Question: When a famous but non-religious person dies and people of various faiths hold religious and memorial services with prayers and well wishes in the name of that person in their own places of worship, where will the deceased go to (e.g. be reborn)?
Answer: All such services are not really funeral services, as they are not held at the wake, which is where the consciousness of the deceased might be due to habitual attachment to the body, if not yet reborn. This means the deceased is unlikely to be aware of all that is done for him or her elsewhere, rendering the sermons and chanting unheard, unless the deceased happened to be near. In other words, the power of guidance is absent or low.
When it comes to Buddhist practices of chanting sutras (and names of Buddha, e.g. Amituofo; Amitabha Buddha), these create merits. With or without the deceased’s knowledge, the power of merits present can be dedicated, with the more the better. Ideally, the deceased hears the teachings chanted (e.g. Amituojing; Amitabha Sutra) to receive the power of guidance too, learning to also Nianfo (be mindful of Amituofo’s name wholeheartedly with the right Faith and Aspiration) to reach his Pure Land, which is the best rebirth.
Depending on personal karmic affinity and choice, the deceased might or might not hear or understand the chanting. Even if unlikely to be there, chanting still creates merits that can be shared for facilitating a better rebirth, or conditions in the life already reborn into. It could be wrong to imagine that as ‘celebrated’ people should have lots of merits created already, while many others will create more merits in their name, there is no need to help them. This is so as the deceased might have done many evils in ‘private’, that were whitewashed and hidden from the public, which created unimaginable negative karma.
Destination Pureland: How To Have The Best Rebirth (3rd Run)
Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra (16th Run)
How To Share The Power Of Merits & Guidance