The following clarifies on major myths propagated by the named series. In the Buddhist perspective, the very Chinese title of ‘The Ghost Bride’, as based on the book《彼岸之嫁》, which means ‘Marriage of the Other Shore’ is already a mistake. The term ‘彼岸’ (Other Shore) is reserved for spiritual liberation in terms of Buddhahood, or Pure Land. However, it refers to the ‘netherworld’ (阴间) of ‘hell’ (地狱) in the story. The word ‘shore’ represents refuge and release, which contrasts with restless struggle in Sahā World’s sea of suffering (生死苦海), that is the cycle of birth and death. If so, how can hell, which is where there is the most intense suffering, be equated with the other shore?
In Buddhism, hell is reached only when one had created much negative karma. One cannot be ‘cursed’ to enter hell, with the body still alive in the human world. Also, if the consciousness is away from the body, the latter will perish naturally after seven days, unable to self-sustain any longer. Unfortunately, the common misconception of the afterlife as universally being a mirrored yet hellish version of our world was perpetuated. Based on this one idea, more needless practices are created — to ‘refurnish’ the other world with burnt paper replicas of ‘everything’ essential. Even paper effigies burnt are believed to materialise as sentient servants. But how can ash turn solid for indulgence in hell where there is only suffering?
Those with out-of-body experiences, bardo beings, wandering spirits, hungry ghosts and hell-beings are wrongly put on the same plane of existence. While the rest can share the same environment as us, hell-beings belong to a distinctly different ‘dimension’. There is also depiction of karmic lawlessness, with an ex-human tyrant in hell still being tyrannical, able to bully and bribe, even lusting for a bride. Again, hell is about suffering, not ‘getting away’ with ‘moral loopholes’ and conjugal bliss. The classic Chinese concept of the thereafter is truly but an extension of the worldly three poisons. Many also imagine the ‘nether life’ to last indefinitely or even forever. This view is harmful as it offers no path to liberation at all.
One seemingly touching but dangerous new idea presented is a ‘memory well’, where the deceased in hell can peer in, to see surviving family members, while refusing to be reborn. Of course, it does not exist, while karma will compel all to be reborn even if unwilling. If believed in, a newly deceased person might be attached to looking for it, thus not focusing on practising the path to liberation. Instead of wandering in search for a false refuge, or anticipating paper offerings that do not manifest, the alternative is to directly be mindful of Amitābha Buddha, to connect to him, and be guided to his Pure Land, where loved ones can be seen from. And no, there is no need to first go to hell as an interchange between two lives.
With different stories creating new ‘rules’ on death and hereafter, there are countless contradicting and misleading myths everywhere. What is the big deal, since all these are for mere entertainment? The spiritual danger is very real, as the average person will not spend adequate efforts to learn about the dynamics of dying, death and rebirth in Dharma classes — which means he or she will casually pick up this or that idea encountered here and there, ‘learning’ randomly. Even when there are confusing points, they tend to be ignored, not pondered upon seriously. Sadly, most people do die with such mish-mashed ‘teachings’, thus remaining confused in the next life, far from the true Other Shore. That — is truly scary.