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Sasipgu-jae (四十九齋, 49齋), the Forty-Nine Day Ceremony
“Sasipgu-jae” or “Forty-Nine Day Ceremony” is the ceremony offered for the deceased over a period of 49 days, once every seventh day for seven times, as a way to bring peace and eternal rest to those who have died. Sasipgu-jae can also be a ritual for the living and for the still living family members of the deceased. For those who struggle with grief and despair after the loss of a family member or friend, a word of truth they hear at this memorial ceremony may serve as the nectar of life.
After the funeral, the family enshrines the spirit tablet and a photo of the deceased at a temple. Every seven days family members and friends gather at the temple and pray that the deceased be reborn in the Pure Land. At this time they often prepare food, fruits and tea and offer these on the altar for the deceased. This is done to console the spirit of the deceased which may have been overwhelmed with loneliness and fear at the intermediate state.
Sasipgu-jae is usually presided over by only the most virtuous monks and nuns. The ceremony consists of many steps to offer correct teachings to the deceased including ceremonies for “welcoming the deceased (對靈)” and “bathing the dead (灌浴).” The scriptures and talks presented at the Sasipgu-jae ceremony commonly contain the message that the deceased should not be attached to their physical body and illusory reality, which in reality are as insubstantial as bubbles, and find their true self. In addition, the presiding monk guides the deceased to expiate all unwholesome actions by repenting them before Amitabha Buddha and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and to pray for a rebirth in the Pure Land.
Listening to all the chanting of scriptures and Dharma talks, the spirit of the deceased calmly looks back at his/her past life and realizes the impermanence of life. Then he/she prepares to depart to a tranquil world where there is no greed, anger or ignorance. The last step of Sasipgu-jae is “sending off the spirit.” With this the spirit is guided to the Pure Land where Amitabha Buddha greets him/her.
- excerpt from Buddhist English (Intermediate 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism