Ajahn Brahm Answers
A great piece of research was done by Professor Pim van Lommel, which I keep asking people to look at. What he discovered is that the stream of consciousness leaves when a person is brain-dead. In other words, when the brain stops working, you leave the body.
This means you can do whatever you like with the body. You can take the organs out if you wish. I’m an organ donor. If I drop dead, take out all the organs you want, and then you can put the rest in the bin.
Buddhists should be organ donors! Some people say that if you give your eyes, you’ll be blind when you go to heaven. No, you won’t be blind: you’ll get four eyes. No matter how many eyes you give, you get double that back in return. If you give your heart, you get two hearts. You never lose when you are generous and do charity.
When you’re dead, you’re dead. You don’t have to leave the dead person for several days. That belief actually comes from the Tibetan tradition—it’s in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, I think—which dates to well over a millennium after the Buddha. There’s no such teaching in the original teachings of Buddhism. So just dispose of the body in the best possible way.
Even for the sky funerals in Tibet, in which they put the dead body outside to be eaten by the birds, it seems to be taken for granted that you don’t have to wait. In fact, they used to do that in Thailand as well, in particular at the monastery where I ordained, Wat Saket, which was outside the old city walls of Bangkok. Wat Saket, the Golden Mount Temple, was actually the cremation ground for most of Bangkok’s population in the old days. I’ve seen a photo of a guy putting a body out with all the vultures waiting. I think we should go back to the old Thai tradition, instead of having these funerals which last for days and cost a lot of money. Anyway, the funeral was done almost immediately after the person died; they didn’t wait for three or four or five days. So do whatever is necessary. You don’t have to wait.
Some time ago there was a myth going around in Malaysia and Singapore. When a person is dying, you get monks or nuns to chant. Just as the person dies, you feel whether their head is hot or their feet are hot. If their feet are the last part of the body which is hot, they must have left their body through their feet. This means they’re going to a lower realm, and that’s bad. But if their head is the last part which is hot, then they’ve left their body through the top of their head. This must mean they’re going to heaven. Even people who knew their father was a scallywag, with a mistress here and a mistress there, would use this method to find out his future destination. When the head was the last part that was hot, the relations were so happy: “I don’t know how your chanting could do this; it’s a miracle. My father didn’t deserve to go to heaven, but his head was the last part of his body to be hot!” The parents deserved to go down to the lower realms, but went to the higher realms instead because of the monks’ chanting! And then they give huge donations to the monks.
Some meditators nod their heads in agreement, others shake their heads in disbelief.
However, any doctor, or anyone who knows biology, knows that just before you die all the blood goes to the brain. The feet aren’t important, but if your brain goes, you’re in big trouble. So it’s the nature of the body to protect the brain as you die, and therefore all of the blood goes to the brain! That’s an emergency response. So even for bad guys and girls, the head will always be the last part of the body to be warm. The monks are making money because of a myth.
There’s far too much superstition in this world, and some- times people make money because other people are gullible.
When a Buddhist dies, just get rid of the body in the easiest possible way. Don’t go round burning paper houses. All that does is produce smoke; nothing goes to heaven! The Hubble telescope has seen to the farthest reaches of our Milky Way galaxy and didn’t see any devas up there. So where the heck does this smoke go? It doesn’t even reach outer space! There’s no one up there to receive it. So don’t think that burning houses is going to make your father or mother get a house in heaven. Instead, if your parents are going to die, use that money to make some good kamma, and then share the merits. That does work. Please do something useful rather than waste money on burning paper.