"For all the sentient beings of the present & future eras, if they are close to death & have the chance to hear the name of one Buddha, Bodhisattva, or Pacceka Buddha; they will be able to achieve liberation whether they are with or without sin."
It also says:
"Even if the sentient beings of the present & future eras can recite the name of only one Buddha, they will gain immeasurable merits; how much more so if they are able to recite the names of many Buddhas!"
My uncle died last Thursday (12.4.2006) of liver failure in the hospital, and a funeral wake was held for him till Monday (16.4), after which he was cremated. Before he was about to die and even throughout the wake, there were people chanting Amitabha to help him on his way; but he did not do any practice or cultivation at all when he was still healthy and alive.
The strange thing is his mom reported seeing a black bird flying into her house 2 days after he died. No matter how they tried to scare it, the bird refused to go away. It even allowed my uncle's mom to touch and stroke its body. Suspecting the bird to be his son, the old lady told it, "If you are my son *his name*, be at peace and move on." The strangest part is that the bird seemed to understand that and immediately flew away! Although she was a Christian, she could not help but believe that there is such a thing as rebirth. We were quite amazed to hear the story at the wake on the 3rd day.
But the question is, can a person who just died for less than 2 days be reborn as a bird without first going through Bardo (intermediate state between death and rebirth)? As far as I know, only beings with powerful good or evil karma don't pass through Bardo. If he is still in the first stage of Bardo, can the spirit appear as a bird to visit his relatives? From my readings of the Book of Bardo, only when the spirit has reached the last stage of Bardo will it gain certain temporary supernormal powers like being able to go anywhere it wants and ability to transform.
I posed these questions to friends in the E-sangha and obtained 2 views. The first view is that the bird was not my uncle's reincarnation, but the emanation of a Dakini (a kind of dancing female deity) or a wrathful protector deity who manifests mostly as birds. They guide the dead to the pure realms as well as comfort the living relatives. The second view is my uncle had been reborn in a heaven realm as a Deva through the merit of hearing Amitabha Buddha's name and other Mahayana Sutras at his death bed. Thus he has the supernormal power to transform himself into a bird the next day. He appeared as a bird before his grieving mother so as to comfort as well as inspire her. Though these 2 views are both possible, my own feelings tell me that the latter one is much more likely. If my uncle is a Deva now, I hope he is well and happy. May he continue to watch over his family and may he start to follow the Dhamma in that heaven realm, sadhu.