In Buddhism, life is not entirely cut off by death as the stream of consciousness continues on. Because of this, the relationship between family members who have passed away and those who are still living are also not cut off. We do not know, however, the spiritual state that deceased family members are in.
According to the Buddha’s teaching, depending on the quality of their accumulated “karma” (a word for “actions” whether good or bad) from their most recent as well as previous lives, they may gravitate towards either happy or unhappy states of mind and therefore rebirths. According to Buddhism, it is possible to assist them by dedicating the merits of our own practice to them. The more a family chants together for their deceased relatives, the more merit they receive. A memorial service is a way in which we assist our past family to be reborn into a better state of being, even in the Pure Land of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha where they can attain Buddhahood easily.
Nichiren Shonin said,
“Our heads are given by our parents. Our legs are given by our parents. Our fingers are given by our parents. Our mouths are given by our parents. Our entire body is inherited from our parents.”
Our body is not just ours. We inherit our body from our past family, from generation to generation. The benefits we enjoy have been nurtured and passed along by our past family. To pray for our past family also means to pray for ourselves, because we in our bodies and minds contain this inheritance passed from generation to generation.