Buddhist funeral traditions

Posted: 01/03/2018

Here, at Perfect Funeral Plans, we are taking a look at various different funeral traditions and death rituals around the world, to see how other cultures or religions decide to pay their respects to the deceased. Today, we have decided to take a look at Buddhist funeral service rituals, what the customs entail, and how they differ between different Buddhist sects.

Buddhist funeral traditions depend on the country

As previously mentioned, Buddhist customs will vary according to different countries and schools of thought. To take an example, the concept of Zen and its meaning is different in Taiwan compared to what it is in Japan.

Where does a Buddhist funeral take place?

Buddhist funerals tend to be very dignified, taking place at the family home of the deceased or a Buddhist monastery.

What does a Buddhist funeral look like?

However, one of the main customs of a Buddhist funeral is the inherent focus of serenity and peace. A funeral service will typically involve:

  • A picture of the deceased that is placed at the altar
  • An image of the Buddha will usually accompany the portrait of the dead at the altar
  • Offerings of incense, fruit, candles and flowers will also be at the funeral service
  • A monk can deliver the Buddhist rites and deliver a sermon
  • If a monk is not available to deliver the service it is possible for the funeral service to be carried out by the family of the deceased
  • It is common for monks to sit higher at the funeral service than the rest of the mourners present. It is also tradition for other mourners to stand whenever monks rise from their seats

What do people wear at a Buddhist funeral?

It is traditional at a Buddhist funeral service for the family and friends of the deceased to wear white from head to toe. Or, alternatively, those attending the funeral may decide to wear a traditional white cloth that covers their clothes. However, it depend’s also on the heritage of the bereaved. For example, black can be commonly worn by Japanese Buddhists. At the funeral service, it is common at a traditional Buddhist funeral for the following to happen too:

  • People may also wear an armband or a white headband in order to pay respects to the dead
  • Burn incense in order to sweeten the air
  • Sing sutras (prayers) or chant
  • Mourners may try to symbolise the grief they feel by walking along with a stick at the funeral. This is supposed to evoke that they need support in order to be able to walk
  • Bells or gongs may be rung

What are Buddhist beliefs about death?

Buddhist don’t believe that death represents the end. Rather, Buddhists will have funeral services that reflect on the transience of life. Buddhists typically consider death as part of the cycle of a saṃsāra, otherwise known as reincarnation.

In saṃsāra, one of the fundamental beliefs is that of the consequential effect of one’s actions in this life will determine future incarnations.

What happens after a Buddhist funeral?

A funeral reception may take place, but this is entirely up to the family of the deceased. It is also largely dependent on the region too. If a memorial service does take place, Buddhists will usually hold a service on the third, seventh 49th and 100th days after death.

Do Buddhists prefer burial or cremation?

It is much more common for Buddhists to opt for a cremation over a traditional burial service. This will usually take place in a crematorium, though in some countries (however not in the UK, it is prohibited) the cremation can commonly take place in an open-air pyre.

Depending on the culture and country, it is common for family and friends to see the cremation process take place. For example, in Japan, it is fairly common for this to happen. If this is something you would be interested in, it may be possible to request this through your funeral director.

After the cremation service has taken place the ashes will usually be kept in an urn, or alternatively scattered.

If a burial does take place instead of cremations, Buddhist may decide to go for a woodland funeral, due to the environmentally friendly aspect of it.