In our continuing blog series of Cultural Death, Cemetery and Funeral Traditions, we explored Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican tradition Day of the dead, and Jewish traditions.
In our latest blog we are exploring Buddhist Cultural Death, Cemetery and Funeral Traditions:
Buddhism is very diverse, and there is no funeral service that is common to all. They believe that when someone dies, rebirth will occur in line with the person’s good or bad actions in this life as well as reincarnated lives.
Buddhists believe life and death is simply a cycle (samsara) and as long as the person wishes for existence, they will experience rebirth or reincarnation, until the time when they have no more passions and reach a state of Nirvana.
While some Buddhist funerals are heavy in traditions and rituals, others are very simple and include loved ones donating to a charity or cause important to the deceased as a sign of merit to credit the departed.
Small statues of Buddha may be placed in the hand of the deceased or near their head, and protective verses known as “parittas” may be chanted. An altar is usually set up and includes candles, incense, flowers, fruit, Buddha statues and a portrait of the deceased. This altar can be set up in the funeral and the wake.
Buddhism and Cremation
Buddhist are usually cremated in the example of Buddha and don’t believe there is any connection to the physical body after death. This also means that organ donation including donating the body to science are both acceptable. Some traditions say four days should pass before the body is cremated so it can go through the process of the Bardos.
The first Bardo is a four day trance where the person doesn’t know yet that they have passed. The second Bardo comes when the person becomes aware of their death and see all they have ever done passing before them. If they long to have a body again, they enter the third Bardo which allows them to seek another birth or reincarnation and they chose the parents who will deliver them into their next body.
Embalming should be avoided if possible and during the death and the cremation or burial, the body should be as undisturbed as possible.
Buddhist Mourning Practices
On the day of the cremation or burial, monks can perform the last rite which includes chanting including the Three Jewels.
Mourners are to remove any head covering at a Buddhist funeral and all mourners should wear white or a white cloth over their clothing. Monks hold the highest positions in the service and no one should sit higher than them and attendees should stand when the monks stand. Sometimes mourners will chant or sing prayers, offer items for the altar, ring gongs or bells, wear mourning armbands and/or walk with “grieving sticks” that symbolize their need for support.