Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion, meaning over 7% of the world’s population are practicing Buddhists. Buddhism encompasses a variety of beliefs and traditions based on the original teachings of the Buddha, and these teachings are what have defined and shaped Buddhist funeral customs and traditions that are still practiced today.
To begin understanding Buddhist funeral customs, one should know that Buddhists believe in the cycle of life and reincarnation known as Samsara. This belief in reincarnation serves as the foundation for most Buddhist funeral practices.
What happens at a Buddhist Funeral?
Buddhist funeral traditions and practices can be expected to vary depending on the family’s ethnic and cultural origins, with some families choosing to adhere more strictly to traditional rites and customs than others.
In general, the funeral ceremony can be held before or after the cremation of the deceased and will occur at the family’s home or a Buddhist temple. An altar is placed nearby holding the Buddha symbol and the portrait of the deceased. The room is lit by candlelight with the smell of incense, flowers, and fruit present. A Buddhist monk is invited to deliver sermons suitable for the event and perform Buddhist rites, leading attendants through prayers and meditation. In some cases, the monk may be replaced by friends, family or other members of Buddhist denomination.
The level to which a family adheres to tradition is entirely up to them, and keep in mind that some families may practice a mix of Buddhism and other religions, such as Christianity, which can alter the nature of the ceremony significantly.
Mourning the Deceased for 49 Days
At more traditional Buddhist funerals, mourning can last for up to 49 days after, since seven times seven is 49. This long mourning period occurs because Buddhists believe that when a person dies, they journey through an intermediate state known as Bardo before reincarnation, which lasts for 49 days.
How do buddhists mourn?
As discussed above, the traditional mourning period for Buddhists takes longer compared to other cultures, and they perform several rituals in remembrance of the deceased.
- Buddhists recite Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, led by a spiritual leader. This book gives instructions to the deceased on how to navigate through Bard into their next reincarnation.
- Buddhist family members recite prayers of aspiration and good deeds as the religious leader recites the Bardo Thodol to lead the deceased to their next life.
- Buddhist family members donate to the poor and other monasteries to help enhance the strength of their prayers.
- Buddhists perform purification rituals, particularly where the deceased had confessed for their sins to be washed away. Buddhists don’t believe in the concept of hell. Instead, they believe in rebirth and that misdeeds alter where and how a person is reborn.
- Buddhists burn incense to honor the deceased.
- Sharing a meal, particularly on the 49th day, reminds themselves that the deceased is still part of the family even after death.
Do buddhists practice cremation?
Many Buddhists prefer to be cremated since Buddha was also cremated. After getting to the crematorium, family and friends will conduct chants, sometimes led by a monk and a chosen family member will say a few words before the body is cremated. The remains can later be collected and buried, preserved for the family in an urn, or scattered depending on the final wishes of the deceased.
What is appropriate etiquette for a Buddhist Funeral?
Mourners are expected to spend a moment at the altar upon arriving. It is also expected for you to bow your head, and have your hands together. You can also follow along with Buddhist chants or remain silent if you’re not familiar with them. It is also important not to speak to the family before the Buddhist funeral if you are not a Buddhist.
What should you wear to a Buddhist Funeral?
Many mourners in other funerals wear black to show respect for the deceased. However, in a Buddhist funeral, the family wears white or covers themselves with white cloth. Mourners should wear simple clothes and not flashy and expensive clothes which are seen as displaying wealth. Any head covering is not allowed into the funeral.
What should you bring to a Buddhist Funeral?
When going to a Buddhist funeral, it is appropriate to bring flowers, fruit, bells or gongs. The mourners can also carry walking sticks which symbolize that their grief has led them to require support. However, keep in mind that the main focus should not be on your grief, but on your mortality and performing good deeds to honor the deceased and help them on their way to enlightenment.