Lying in "The Coffin" to Contemplate Death?

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 31, 2008

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review:

Singapore -- According to the movie "The Coffin", there is a bizarre Thai ritual where believers think death can be cheated (thus prolonging life) by lying in a coffin before their actual deaths, while chanting is done for them. "Bad karma" can be dissipated too.

Used interchangeably but inaccurately, "bad luck" is also included. Well, the cause and effect of karma is not based on random luck, which does not exists in the Buddhist teachings. And death is not some "reaper" who can be easily bluffed. Some ritual participants claim to feel relieved and even reborn. A psychological effect perhaps? If we are to imagine we have passed away, while lying still during a solemn mass "funeral", there would be the tendency to feel renewed upon re-emergence. Mindful reflective listening to chanting does wonders too.

A recent report (,7190,0,0,1,0) mentioned that "Buddhism in Thailand can take strange forms, embracing animist superstition, magical practices - and the entrepreneurial spirit of many senior monks. Many Thais say that the true spirit of Buddhism is being lost." If this new ritual taps on greed for quick fixes and the fear of death, it's unskilful. In the film at least, the ritual never encouraged the creation of good karma as the right means of diluting the ill effects of bad karma. It is illogical that playing dead will eradicate all present bad karma - especially since remnant karma is a burden (or blessing) that is carried over to the next life anyway. The true way to completely "cheat death" once and for all is to realise deathlessness - Nirvana - which is what the Buddha did!

To attain the bliss and ultimate truth of Nirvana, which transcends the cycle of birth and death, there is ironically the need to accept and contemplate the conventional truth of death. Death is like a great mirror, in which we reflect and see the value of our lives, which motivates us to focus on the urgent issue of progress towards Nirvana, instead of merely escaping from bleak realities - such as the fruition of bad karma and death. The coffin ritual could be modified to be a meditation process, for contemplation on mortality. There is already a long Thai Buddhist tradition of monastics contemplating impermanence by meditating on the stages of decay in corpses, while the coffin ritual seems to advocate clinging to life. It is this clinging though, that perpetuates rebirth and the suffering it entails.

If Buddhists truly fear death, they ought to liberate themselves from not just death in this lifetime, but rebirths and "redeaths" too. It is more skilful to cultivate the fearlessness of death after accepting death, than to fear death itself. How many times can death be cheated anyway, if possible? Mara, "the evil one" in Buddhism also personifies death. Thus, to conquer death, we need to conquer our inner Mara - our defilements of greed, hate and delusion, the very culprits who bind us the the wheel of Samsara. The film highlighted the concept of transferring bad karma to another. Not that it's possible, doing so would create much more bad karma! Any apparent "truth" of transference of bad karma is the "recipient's" bad karma ripening at the same time as karma is always personally created and borne.

One of the protagonists participated in the coffin ritual as a desperate bid to rid her cancer. Upon realisation that her "miraculous" remission necessitated the death of her fiance and being haunted by him, she realises and repents for her mistake, and has a relapse. She re-embraces her illness graciously and remarks that she doesn't wish to interrupt the wheel (of cause and effect) that is spinning anymore - which is what she did earlier by trying to cheat death without knowing the cost. Sounds a tad fatalistic and pessimistic indeed - as the point of Dharma practice is really to interrupt the wheel - by realising how it works, so as to step out of it. That's liberation.

The story also hints of the horror of being buried alive. Would the darkness not be claustrophobic? Of course, for most. But if there's no exit, the wisest thing to do would be to meditate - to have your final practice session before your actual inevitable passing! Incidentally, the ritual involves facing West. Though Thailand is a Theravada country, could this be linked to aspiration for birth in Amitabha Buddha's Western Pure Land? There, life is immeasurable due to the environment's continual urge to create pure karma, while providing the ideal conditions for progress towards Buddhahood. Now that's a wonderful Mahayana skilful means to cheat death!

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: