with coconut juice as it is considered to be very pure water, condensed from a clean and pure substance. There is nothing as clean as coconut juice. Even distilled water is artificially produced through scientific methods. In contrast, coconut juice is natural as it is condensed with purity and is appropriate for washing and cleaning the dead person’s face. This ritual can be compared with the water of spirit, of morality and the Dhamma. It also explains that before death, one must wash and clean oneself first.
So in this life what kind of things can one use to wash and clean oneself? Generosity, morality and meditation are the answers.
These practices will wash and clean us before we die. It means that we must purify our body and mind before death by taking precepts first. Giving, taking precepts and mental training, can be said to “purify” us until we are as clean as the water, “which is the coconut Juice.” These things are used as examples.
For us to realise the Dhamma we should interpret everything as the exposition of the Dhamma. In order to gain wisdom, leading to an understanding of the Ultimate Reality, we must listen to the teachings of an enlightened person, who teaches us indirectly to realise ourselves the benefits of practising morality, generosity and meditation before we die and of purifying ourselves first. If we are still not clean, our body will not be cremated.
After washing the face with coconut juice, the body is overturned with the face down and pressed on top by a piece of wood. This signifies that the dead person will not come back, will never look back and will certainly go away. The fire will be lit to burn the body. This illustrates that a human’s life has finally come to the end. The fire can be compared with the Buddha’s fire.
It was said that “The fire does not burn us only in this life but in countless lives.” Our bodies were burnt not for a single lifetime but countless times. The reason why we are burnt at the end of every lifetime is because we are not capable of burning defilements.
It was said that there is a kind of fire which can burn these. That fire is perseverance seen in our attempts to make merit, take precepts and meditate. It is called “burning defilement”, that is burning evil deeds, laziness, stupidity and ignorance so that we will not have to come back to be burnt by them again. This point again illustrates the Dhamma, but we have not thought about it in this same way. Yome, when we attend a cremation, we must think.
Everything which is done has a meaning. If a dead person has no royal chariot awaiting, it is considered to be a bad departure, If there is no monk to lead the cortege, it means that the dead person lacks morality, generosity and meditation. It is like there is no monk to lead the way out of suffering.
In fact the Buddha did not have to follow these ceremonies because he had overcome all the evil deeds. His body was not treated in the same way as other people. Nobody tied a cord around his neck and his hand did not need to be tied either. His body needed no tie.