Buddhism’s beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife significantly influence its funeral customs and symbolism. People who are unfamiliar with traditions may honour the beliefs and desires of the dead and their family members by being aware of their importance. This blog’s goal is to help people comprehend Buddhist funerals by examining the customary procedures and symbolism connected to this sad occasion.
One must first grasp Buddhism’s perspective on death in order to appreciate Buddhist funeral customs and symbolism, especially in regard to reincarnation. The Buddha taught that existence is transient and round and that birth, death, and rebirth are all parts of the Samsara cycle. Consequently, death is not the end but rather the start of a new life.
During this three- to seven-day time of grief, friends and family get together to pay their respects to the departed. A picture of the deceased is placed among candles, incense, fruits, and flower offerings on a Buddhist altar. The altar symbolises the Buddha’s presence, and the gifts stand for reverence and memory.
Buddhist monks are often invited to chant sutras or Buddhist scriptures at wakes and funerals. These chants are not prayers for the dead but sermons from the Buddha meant to impart wisdom and comfort to the grieving family. They serve to remind everyone present of the impermanence of life, encouraging acceptance of death as a natural part of existence.
Most Buddhists may choose to cremate, as it aligns with the Buddha’s own death. The cremation ceremony itself is simple and dignified. Family members and close friends gather at the crematorium, where more sutras are chanted. After the cremation, the ashes are typically stored in a columbarium or scattered in a place that was significant to the deceased.
Buddhists view mourning as a personal journey. While there is grief at a loved one’s passing, there is also acceptance of death’s inevitableness. Buddhists typically observe a 49-day period of mourning, which they view as a chance for the living to reflect and affirm their Buddhist beliefs.
In many Buddhist cultures, white is the colour of mourning. It symbolises purity and detachment from worldly matters. Family members often wear white or simple clothes during the funeral as a sign of their loss.
Food offerings, often vegetarian, are made to the monks and the attendees. This act of generosity, or ‘dana,” is a fundamental practise in Buddhism. It’s believed to generate merits that can be transferred to the deceased, aiding in their rebirth.
Memorial ceremonies may be conducted after the funeral, often on the 7th, 49th, and 100th days following the death. These memorial rituals respect the departed and provide consolation to the grieving. Additionally, they support the tenets of Buddhism that emphasise impermanence and the cycle of life and death.
Based on the cultural setting in which they take place, Buddhist funerals may have different rituals and traditions than other funerals. Although the core values are constant, there may be variations in how they are expressed throughout nations and even among groups within those nations.
In Japan, Buddhist funerals are conducted in a series of rites that often begin with a wake (‘otsuya’) and end with a memorial service occurring years after the death. One distinct feature of Japanese Buddhist funerals is the ‘kaimyo,’ a posthumous name given to the deceased, inscribed on their tombstone. This name is believed to represent the deceased’s life and virtues and help in their transition to the next life.
In Thailand, the corpse is often transported to the temple for the cremation ritual after being maintained at home for a number of days. The casket is positioned with the head pointed towards the altar to represent reverence for the deceased. The ‘Abhidhamma,’ a Buddhist philosophical treatise, is recited as monks sing prayers in order to provide guidance for the dead.
Tibetan Buddhist funerals are unique due to their belief in Bardo, an intermediate state between death and rebirth. The funeral rituals, which can last for 49 days, are aimed at guiding the deceased through this transitional period. “Sky Burial’ is a noteworthy funeral practise in Tibetan Buddhism where the body of the deceased is placed on a mountaintop, signifying the impermanence of life.
Offerings are an integral part of Buddhist funerals, each with its own symbolism.
In order to signify the light of the Buddha’s teachings eradicating ignorance’s darkness, candles are lit. On the other side, incense cleanses the area and is said to have a relaxing impact on the participants’ thoughts.
Flowers are a common sight at Buddhist funerals, representing the impermanent and transient nature of life. Just as flowers bloom and wither, life too blossoms and eventually fades away.
Fruits are offered as a symbol of the fruition of good deeds. They serve as a reminder that our actions bear consequences, a fundamental concept of karma in Buddhism.
Respecting the family’s customs and following the correct etiquette is important when attending a Buddhist funeral.
Guests are usually expected to wear modest, conservative clothing in dark, muted colours. Bright colours are generally avoided as they are considered disrespectful.
Guests should be mindful of their behaviour. Speaking in hushed tones, turning off mobile phones, and being respectful towards the family of the deceased are some basic norms.
It’s common practise to offer a donation, known as ‘koden’ in Japanese funerals or ‘merit money’ in other cultures. This money is typically used to help cover funeral costs and support the family.
Making your own Buddhist funeral arrangements in advance will help your family cope with your passing. The kind of service, the sutras to be recited, and even the charity organisations to whom gifts should be given in your honour may all be tailored to your desires.
In many Buddhist cultures, grave markers, monuments, or columbarium niches are used to remember the deceased. They serve as a physical symbol of the departed and provide a place for loved ones to pay their respects and commemorate the deceased.
The design and inscriptions on these monuments often reflect Buddhist beliefs. Engraving lotus blooms is a way to symbolise spiritual enlightenment while using phrases from the Bible can be a way to reference the teachings of Buddha. In Buddhism, memorials for the deceased not only honour their memory but also serve as a reminder of the Buddha’s teachings on wisdom and compassion regarding the Buddhist faith.
Losing a loved one is a difficult time. Navigating through the intricacies of funeral planning can be overwhelming. This is where professional funeral directors can provide invaluable support. Experienced funeral directors, like the team at Buddhist Funeral Singapore, understand the emotional strain that bereaved families undergo.
We offer compassionate guidance through each step of the funeral process, ensuring that all customs are duly respected. Our role extends beyond logistics management for Buddhist funeral wakes. We also provide emotional support for mourners, address queries, and assist in creating a meaningful and personalised tribute to the departed, even in the family home upon request.
Knowing the intricate details of Buddhist funeral rites and traditions may provide solace and calm throughout the grieving process. It acknowledges the cycle of life and death, assists people in coping with their loss, and pays respect to their loved one’s memory.
Buddhist funeral customs are extremely symbolic and provide consolation for the living, dignity for the dead, and a spiritual framework for comprehending death. If you’re planning a Buddhist funeral ceremony in Singapore, consider the services of Buddhist Funeral Singapore. We offer professional and respectful funeral services that adhere to Buddhist traditions and customs, providing a dignified farewell for your loved one when death occurs. Contact us today to get started.