Phakchok Rinpoche discusses the benefits of prayer with the Noble Living, Noble Caring, Noble Dying Team. In this conversation in New York, he explains the types of practices that are best to do after death, during the key 49-day period. Rinpoche mentions specific practices that we might wish to sponsor. He also notes that these practices are helpful even if the person is not a Buddhist practitioner.
When somebody is dying, even if they have not previously practiced a spiritual path, they may feel comforted when others offer prayers for them. If they are open to this, then there is no problem in offering prayers and explaining a little bit about the Buddha’s compassion. But we should always be sensitive to each situation and check with family members and those at the bedside. And please remember that in any situation, we can always offer silent prayer without making a big production–that way there is no distress for others. So if you sense that family or friends might not feel receptive, you can act silently with great compassion.
And, of course, if someone has practiced during their own life, then spiritual practices can be very beneficial.
Prayer Practices After Death
Rinpoche suggests sponsoring prayers for seven consecutive weeks on the day the person died. The practices of Amitābha, Avalokiteśvara or Chenrezig, Vajrasattva, and Zhitro –the 100 peaceful (zhi) and wrathful (khro) tantric deities are particularly powerful at this time.
The extensiveness of the offerings we make depends upon our financial situation–if we can afford elaborate ceremonies, then of course that is good. But if we have limited means we can just request a few monks to pray. It is helpful if possible that we provide the monks with a photo of the person who has died and their name.
We can also request a skilled lama to perform phowa (‘pho ba) or transference of consciousness. This process helps prepare the individual for death and allows them to relax into the natural essence of the mind. And as practitioners, while we are mentally fit, we can also learn how to do this practice ourselves. If we practice regularly, then we will naturally have less attachment at the moment of death and we will welcome rather than fear death,
Rinpoche also responds here to a question regarding how to pray for those who have died because of overdoses or who have committed suicide. We can feel confident that even though someone died in difficult or sudden circumstances, we can help this person’s consciousness as well through prayer. In cases of sudden death, Rinpoche remarks that it is important to add even more prayers to overcome obstacles. We offer the same prayers, but more intensively to help overcome any negative karma. And in these cases, we might also wish to add a lot of confession practices, and also light many butter lamps or candles for these people.