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Buddhist Funerals Guide

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Buddhists believe that reincarnation of the soul takes place after death. Although there are many forms of Buddhism, this belief in reincarnation is one principle they typically share. It forms the underpinnings of most Buddhist funeral traditions.

What is a Buddhist Funeral?

The Buddhist community in the United States varies by location and by ethnic and cultural origins. Some families are likely to incorporate Christian beliefs into their Buddhist funeral rites and traditions, while others may choose to adhere close to strictly Buddhist funeral traditions.

Nevertheless, the general protocol for Buddhist funerals is a simple ceremony that takes place at the family home, a funeral home, or a Buddhist temple. There will be an officiant, usually a monk but sometimes a minister or priest if the family chooses to blend traditions with the Christian faith. There are no formal guidelines, but one can expect prayer and meditation, and possibly sermons and eulogies.

There may be a wake, a funeral, and a memorial service or reception after the funeral. Read on for more details.

Buddhist Funeral Traditions

There can be a wake, during which mourners may pay their respects to the deceased person and express condolences to the family. There will likely be a portrait of the deceased person in front of the casket. This serves as the centerpiece of the altar that’s set up by the family for the wake. The altar also has candles and other offerings such as flowers and fruit. There will be incense burning, too. If the wake is taking place in a funeral hall, flowers may be displayed modestly. Buddhist tradition dictates that an image of Buddha should be placed near the altar, too.

Buddhists generally favor cremation, but embalming is allowed as well. Families choose according to their personal preference. There are no rules governing when the burial or cremation takes place.

Buddhist funeral rites are conducted on the morning of the burial/cremation ceremony. Verses are chanted, and monks may be invited to conduct the ceremony according to Buddhist funeral traditions. Again, it depends on the family’s wishes. The burial or cremation ceremony may simply be conducted by the family.

Buddhism does not prohibit the donation of organs. Also, they see autopsies as a way of helping others, so those are allowed as well. They do prefer that a medical examiner wait three or four days before the autopsy, until the soul has left the body.

Sympathy cards, donations and condolence gifts

It is appropriate to send a sympathy card to the family upon hearing of the death of their loved one. White flowers may be sent to the family before the service. Red should be avoided at all costs. Sending gifts of food is proper, but again: nothing red. Donations to charity are acceptable, too. It’s also customary to bring your donation or your flowers to the funeral, presenting them to the family by placing the flowers near the altar.

Buddhist Funeral Etiquette

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Mourners who attend a Buddhist funeral should observe general funerary behavior appropriate for a somber occasion: a quiet, respectful demeanor.

Typical attire

Buddhism is practiced by a diverse range of people from different cultures, so attire differs according to heritage. The family typically wears white, whereas friends may wear black. Japanese Buddhist mourners wear black but others may wear white. In any case, bright colors are not appropriate, and neither is a display of wealth in the choice of clothing. There may be some kneeling on a cushion for prayer during the funeral, so keep that in mind when selecting funeral attire.

Proper behavior

Upon arriving at the funeral or wake, it’s customary to proceed quietly to the altar. When mourners reach the casket, Buddhist funeral etiquette calls for mourners to pay their respects with a slight bow, hands folded in front of them in a prayer position. They may pause in front of the casket for a quiet moment of reflection if so inclined.

After paying respects, mourners then find a seat and wait for the service to begin. Very often, Buddhist funeral rites are conducted by monks. If monks have been invited to lead the service, follow their behavior as far as sitting and standing go: if they stand, mourners should stand, too.Service expectations The service typically consists of sermons, chanting, and eulogies delivered by monks and/or other Buddhists who knew the deceased. There may be some group meditation. Mourners should join in the chanting. If they are unable, they should sit quietly. The service will probably last less than one hour and should not be recorded by mourners on any type of camera whatsoever.


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Buddhist Funeral FAQ

How are Buddhists buried?

Buddhist funeral rites vary, but in general, there is a funeral service with an altar to the deceased person. Prayers and meditation may take place, and the body is cremated after the service. Sometimes the body is cremated after a wake, so the funeral is a cremation service.

What is a Buddhist funeral like?

Buddhists don’t have set-in-stone protocols for their funerals, but you can expect either an open casket funeral, a funeral that takes place just before cremation, or a memorial service that takes place after burial/cremation. Whatever form it takes, the funeral will typically involve prayer and meditation, often led by a monk or monks. Chanting will be led by family members if no monks are present.

Why do Buddhists cremate their dead?

Buddhists believe that cremation is an important ceremony for releasing the soul from the physical form. The spiritual leader of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha, was cremated on a funeral pyre, so Buddhists will often follow that tradition.

Do you send flowers to a Buddhist funeral?

Yes, it is appropriate to send flowers to be displayed at the wake/funeral service. Some mourners may also bring the flowers to the funeral with them, placing them on the altar as a form of condolence to the family. But no red flowers.

How do Buddhist monks bury their dead?

Monks may bury their dead, but in some areas where burial is not possible, they cremate those who have passed.

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