In many respects Buddhist ceremonies are actually relatively relaxed and while traditional they can be open to a great deal of input from the family and friends. Yes, in many ways they are visually very different to most other funerals or services however the principles and the flexible way they are approached make the services relatively easy for a non-believer or newcomer. Like most religions Buddhism has many strands and within these traditions can be heavily influenced by local rituals or even traditions from other faiths.
What’s different about a Buddhist funeral and lead up to the funeral?
The most conventional Buddhist belief system operates around a cycle known as samsara which takes account of a person’s previous incarnations or lives in deciding further reincarnations. For Buddhists the ultimate aim is to be free of samsara and achieve enlightenment. If death is imminent Buddhists usually sit and offer a calm atmosphere at the bedside. Small statues, traditional chanting and comforting words about good deeds are common. In many senses this is not out of context in terms of Buddhist ceremonies. At the funeral a “Dana” or act of generosity may also be performed with monks present. This may involve the giving and receiving of food. Cremation is the most common way of dealing with the body.
Where does a Buddhist ceremony take place?
While the ceremony times are flexible to the families schedule tradition holds that they would preferably be held on the third, seventh, forty-ninth, and one-hundredth day after the death. Ordinarily the ceremony happens either in a monastery or at home. While Buddhism is a tradition with many rituals it should be noted that what most would consider as the funeral ceremony can happen before or after cremation or burial. At many Buddhist funerals religious images and statues may be present. Along with this flowers may also be present. Mourners will also show reverence to the casket/memorial by bowing. It’s key also to avoid showing outward signs of wealth and status as this can be considered taboo.
What normally happens at a Buddhist funeral and what do non observers need to know?
What can be most striking at Buddhist ceremonies is that for most traditions the standard approach is to avoid black clothing in favour of white. This can be difficult for people from western backgrounds as for them the opposite is usually the case. It can also cause large scale confusion in cases where the Buddhist theme is present but not very strong. For this reason it would be a good idea to get a clear line on this before deciding on an outfit. Talking to the family and or organisers may help avoid any mistakes. Flowers are usually accepted however be aware that Buddhist flower and colour meaning needs to be taken into account.