Question: Is it necessary to engage a priest to perform rites during exhumations of relatives’ remains?
Answer: If the deceased had passed away a long time ago and that there has been no sign of him or her being a wandering spirit anywhere, near the grave or otherwise, a special ritual is not a must – though it is still better to ‘play safe’.
The simplest thing that can be done is to get everyone present to nianfo (be mindful of Amituofo; Amitabha Buddha’s name aloud) sincerely during the exhumation, set to the intention that if the deceased in still around, may he or she nianfo along sincerely too, till Amituofo appears to guide one to his Pure Land where there is no suffering.
Chanting Amituojing [Amitabha Sutra] can be included too as a way to introduce the Pure Land teachings to the deceased. There is no need to worry that the deceased does not understand the chanted as wandering spirits have the ability to read minds. This makes chanting with right understanding important and powerful. Merits should be shared with all beings after, including with the deceased. If there are other wandering spirits around, they can benefit from the chanting and merits too.
Understanding Amituofo Via the Amitabha Sutra [Run 8]
The Faith Factor: Strengthening Faith Via the ‘Treatise on 10 Doubts about Pure Land’