- Gita 8:16
Historically midwives have been available to pregnant women for the purpose of ensuring a satisfying birth experience. In a similar way, humans, who are subject to re-birth are in need of others who can help them succeed in the re-birth process. With this in mind, The Tibetan Buddhist tradition has developed a practice called Sukhavati which is offered on behalf of someone who has recently died. Sukhavati comes from two Sanskrit words: sukha meaning "happy, bliss, delight or joy" and vati meaning "filled with". The ceremony is done twice.
The first time it is offered is within three days of the death and a second time, after 49 days have lapsed. In the Buddhist tradition, it is understood that when a person dies, the physical body is no longer functional. However, the subtle body - made up of mind, spirit, and consciousness - remains active in an intermediate, transitional stage called Bardo.
During this time of transition from from one life to another, one's consciousness is heightened but there is also confusion, fear, loss and anxiety. In this state of heightened awareness, consciousness of the deceased person is receptive to guidance and assistance for completing the journey through Bardo. The ceremony of Sukhavati is offered for this reason.
Traditionally, the body of the deceased remains undisturbed for three days. During this time people are encouraged to meditate in the room with the body. After three days, the body is cremated. Also, a small shrine is created with a photo of the deceased along with flowers, incense, and candles. The shrine is left up for 49 days. After that period, a 2nd ceremony is held and includes these elements:
- a brief meditation of ten minutes;
- explanation of the Buddhist view of life and death;
- invitation for individuals to speak about the deceased;
- a eulogy is offered;
- reading of the Sukhavati chant;
- burning of the photo.