The Buddha Teaches How to Achieve a Successful Livelihood and a Tranquil Household – Without Abandoning Ancestral Worship


Original Article: Golden Lotus Rain (金色莲华雨露) Blog

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Translator’s Note: Buddhism has had to integrate into an essentially Confucian culture in China. This has led to an assimilation process whereby specific parts of Buddhist sutras have been ‘aligned’ with particular Confucian attitudes. What follows below is a fragment of an unnamed Buddhist sutra, which sees the Buddha teach that ancestral worship is in accordance with his Dharma – providing the emphasis of the worshipper is placed firmly upon the karmic purification of the ancestor’s spirits so that it can attain a better rebirth. The fact that an ancestor is ‘reborn’ within Buddhist teaching, of course, departs from the usual Confucian teaching on the subject, which sees the ancestral spirits occupying spiritual realms from which they look upon the world, listen to and watch their descendents, an occasionally directly interfering in human affairs. Worshipping the ancestors in the Confucian model is motivated by a desire to see the welfare of the deceased spirit maintained, so that they do not feel the need to interfere in human affairs. The emphasis for the Buddha is to break the cycle of karmic retribution and end rebirth. ACW 4.12.14

When the Buddha Lived in the World:

One day, a disciple of the Buddha was experiencing pain and suffering in his family life. He decided to call on the Buddha for advice. He said to the Buddha:

‘Merciful Buddha! I study the Buddhist Sutras every day, which includes chanting and praying.  Then why is it that my business is failing, and my home life is full of upset and pain? Even adequate clothing is difficult to come by. What hellish karma have I made in my past lives that affects this life with such retribution? Buddha please help and save me!”

After quietly listening, the Buddha entered a compassionate state of fixed meditation to examine the past life of this disciple. He found that this person had once been born into a very rich Brahmin family that neglected to pray for the well-being of their ancestors, who were stuck in the six realms of Samsara – or continuous rebirth. When the Buddha took physical form, these Brahmins made offerings to him and abandoned their negative practices. However, due to the karmic misdeeds associated with certain Brahmin practices, the ancestors of this family still suffered from the consequences of their actions performed whilst living as humans. The Buddha enquired as to whether the disciple still performed ancestral transgression rituals for the benefit of those who had lived before? The disciple replied:

“We mourned our ancestors for 30 years, but as we thought they had been reborn, we thought that there was no need to perform such actions.’  

The Buddha Taught:

“Your ancestors are trapped in cycles of rebirth (and cannot escape) due to their previous transgressions.  You should invite monks every year to perform rituals of penance for your ancestors, and donate alms to them. This act will also cleanse your own karmic transgressions. Rebirths for your ancestors and yourself will be beneficial and there will be an eventual escape from samsara. In the meantime, by taking these actions I have suggested, your home life will become peace, and your livelihood will prosper.”

Original Chinese Language Article:











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