Home » Letters » Must Loved Ones & I Have Niches?

Question: I came across a columbarium flyer in my mailbox, offering early-bird booking discount. It is designed like a condominium ad, with pictures of lavish ‘suites’ (the term used in the flyer) for niches. The tagline says, ‘Give your beloved the deepest blessings, by leaving eternally touching moments.’ The main text says, ‘We cannot determine where we will end up, but we can plan to have an eternal resting place with the best fengshui for descendants. We offer a comfortable environment with modern facilities and professional services… Planning for yourself is a form of love for your children. Planning for your parents is a form of responsibility and filial piety…’ What do you think?

Answer: That seems very commercial marketing? Here are some thoughts… First, the deceased do not really require a lavish place to stay, while we should guide them to take better rebirths. Second, the truly deepest blessings we can offer is to guide the deceased to reach Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha’s) Pure Land. Third, it is not appropriate to even suggest to anyone that a columbarium is supposed to be an eternal resting place.

Fourth, we can determine where we are reborn with good Dharma practice. Fifth, whether the place has good fengshui (geomancy) or not, and whether the fengshui principles mentioned works or not aside, the truly best thing we can do for our descendants is to practise and share the Dharma well now, by being a good and enduring example, so as to inspire them for life – as the gift of the Dharma (that leads to liberation) is the greatest gift. Sixth, good environment, facilities and services make sense more for the surviving family; not the deceased. Seventh, the simplest plan for how to settle your remains can be cost-free, as will be mentioned below. Eighth, true spiritual responsibility and filial piety is actualised by guiding loved ones to the best rebirth; not by keeping their remains anywhere in particular.

Question: So, is it a good idea to set up a niche to keep my ashes in an urn, in a columbarium, say, that offers Buddhist chanting?

Answer: There is no need if you have no intention to stay there, and if you are determined to make it to Pure Land with the right practice. The truth is, even if you would like to, as a wandering spirit, hang around in a columbarium to hear Buddhist chanting, you can do it without a niche there! Of course, we do not encourage hanging around indefinitely at all. Also, your karma might not allow you to stay around, as you might be forced to be reborn elsewhere. It should be noted that if it is recorded chanting heard, it offers no living power of blessings, or wisdom, that spirits read from the minds of ‘live’ chanters with right understanding. Of course, if at a columbarium, there is potential of understanding some recordings of the chanted (or ‘live’ chanting personally, which is better than to not encounter any chanting, but the point is to not place all hopes for ‘salvation’ in having a niche and being there.

When approaching death, it is safest and with the most benefits, to simply personally practise mindfulness of Amituofo’s name (Nianfo) with utmost sincerity (wholeheartedness based on unshakeable Faith and Aspiration), until Amituofo comes to receive you. A common reason to have your niche in a columbarium is because your family members insist. However, you can persuade them otherwise, encouraging them to donate the much money to be spent for Dharma causes instead, to create merits for themselves and you, by sharing the Dharma far and wide. In the mean time, do keep practising Nianfo well now, and keep learning about the Pure Land teachings to build up the Three Provisions (Faith, Aspiration and Practice) for reaching Pure Land.

Question: If a family member wishes to have a niche, say, in ‘Nirvana Columbarium’ (name changed here), as advertised, is it really any good?

Answer: Due to lack of information and experiences on the actual services, facilities and prices, it is difficult to comment. However, even if it has huge and grand Buddha images, it is definitely not as good as Pure Land itself, where the real Nirvana is truly possible, as facilitated by learning from Amituofo directly. There, a living Buddha can be met in person, and Nirvana attained is not just in name! True love or complete filial piety is not to just store a loved one’s remains in a nice place, but to guide the person to be reborn in the best place possible, where liberation and progress to Buddhahood is guaranteed. If this can be done, even if the remains are scattered into the sea or onto land, it is no misgiving at all.

It is important to educate family members that their niches (or ancestral tablets and graves) should not be seen as their permanent resting or ‘living’ places. Some do imagine their niches to be like mini condominium apartments of sorts! If this misconception is clung to, they might become wandering spirits lingering around them for some time – unhappily and without any fruitful purpose, while their karma will eventually force them to be reborn elsewhere. Since this can happen at any time, it again makes sense to learn to take control, by consciously seeking birth in Pure Land instead.

However, that said, those who still insist on having a niche in a certain place should have their wishes followed, lest they become restless and angry spirits, due to unhappiness of not having their wishes fulfilled. (There should still be encouragement of the deceased to reach Pure Land though.) Perhaps this question can be offered as food for thought – If one wants a niche to be remembered, would not a prominent photograph at home be more effective than a niche in a columbarium, that is visited only once in a long while? The ashes can be kept at home too, if ‘disposal’ into nature feels ‘cold’. There can be continual chanting at home by family members dedicated to the deceased too, which adds a powerful personal touch due to having deeper karmic affinities and sincerity in many cases. Chanting can still be signed up for and participated in, during festive and special Dharma ceremonies at Buddhist temples.

Question: A relative’s niche and ancestral tablet are placed at different places. For prayers, which should I visit first?

Answer: It does not really matter if the person is reborn elsewhere already, which is the case for most within 49 days. (The niche functions like the grave while the tablet as the gravestone.) Visiting would just be for expressing remembrance and gratitude then. If there is a possibility that the person is not reborn yet, and is ‘hanging around’ the niche or tablet, then it makes sense to consider where he would prefer to ‘hang out’ more and visit that place to offer more prayers first. For prayers, there should be focus first on offering guidance to reach Pure Land, followed by as much Nianfo as possible to set a good example of how it should be practised sincerely, hoping that the deceased emulates accordingly, so as to give rise to the Three Provisions and makes it to Pure Land. This should be done once one suspects the deceased is still around; not just on festive remembrance days.

Related Articles:

How To Share The Power Of Merits & Guidance (如何分享功德力与引导力)
The Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration & Practice

Related Course:

Destination Pureland: How To Die Well & Be Reborn Better

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5 Responses to “Must Loved Ones & I Have Niches?”

  1. Hi, I have finished reading the above. Did I miss out anything? What is the simplest plan to settle my remains cost-free? Thanks.

  2. GERALD PANG April 21, 2014

    Answer to the above concerning whether to have a niche or not?
    It is extremely well explained by you & I understand it very well & like to thank to for sharing it with us.
    I will certainly share it with my colleagues especially Buddhist colleagues with the wrong idea of having a niche.

  3. clarifier April 22, 2014

    Hi Irene, the cost-free method is mentioned already – simply cremate and scatter –

    ‘True love or complete filial piety is not to just store a loved one’s remains in a nice place, but to guide the person to be reborn in the best place possible, where liberation and progress to Buddhahood is guaranteed. If this can be done, even if the remains are scattered into the sea or onto land, it is no misgiving at all.’

    For oneself, one should do this –

    ‘When approaching death, it is safest and with the most benefits, to simply personally practise mindfulness of Amituofo’s name (Nianfo) with utmost sincerity (wholeheartedness based on unshakeable Faith and Aspiration), until Amituofo comes to receive you.’

    Hi Gerald, thank you for appreciating the article. It tries to offer a balanced outlook on the pros and cons of having a niche. Note that it does not discount the value at all, as it differs from case to case, as illustrated in the article.

  4. Re: My Sister is planning to sign up for packages at N___ for my family. I already sent her this article to try to dissuade her. She refuses to look at the article. And she insists that having niches at N___ is a necessity… She feels that the best resting place is at the columbarium… She is willing to spend big money to buy packages there. She has booked an appointment with the columbarium and she is going there in a couple of days… I do not want her to regret making this hasty decision and waste her hard-earned money. What should I do now? She will be signing up the packages in a couple of days, because places are limited and prices are increasing, so she wants to secure a place as quickly as possible. Appreciate your advice here.

    Reply: You should share the above with all in the family and ask for an emergency family meeting to discuss on the pros and cons accordingly.

  5. Re: My family and I have a family meeting to discuss the above issues. Unfortunately, my whole family feels that having niches at N___ only have pros and no cons at all. My parents are lowly educated and not Pureland believers. I raised each point of the article and explained to them that it is not necessary at all to have a niche at N_____ . However, my Sister managed to convince them to buy a niche there, which will be their second home, as it is a Chinese tradition to have a niche at a columbarium. I ended up arguing with my family, and I am the only one against having a niche there. I told them that the ashes can be placed at my home’s shrine, but they say it will cause our house to be haunted. I told them that I don’t mind, but they do not want the house to be haunted when I am the only person left living in the house. I told them about scattering of ashes into the sea, but they think it is a bad idea and want their ashes to be intact inside the urns. I told them about going to Pureland after death and not treating the niches as their final resting place, but they are not listening to me at all. They do not want to go Pureland and they doubt its existence. My family are not into Buddhism. When I try to persuade them further, they say that I should not keep saying inauspicious stuff which will lead to bad luck in this new year, and they have made up their mind. They will be going to N_________ the day after tomorrow to sign up for the packages, which costs an exorbitant price. I have tried my best.

    Reply: The sure way for there to no haunting of any columbarium or home is by learning and practising the Pure Land path to reach Pure Land.

    It is best to encourage your family members to learn about the Pure Land teachings systematically and detailedly in our classes in this section: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/category/06/ You should keep coming to learn and practise too. Do subscribe to our weekly newsletter for updates.

    Here is proof of why Pure Land exists, which you can share: https://purelanders.com/2011/12/16/why-pure-lands-must-exist/ And here are related testimonials to share: https://purelanders.com/category/testimonials/

    This is how to persuade them to learn and practise the Pure Land path, other than coming to class to learn properly – https://purelanders.com/2017/10/14/how-to-connect-family-members-to-amituofo/ AND https://purelanders.com/2017/08/19/how-nianfo-improved-relationships-with-our-children/ Amituofo

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