Buddhist funerals are unique in many aspects. They vary not only from family to family and different schools of Buddhism, but also according to their country of origin. Samsara, the cycle of life, is the core of the Buddhist faith. This belief emphasizes that the rituals performed at a funeral help the deceased progress onto the next stage of their journey into the afterlife. Buddhist funerals range from more traditional to a combination of traditional and modern practices.
Read on to explore the basics of a Buddhist funeral service, including its customs, traditions and etiquette to learn how to properly pay your respects.
Buddhis funerals are centered around a focus of peace and serenity. While rituals can vary from family to family, usually the family of the deceased plans the funeral service and an altar for the ceremony. Buddhist funeral ceremonies are simple in their nature. Usually, a monk would oversee the services and guide the family through the prayers and meditation aligned with the traditional activities. The Buddhist funeral service usually ends with the cremation of the loved one. There are no strict, formal guidelines for Buddhist funerals so some families tend to blend Christian and Buddhist rituals.
Some Buddhist funeral rituals are performed to support the afterlife journey of the loved one. They include the following.
Peaceful environment for passing. When a person is dying, the family does their best to create a peaceful environment for the person passing away. Usually, family and close friends are present.
Recalling good deeds. Family and friends recall the good deeds the deceased performed in their life.
Performing good deeds for the deceased. Like many other religions, family and friends perform good deeds on behalf of the loved one.
Post-death ritual. The body of the deceased is usually left without disturbance to ensure the peaceful exit of the soul from the body.
Organ Donation Ritual. Some Buddhists choose to donate their organs as their final good deed in this life.
General Buddhist funeral traditions and customs are as follows. Not only do they support the transition of the loved one, but also comfort the mourning family.
When they arrive, the mourners quietly proceed to the altar to pay their respects to the deceased. They do so with a slight bow and folded hands in prayer. The mourners contemplatively think about the deceased and the life they led. Later, the attendees are welcome to join the chanting, but it is not obligatory; it is acceptable to remain silent if one’s not familiar with these chants. When monks are present, the mourners follow their cues to sit and stand.
A Buddhist funeral service will usually last between 45 – 75 minutes. This depends on the wishes of the deceased and their family. The time is mostly spent in meditation or making quiet prayers. The general atmosphere of the funeral is somber and melancholy in its nature.
At any traditional Buddhist funeral, the family covers themselves with a white cloth. The mourners are expected to wear simple, black, or dark clothes. Minimalism is essential. Wearing expensive clothing or jewelry as a display of wealth is not appreciated at a Buddhist funeral. Try to wear your simplest clothes and do not wear any fancy jewelry to the funeral.
The grieving family may choose to host a reception after the funeral, although it’s not required. The mourners continue to pay their respect by praying for the deceased. It is a widespread practice for Buddhists to hold many services after the funeral. These are often held on the 3rd, 7th, 49th, and 100th day after the death, and they collectively comprise the Buddhist mourning period.