Sutras that reference 49 Day Journey After Death

Discuss and learn about the traditional Mahayana scriptures, without assuming that any one school ‘owns’ the only correct interpretation.
Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: Sat Mar 25, 2023 10:16 pm

Sutras that reference 49 Day Journey After Death

Post by jlhughes »

I'm looking for sutra references to the 49 Day Journey After Death and, in particular, any sutra that details the stages of the journey.

The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva contains a passing reference to ceremonies marking the 49 day journey.
User avatar
Posts: 4733
Joined: Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:44 am

Re: Sutras that reference 49 Day Journey After Death

Post by Aemilius »

In a previous discussion this has been said:

"Aemilius wrote: ↑Sun Jan 29, 2023 11:31 am
By chance I came across an answer to your original question, it is in Abhidharmakosa Bhasyam of Vasubandhu. There are about 20 pages concerning the intermediate state beginning at p. 382 in vol. II. It is interesting material. There are four different opinions concerning the length of the intermediate state. According to the commentators of ABK, Vasubandhu prefers the answer he has put first which is: " How long does an intermediate being exits? There is no fixed rule, says the Bhadanta". (Two of the other opinions are: 7 days, and 7 weeks.)

by curtstein » Fri Feb 03, 2023 5:47 pm
Wow! That is extremely interesting. I have recently been reading a lot about East Asian Buddhist thinking/practices regarding the intermediate state. In East Asia it is commonly believed that the first 49 days (the "seven seven") are subsequently followed by three more intermediate steps: 100 days after death, 1 year after death, and then a final stage that ends at least two years but probably no more than 3 years after death. This idea is associated with the "apocryphal" Scripture on the Ten Kings (in which there is one Judge/King for each of the first 7 groups of seven days, and then an additional Judge/King for the three subsequent periods, adding up to 10 - all of them acting under the supervision of Dizang/Ksitigarbha). It's fascinating (at least to me) to see an Indian source (Vasubandhu no less) who states that there is "no fixed time", thus leaving the door open at least a crack for legitimizing (or at least not completely ruling out) the 10 Kings model for the intermediate state."
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
Posts: 139
Joined: Mon Oct 24, 2022 5:37 am

Re: Sutras that reference 49 Day Journey After Death

Post by VolkerK »

The significance of this ceremony has its origins in The Treatise of the Great Commentary of the Abhidharma (아비달마대비바사론, 阿毘達磨大毘婆沙論) and The Sūtra of the Fundamental Vows of the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (지장보살본원경, 地藏菩薩本願經).

The 49-day ceremony refers to the seven funeral ceremonies held once every seven days for a total of 49 days. The significance of 49 days comes from the Buddhist belief that the deceased spends 49 days passing from this world to the next. This appears in The Treatise of the Great Commentary on the Abhidharma (아비달마대비바사론, 阿毘達磨大毘婆沙論), compiled in the mid-second century (Lim 2021, p. 112). The śāstra states, ‘The longest that the intermediate existence (중유, 中有) can remain is seven times seven days (칠칠일, 七七日), and on the 49th day one will surely be reborn’.2 Intermediate existence refers to one of the four stages of the life of a reincarnated being, presented alongside birth existence (생유, 生有), basic existence: the period of living after birth (본유, 本有), and death existence (사유, 死有). Intermediate existence is the stage after death but before the next life (Koo 2009, p. 229). The Treatise on the Foundation for Yoga Practitioners (유가사지론, 瑜伽師地論) mentions intermediate existence as follows:

If this intermediate existence has not yet acquired the conditions for the next life, it will stay for seven days, but even if it does acquire the conditions for birth, the date of birth is not immediately determined. If by the seventh day it has not yet acquired the conditions to be born, it dies and is reborn and stays for seven days. Wandering in this way, it stays until the 7 × 7th (49 days), and from then on, it will surely acquire the condition that must be born.3

According to this quotation, during the stage of intermediary existence, if the ghost of the deceased does not meet the conditions to receive the next life within seven days, it dies and is reborn within the same realm. This process may be repeated up to seven times, ultimately resulting in one receiving their next life on the 49th day.4 The Sūtra of the Fundamental Vows of the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (지장보살본원경, 地藏菩薩本願經) makes the following additional remarks:

If one does many good deeds during the 49 days after the death of the body, all sentient beings will abandon unfortunate destinies (惡趣, unfortunate rebirth; three evil destinies; hells, a hungry ghost, an animal) and receive great pleasure by being born in the human or heavenly realms. The benefit to the living family will be infinite.

more Info:
The Contents and Functions of the 49-Day Funeral Rites in Modern Korean Buddhism
Post Reply

Return to “Sūtra Studies”