What to Do with a Deceased Person’s Ashes
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave the following instructions on what to do with a deceased person’s ashes, to be of maximum benefit for them.
[This was an actual letter to a certain person, so Rinpoche is referring to that person’s mother, but this is general advice that pertains to anyone.]
Reciting Mantras on the Ashes
For your mother, it would be good to recite the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM or the Medicine Buddha mantra many times, then blow on her body to purify her, and to protect her from the lower realms. You can also practice Medicine Buddha meditation for your mother’s liberation. [See also: Powerful Mantras for the Time of Death]
After the cremation, the ashes need to be blessed through the puja jang-wa. Once jang-wa has been performed with some of the hair or bone of the person, for purification of negative karma and for the person’s liberation, then the ashes, hair, or bone can be put inside a stupa. Jang-wa is a very powerful tantric puja performed to transfer the person’s consciousness into higher realms, such as pure lands. Through jang-wa, the person’s ashes, hair, bones, or other physical remains are blessed and actually become holy objects, and so can be placed in holy objects like stupas and statues. This becomes highly beneficial for the person who died, and for the family or friends left behind, because every time they pay respects to the deceased by making offerings such as flowers or lights to the stupa or statue, they create a lot of merit. Doing jang-wa for your mother would also create extensive merit for those she left behind that are doing the puja or rejoicing in having it done.
There are many good geshes who have a good understanding of Dharma, the entire path to enlightenment. The ashes can be divided for different geshes to bless, or just one geshe can do it; it doesn’t matter. But the more times the ashes are blessed, the more benefit there is for the person who died.
Putting the Ashes in the Ocean or on a Mountain
After jang-wa has been done, if possible, a lot of the ashes should be put in the ocean, because when they are blessed, they become like relics. When the ashes are put in the ocean, all the animals are purified of their negative karma for the next rebirth and future rebirths. This is mentioned in the jang-wa text, which also mentions throwing the ashes into the wind on top of a high mountain, so that all the insects and other sentient beings who are touched by the ashes will be liberated. I think putting them in the ocean would be better, because there are so many more sentient beings there. You can also sprinkle them on the ground where there are many insects. [Land of Medicine Buddha requests that you do not sprinkle ashes of the deceased on their property.]
Putting a Small Amount in a Stupa
A small amount of the ashes can be placed in the base of a stupa. The person who has died will receive all the merit from having the stupa dedicated to them. At Land of Medicine Buddha retreat center in California, there is a temple to house stupas with people’s ashes in them.
Some people say that you can’t put the ashes of ordinary beings inside a stupa, and that this is very heavy negative karma, but this is not a well-analyzed thought. If the ashes are purified and blessed by a good meditator, with good concentration, the ashes can be put inside a stupa, and circumambulated. Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche says this is OK, and it is also mentioned in the text itself.
In case people have superstitious thoughts about not wanting to circumambulate a stupa with ashes in it, then put the ashes in the base of the stupa and not the stupa itself. It will make it easier for people with those thoughts to circumambulate and worship the stupa.
Making Holy Objects*
I suggest that a tsa-tsa stupa can be made at the end of each week for the person. One, two, or three stupas can be made, but at least one. Then the stupas can be filled with the four different mantras that I have copied from the Kangyur or Tengyur. They have so much benefit, and incredible power. It makes the stupa or statue so powerful for people who are worshipping or circumambulating it. There is one mantra called the Stainless Beam Deity’s Mantra. If you circumambulate a stupa or tsa-tsa with one of these mantras in it one time, it has the power to purify the heavy negative karma that causes one to be reborn in all the eight hot hells. This is just from one mantra, and it is possible to fit many of these mantras inside one stupa. The more mantras there are in the statue or stupa, the more powerful it becomes.
* Please note that the memorial stupas at Land of Medicine Buddha are designed to contain a maximum of 2 tablespoons of ashes. Please do not send anymore than that to LMB. If you would like to put the rest of the ashes into tsa-tsas, you will need to do that on your own. Thank you. Please see Commentary on Tsa-tsa Practice.