Buddhists truly believe that the soul’s reincarnation takes place right after death. While there are various forms of Buddhism out there, this reincarnation belief is generally a shared principle by all. It forms the foundations of many Buddhist funeral traditions.
Introduction to a Buddhist Funeral
In the United States, the Buddhist community varies by ethnic and cultural origins. Basically, it depends upon the location. Some families are likely to integrate their Buddhist funeral traditions and rites with Christian beliefs. On the other hand, some families may choose to adhere strictly to traditional Buddhist funeral rites.
Nonetheless, the common protocol for a Buddhist funeral is a modest ceremony that usually takes place at a funeral hall, a Buddhist temple, or the deceased’s family home. Also, there will be an officiant present. Now, this is generally a monk but can be a priest or minister if the family wants to blend Buddhist traditions with the Christian faith. Plus, there will be no formal guidelines.
However, one can expect meditation and prayer, possibly eulogies and sermons. After the Buddhist funeral, there may be a funeral, a reception, a wake, or a memorial service. Now, let’s know more about Buddhist funerals below!
Traditional Buddhist Funeral Rites
In a wake ceremony, mourners may pay their homage to the dead person. Also, they express condolences to their family. In front of the casket, one can find the deceased individual’s portrait. Usually, this portrait serves as the centerpiece of the altar. This altar is set up for the wake by the family.
Also, the altar has certain offerings, such as fruits, flowers, and candles. If the wake service is taking place in a funeral hall, then flowers may be modestly displayed. Along with that, there will be incense burning as well. According to Buddhist tradition, there should a Buddha image that one has to place closer to the altar.
Generally, Buddhists favor cremation, but the Buddhist tradition even allows embalming. Families can choose one between the two according to their personal preference. In this tradition, there are no rules that govern when the cremation or burial needs to take place.
Buddhist funeral rites need to be conducted on the morning of the cremation or burial ceremony. According to Buddhist funeral traditions, monks may be invited for conducting this ceremony. Also, certain verses are chanted. Again, this also depends on the wishes of the family. The cremation or burial ceremony may be conducted simply by the family.
In Buddhism, there is no prohibition on the donation of organs. Plus, they view autopsies as a medium to help others. Thus, autopsies are also allowed. Buddhists do prefer that medical examiners should wait about 3-4 days before the autopsy until the soul has left the body.
Buddhist Funeral Etiquette
A respectful, quiet demeanor should be followed. Mourners attending the Buddhist funeral have to observe general funerary behavior, something that is apt for a somber event.
- Typical attire
Today, a wide range of people from diverse cultures practice Buddhism all across the globe. As a result, attire could be different depending on the heritage. The family typically wears white, whereas friends can wear black. Although Buddhist mourners from Japan typically wear black, others can wear white.
So, in any case, bright-colored clothing is not appropriate. At the same time, one should not display a show of wealth, when it comes to attire. During the funeral, there can be some kneeling for prayer on the cushion. So, one should keep this point in mind while choosing funeral attire.
- Proper behavior
On arriving at the wake or funeral, it is customary to advancetowards the altar quietly. Once mourners reach the casket, the funeral etiquette asks mourners to pay their homage with a trivial bow with hands folded in the front in a praying position. Mourners may pause in front of the casket for a peaceful reflection moment if inclined so.
Once mourners have paid respects, they can then look for a seat. Next, wait for the funeral service to begin. Very often, monks perform Buddhist funeral rituals. If monks have been invited for leading the service, mourners have to follow their standing and sitting behavior. For instance, if monks stand, mourners have to stand as well.
Usually, service comprises chanting, eulogies, and sermons delivered by a monk or another Buddhist who was familiar with the deceased. Also, there can be group meditation. Mourners have to chant along with them. Otherwise, they can sit quietly. Probably, the service lasts less than an hour. Also, this service should not be recorded by anyone on any device, such as a camera.
- Donations, condolence gifts, and sympathy cards
Upon hearing of a loved one’s death, it is kind and appropriate to send a sympathy card to the family. Before the burial service, one may send white flowers to the family. One should avoid red flowers at all costs. One can also send gifts of food. Again, there should not be anything red.
Donations to charity are pretty acceptable. Also, it is customary to bring your flowers or your donation to the service and present the same to the deceased’s family by placing them near the altar.
FAQs Related to Buddhist Funeral
- How are Buddhists buried?
The rites to Buddhist funerals may vary but generally, there is a service with an altar to the deceased person. Meditation and prayers may take place. After this funeral service, the body is cremated. Sometimes, the cremation takes place after a wake. Thus, the funeral is a cremation service.
- What does a Buddhist funeral look like?
When it comes to funerals, Buddhists do not have set-in-stone protocols. However, you can expect a memorial service that takes place after cremation/burial or an open casket funeral that takes place just before cremation. No matter what form, the funeral usually involves meditation and prayer, often led by monks. If there are no monks, the family leads the chanting.
- Why do Buddhists cremate the deceased person?
Cremation is quite an important ceremony for Buddhists as they believe it releases the soul from the dead body. Gautama Buddha, the spiritual leader of Buddhism, was cremated on a funeral pyre. Thus, Buddhists often follow the same tradition.
- Does one send flowers to Buddhist funerals?
Yes, sending flowers for display at the funeral/wake service is considered appropriate. Also, some mourners bring the flowers along with them to the funeral. They serve as condolences to the family.
- Do Buddhist monks bury their dead?
Yes, monks may bury their dead. However, where burial is not possible, monks cremate their dead too.