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Death Theologies and Rituals (Chaplaincy Innovation Lab)

Memorial Service


Through the course of a lifetime, there is not usually a knowing of when the end of life may occur. Nonetheless, given the local-global nexus and typical environmental issues in our day and age it seems ideal to plan ahead for a funerary service with ecological simplicity. In Death, Dying and Beyond, David Charles Sloane (2017) published “Ecological Simplicity” to acknowledge environmental concerns with an aim to consider a replacement of conventional cemetery practices. Further, while preparing for the great unknown one may want to consider how tuning in with ecology is the ultimate means of accepting the reality of death by simply touching the soil. At the event of a funeral, the facing of uncertainty seems to be the only certainty that one may consider loved ones may be face. Thus, while following specific Hindu beliefs about attachment and bereavement, I wish to offer a means of transitioning — for my loved ones — to tune in with my assumption with a subtle body after the death of this physical body, by encouraging a garden(ing) communion. Through Śākta theology with Bhakti Yoga, the implications of my funeral service design allocates space for cremation and connection with Mother Nature upon the reality of death, as a source of strength upon the difficult tasks and experiences after losing a loved one.


Fortunately, the Natural Burial Movement is offering exploration for us to face legal and ethical issues regarding natural cemetery approaches. While Sloane openly states that “with each of these approaches, the human body is treated less as a sacred object of veneration than as another element of the biosphere that needs to be reintegrated into nature” (2017, 125). With this in mind, I wish to encourage for a way that is both naturally reintegrative as well as sacred: dispersing cremation remains in an area of open soil while intentionally cultivating a garden for a series of days, to consider the process of gardening as a means to recognize the Earth-based systems. Furthermore, it which to for individuals to incorporate specific rituals that I wish to encourage for my loved ones after my death are of the Sama Veda, as well as tune in with the Maha Devī. My connection to vibration and the study of sound has allowed me to realize and receive the benefit of the Sama Veda while gardening to signify a greater awareness. Many of my loved ones have already walked the path with me in mantra and yoga, while I truly believe the Sama Veda will serve in alleviating suffering for my loved ones even after the service.


In Bereavement and Final Samskāra (Antyesti) in Hindu Tradition, Sri Dhira Chaitanya (2011) offers a successful overlay of psychological insights and attitudes toward death and dying. There are specific Hindu death ceremonies that I would like to suggest, while implementing elements of the Vedas during communion. Chaitanya mentions that after cremation of the body, family and friends offer water oblations to the departed while facing towards the south. “They also offer prayers to Lord invoked as Prajāpati. They sit around for a while, talking about the deceased and about the transitory nature of life and the world” (2011, 18). Chaitanya suggests that the sharing and pondering of these matters helps with coping, while I wish to encourage the process of acceptance through gardening together rather than merely sitting together. “The ceremonies performed during the initial period of grieving last for thirteen days” (2011, 19). Since I have come from a dysfunctional family, so I am not sure if everybody will be able to share space to grieve; another purpose of the garden is that many can contribute to the devotion of land and service to the space at their own time. During this period of bereavement, I wish to encourage loved ones to intentionally tend a garden in which all may come to know the soil and feel the transformation of the Earth.


Integrating with the five elements is a key factor to coming to acceptance, while touching the soil and feeling the energy of the planet feels to me like the ultimate way to bereave. Anybody wishing to connect while facing sadness, guilt, helplessness, anger, or any challenges coming to terms with my death my now have a regular place to congregate while also putting their energy into the garden for the future. “Promoters of green burial, resumption, procession, and compositing ask, are the cemetery’s practices environmentally responsible?” (Sloane 2017, 125). When considering ecological simplicity, a gardening communion feels like the most favorable way to make use of energy and resource while appreciating life and accepting death. While moving through intense experience together during the mourning period, there is now a shared creation as well as pure connection with the nature upon the transitionary process. To consider the soundscapes, it seems ideal for the garden to be alongside a river for sake of calming the mind while everybody bereaves. Furthermore, working with the elements will set one all the more into a natural means of releasing emotions upon performing acts of atonement.


The ultimate goal for my funeral service is for my loved one to be able to have the space and time to accept reality, while dissolving into pure consciousness. I sense that reading from the Devī Gītā will allow for people to tune into the feeling of inner knowing, with no goal other than to feel the soil and fuse our horizons into the truth of the now—mean it a death of loved one. Before the cremation remains are dispersed into the soil and even before the gardening progresses, which is meant to proceed for many days to come, my prayer is that my loved ones have a space to safely dissolve into pure consciousness. The essence of the Goddess is meant to be amplified in the beginning, and there to then be a resource of connecting with the truth and inner knowing of heart upon bereavement. At the beginning of my funeral, set forth in front of a future garden, I wish for a specific excerpt from chapter 7 of the Devī-Gītā on supreme devotion beyond the gunas or qualities of nature (viz. sattva, rajas, tamas):


Now be attentive while I explain the highest kind of devotion.


One who constantly listens to my virtues and recites my names, who is firmly intent on me, a treasury of auspicious qualities, whose concentration is ever steady like a continuous flow of oil, who has no ulterior motive at all in these actions, having no desire for liberation in any form—whether living in my presence, sharing my powers, merging into me, or dwelling in my heaven—who knows absolutely better than serving me. Cherishing the notion of servant and master and this not aspiring even for liberating who enthusiastically thinks of me alone with supreme affection, knowing we truly are never separate from oneself, not acknowledging any difference who thinks of beings as embodiment of myself, loving other selves as one’s own self, who makes no false distinctions realizing the universality of pure consciousness. My omnipresent essence manifested in all beings everywhere at all times, who honors and respects even the lowest outcaste.


O Lord, discarding any sense of difference and thus wishing harm to no one, who is eager to see my sacred sites and to see my devotees, and is eager to listen to scriptures that describe the mantras and rites used in worshipping me.


O Ruler, whose heart is overwhelmed with love for me, whose body ever thrills with joy, whose eyes are filled with tears of love, and whose voice falters, who, with such enraptured feelings.


O Mountain Chief, worships me as ruler, womb of the world, and cause of all causes, who performs my splendrous retest, both the regular and the occasional, always with devotion and without miserly regard for cost, who longs to see my festivals and to participate in them, ever impelled by such desires arising spontaneously,


O Mountain, who sings on high my names while dancing, unselfconsciousness and forgetful of the body. Who accepts the fruits of past karmas as what must be, unconcerned with thoughts of preserving the body, such a person practices devotion deemed supreme, in which there is no thought of anything except me, the Goddess. The person in whom such supreme devotion truly arises.


O Mountain, then dissolves into my essential nature of pure consciousness.






Bibliography

Brown, C. Mackenzie. (1998). The Devī Gītā, The Song of the Goddess: A Translation, Annotation, and Commentary. State University of New York Press.

Chaitanya, Sri Dhira. (2011). Bereavement and Final Samskāra (Antyesti) in Hindu Tradition. Purna Vidya Trust.

Sloane, David Charles. (2017). “Ecological Simplicity.” Death, Dying and Beyond.




Exemplifying bulletin for funeral service:


Join us in honoring the life of a joyful spirit and lover of Mother Nature by attending a day or more of gardening and evening of sharing a fire circle.

Come sit with yourself and tend the garden, allowing the self to dissolve into pure consciousness.

Order of Service


Processional………………………



Scripture Reading:

DEVĪ GĪTĀ (Instruction in the Yoga of Devotion)


Garden Introduction

Contemplation……………………SAMA VEDA



Selection (Fire Circle) YOGA-SŪTRĀ (PORTION ON ABSOLUTENESS)

Acknowledgements

Cards & Condolences








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