It can be illustrated that the reason behind putting the banana leaf envelope into the dying person’s hands is to show him or her the way to heaven. Nowadays there is not enough time to do it because people have no mindfulness. In former times they did not go to the hospital. Before passing away, their children used to surround them and put the envelope in their hands for an offering to Chulamani, at the same time they would say “Mother, Arahant, Father, Arahant” so as to remind the dying person of the Buddha. Those dying would say “Look after your brothers and sisters well. Everything is already divided. I am going now. I cannot stay alive anymore.”
Naturally the children and grandchildren did not wish their relatives to die but the five aggregates could not last any longer. Some dying people would announce something like : “The royal chariot has arrived with someone to fetch me. A mansion and a royal chariot are waiting. The celestial beings are very beautiful. Somebody has already come to take me with him so I cannot remain here any longer.” Some people said that the celestial being came three times for them but they postponed the journey by expressing their wish to perform meritorious deed first. They finally went after the third time. The ritual of cremation is performed to symbolise the way the dead person is led away from this life.
Yome, you have noticed that during cremation in Bangkok, the coffin is put on a royal chariot drawn by a monk, holding an incense stick and a candle which both signify the Dhamma, the Buddha’s teaching. Therefore the Triple Gem will lead the procession. The white sacred cord is tied to the coffin. The cortege must circumambulate the crematorium either from right to left or from left to right according to the Abbot’s idea. If it is from left to right, they must go around three times which symbolise the Triple Gem.
Having morality, generosity, meditation and the Triple Gem as refuges, the coffin will circumambulate the crematorium from left to right. This is called “Human prosperity going to heavenly prosperity and then to successful attainment of Nibbana”. If it is from left to right, it must be led by a monk who embodies morality and the taking of precepts. In some temples there is no room to circumambulate the place of cremation.
How can a monk lead ?
He will give a sermon encouraging morality. For a lay person who takes five precepts, he or she will be guided to heaven by his or her ethical conduct. They will not have to go to hell. When one follows the monk’s teaching, it can be compared with physically following him in any direction he goes. In fact it is the five precepts which take the lead. For anyone who is ordained as a nun with eight precepts, after her death it is said that she is shown the way by the eight precepts. A monk will walk in front, holding the sacred cord which is tied to the coffin. She is supposed to go to a higher realm such as Nimmanarati or Paranimmitavasavatti heaven.
If one can attain a state of absorption during meditation, one will reach the Brahma world. Furthermore, when one develops intuitive vision and manages to cut the three chains of greed, anger, delusion that include affection, hatred, attachment to children, property, wives and husbands, it can be said that one has realised the state of Nibbana. Freedom will be gained from loosening the grip of the three chains.
In front of the funeral procession are representations of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha who represent morality. Being led around, behind the guide of morality signifies that if one follows the precepts, one will be on the right way. So it is necessary to be led after death.