Buddhist Funeral Services
The basic framework of a Buddhist funeral revolves around peace and serenity. Although traditional funeral ceremonies can vary, the surviving family generally elects an urn for the burial and conducts a funeral service. In most cases, these services are conducted by monks, using prescribed prayers and meditation to complement the regular activities. Most Buddhist services conclude with the ashes being scattered. The act of scattering ashes is viewed as symbolic of the soul leaving this world and roam freely in the spiritual world.
Buddhist funeral services tend to be relatively short because the deceased individual’s body is not present. Instead, funeral programs are used to share information about the life of the deceased, particularly accomplishments and significant events of his life. The funeral program also includes reading passages from scriptures, followed by the traditional burial of the remains.
Other Buddhist funeral services include sending donations in a symbolic container, commonly known as “tributes.” Standard Buddhist funerals include donating food and clothing items to the nearest distribution center or food bank. Some Buddhist families opt to memorialize the deceased using an urn and a standard casket. This “burial” of the remains is seen as being in keeping with traditional Buddhist funeral beliefs.
Another tradition observed in some Buddhist funeral services is paying a charitable donation instead of flowers. It is believed that flowers represent emotions, whereas the donation of food and clothing offerings is seen as symbolic of good fortune. Burial services typically follow the same protocol as other funerals, but there are differences in the amount of time spent on the rituals. In most Buddhist traditions, the deceased has been given a sign or symbol before his funeral. This sign called an embalming stone, usually contains a verse from one of the Buddha’s favorite sayings.
For most traditional Buddhist funeral services, the funeral ceremony does not end with the burial. The family conducts a final funeral wake during the evening, which follows quiet meditation and prayer. During this time, mourners read funeral poems and songs. Several Buddhist temples will hold a gathering where family and friends gather to share memories of the deceased and remember the Buddhist principles he lived by. This gathering is referred to as the “light of the holy temple.”
In some cases, Buddhist families choose to have a separate funeral ceremony for the mother, father, and other relatives. If the deceased had no children, Buddhist families might choose to conduct a separate service for all of them. In these cases, the funeral services include Buddhist teachings and ritual performances as part of the service. Many people choose to attend these Buddhist funerals because they do not involve using any religion’s symbols or texts.
It is important to note that in the United States, some Buddhist funeral services do not follow the traditions of the Buddhist church. The cemetery that these traditions originated from is now private property. However, it is still possible to find this type of gravesite close to homes. Some people search for burial sites on their own and then choose a specific church or memorial site in the city for their bereaved family members.
Some families also choose to have a separate Buddhist funeral service for themselves. While the primary goal of this type of service is to respect the dead, they still follow many of the same traditions found in most Buddhist services. You might even find that the deceased was cremated following their funeral services. These traditions may seem strange to those who are used to western-style funerals, but they conform to the fundamental Buddhist ideals of leaving a lasting legacy.