On Saturday, April 22, 2017, I attended the 49 Day memorial service for Kanji Hitomi, a member of a prominent family at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church. My wife and I held a 49 Day service for her mother last year, but this was the first stand-alone 49 Day service I’ve attended. The attention paid to our deceased relatives, especially parents, is one of features of the Nichiren Shu practice I’ve found very rewarding.
Ven. Kenjo Igarashi offered his explanation the 49 Days after someone dies. The retelling is for those in the audience who are not members, but I always find it interesting.
Here’s my recollection:
After dying the body of the person is kept from moving with 49 nails. Each seven days seven nails are removed and a trial occurs. (I’ll admit to some confusion with being secured by nails and the previous tales of having to climb a mountain on the first seven days and crossing a river on the second, but I’m happy accept both concepts.) On the 35th Day, the deceased meets with Emma-o, the god of the underworld, who has a VCR and tape of every action of the deceased’s lifetime. No detail is left hidden as this karma is detailed.
On the final trial on the 49th Day, the last of the nails are removed. The deceased is in a room with a judge. The room contains six identical doors. One leads to hell. Another to the world of animals. Another goes to the world of asuras where everyone fights all the time. One leads to the world of hungry spirits. One returns to the world of humans. The sixth door leads to a heavenly realm. There is no way to tell which door leads to which realm. The judge silently motions for the deceased to pick a door.
The deceased’s karma determines the choice but the prayers of the living can transfer merit that can improve the lot of the deceased.
All of those attending today’s service were invited to join the family at a local Chinese restaurant where dishes favored by the deceased would be enjoyed by everyone.
Rev. Igarashi gave me a ride to the restaurant and while we were sitting together eating, he mentioned that this luncheon serves a special purpose. The feeling of satisfaction in dining and the camaraderie of the diners is transferred to the deceased.
I’ve considered myself a Buddhist for nearly 30 years, but it is only in the years that I’ve attended the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church and delved into the teachings of Nichiren Shu that I feel genuinely Buddhist.
That’s just me. Your mileage may vary.