Attachment by Ven. Ajahn Sanong Katapunyo

To Extinguish the Fire of the Elements

As long as worry and anxiety still exist in one's mind, there will be no happiness. Yome, when you sit and listen to the sermon, if your mind is full of discomfort, contentment is nowhere to be found. Activities such as eating, sitting and lying down with an agitated mind will also bring anguish since it feels like being full of heat.

How can one stop this troubled mind which generates the heat? ' Sangkhara' is the key factor. They are intentional activities which give out heat when we think about this person and that person and are concerned about this matter and that matter. Worry and anxiety are bound to follow. We are told to use the meditation technique of mindfulness of the breathing by saying "Bud" when breathing in and "Dho" when breathing out which is tranquillity development or insight development to eliminate anxiety, and finally intentional activities. It is called "To extinguish the fire of the elements." Some people realised that they will die between three to seven days before their death. After that the fire of elements (the fire which is burning the body) will be put out.

In the past, in order to extinguish the fire of the elements, the human form was made to depict birth and death. Nowadays, it is impossible to continue this practice because there are crematoriums. Before, the human form was reduced to ashes and a piece of cloth was placed nearby for a monk to take it away. So the Bangsukoon of the dead person is performed. This signifies "Wishing him or her a good rebirth." Usually it took three days before the fire was put out. In the present time where cremation sites are crowded, it has to be the day after the cremation. In the former time it was said that if a monk had not chanted and made blessing with water, no amount of rain would put the fire out. It was really hot and would not be quenched. Only when the day of extinguishing the fire of the elements came would it die down.

To extinguish the fire of the elements means that a monk performs a ceremony by chanting the virtue of the Buddha and the Dhamma, to make blessing water. Then he makes a wish and sprinkles the water on the bones. After the fire dies down, the bones become cool and ready for collecting. If they are not cool enough, they cannot be picked up. This can be compared with our mind which has no mindfulness and is not meritorious. It is full of worry and anxiety which generates heat in an uncontrollable manner. It is necessary to cultivate generosity, morality and meditation as the practices of getting rid of the heat in our mind in the same way as extinguishing the fire which burns the body at cremation.

Anger is regarded as a form of heat. If we do not calm down, we will not be able to keep cool. Craving is seen as a grasping mind which only generosity can counter. Delusion is also interpreted as the passionate mind which prevents us getting on with others. Both kinds of defilements also create heat and from this the world will be viewed in a pessimistic way. Even if we live with someone, we will not understand that person. It is pointed out that when we are deluded, we lack mindfulness and concentration. Therefore these two qualities have to be applied for putting an end to delusion. The blessing water symbolises the quenching of all delusions.

Afterwards the bones are placed in the "kos." Why do we call it " kos"? The first meaning of "kos" is the container of bones and the second is ten million. The second meaning symbolises we may have died many, many times before. Nothing has changed. The kos suggests that we must try to tread the deathless path and to stop rebirth. In the same way as the monk sprinkles blessing on the bones to quench the fire of elements, we must attempt to take the deathless path which quenches the fire of all defilements.

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