What Is a Buddhist Funeral? (2022)

A Buddhist funeral is the process of honoring and cleaning the deceased before they are cremated.

The mourning family gathers to chant mantras, light candles, and offer tea. They also offer food to the monks who will be performing rites for their loved one.

A Buddhist funeral usually lasts about an hour but can last up to three hours if there are other rituals involved such as chanting or incense burning.

It's important not only for Buddhists but for anyone else who has lost a loved one to consider what type of service they would like in lieu of a traditional burial ceremony with embalming and caskets - all which cost money that may not be available when someone dies unexpectedly.

The basis of a Buddhist funeral focuses on peace and serenity.

Even though rites may vary, generally, the family plans a funeral service and an altar to honor their loved one.

Typically, families hold a simple ceremony.

These services are often overseen by monks, with prayers and meditation to match the traditional activities.

Cremation often occurs after the Buddhist funeral service is over.

Since there are no formal guidelines for Buddhist funeral services, some families choose to blend Buddhist rituals with Christian traditions.

Buddhist Death Rituals

Buddhist funerals include specific rituals and ceremonies to support the reincarnation journey of a loved one. Common practices and traditions include:

  • Environment for Peaceful Dying: When a person is dying, the family does their best to create a peaceful and calm environment. It’s common to have family and close friends present during the passing.
  • Reflecting on the Person’s Life: Loved ones may reflect on the good deeds the person accomplished in their lifetime.
  • Performing Good Deeds: Family and friends can also perform good deeds on behalf of the individual, offering merit to the loved one.
  • After Death: When a death occurs, Buddhist tradition is to let the body rest for four hours. During this time, no one moves, touches, or disturbs the person. Buddhists believe that it takes time for the soul to leave the body.
  • Organ Donation: Many Buddhists choose to be organ donors because they see this final act as a good deed which is in line with their principles of dying.

Buddha Sculpture FAQs

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.

(Video) Attending a Buddhist Funeral - Rose Hills Answer Series

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.

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.

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.

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.

Buddhist Beliefs About Death

Similar to Hinduism and Sikhism, Buddhists believe in reincarnation and the freeing of the soul.

What Is a Buddhist Funeral? (1)

To them, death is a natural part of the cycle of life (saṃsāra), and how a Buddhist acts throughout their life will determine their future lives, through reincarnation.

This is a unified belief across all forms of Buddhism and creates the foundation for Buddhist funeral customs.

For many Buddhists, the ultimate goal is to liberate themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth so they can reach the state of nirvana.

To do this, they must rid themselves of basic desires and all notions of self, ultimately attaining total enlightenment.

(Video) Religious Rituals Explained: Buddhist Funerals

Saṃsāra And The Six Realms

In line with saṃsāra, after death it is believed that a Buddhist will be reborn into one of six realms, depending on their karma:

  • Gods realm (DEVA) – those wanting power and wealth, but who lack compassion or wisdom. The pleasures of this realm stop individuals achieving nirvana.
  • Human realm (MANUSYA) – the only realm where you can attain nirvana and escape saṃsāra.
  • Demi-god realm (ASURA) – those who are strong and powerful, but impatient, angry and envious.
  • Animal realm (TIRYAGYONI) – those who are ignorant, stupid and have no desire to change. It is believed they prey on each other and suffer as a result.
  • Hungry ghosts (PRETA) – those who are compulsive, obsessive, and addictive. They are described as having very small mouths but a very large stomach.
  • Hell realm (NARAKA) – those who are angry, aggressive, and have evil karma such as theft, lying and adultery from their lifetime. This realm is seen as a temporary state; once your evil karma has run its course you are given another chance.

Buddhist Funeral Rites

Buddhist tradition suggests that death should occur in a calm and peaceful environment, with close friends and family in attendance.

Together they should reflect on the good deeds the dying person has done throughout their life, in the hopes it will help them in their next reincarnation.

Additionally, family and friends can perform good deeds on behalf of them, which they believe will be of merit to the deceased.

Once the person has died, their body should not be touched, moved or disturbed for at least four hours.

This is because Buddhists believe the soul doesn’t leave the body straight away. The body must be kept cold and should be cleansed and dressed in their everyday clothes.

Buddhist Funeral Traditions And Customs

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.

(Video) Ask A Monk: Buddhist Funerals and Relating Conversion

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.

Following these Buddhist funeral traditions not only supports the transition of a loved one, but the practices can also be of help and comfort to the mourning family.

  • Buddhist Cremation: Because of the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, Buddhist burial practices focus on cremation – the preferred choice for laying a loved one to rest.
  • Procession: After the ceremony, if there is a casket, it may be sealed before it is transferred to the crematorium.
  • Funeral Location: Traditionally, many Buddhist funerals happen in the family home, or in a religious space, but there are many variations in modern practice. Families determine the location based on the number of attendees and their preferences for ceremonies.
  • Leading the Ceremony: A monk or a group of monks will generally lead each funeral ceremony, offering a variety of sutras (Buddhist funeral prayers), chants, and reading sermons.
  • Altar Layout: Buddhist funerals feature an altar with photos or statues of Buddha and offerings, as well as photos and objects that honor the person who has died. There may be flowers and food.
  • Bells and Gongs: Often there will be a ringing of bells or gongs as a part of the funeral rituals.
  • Length of Funeral: Most Buddhist funeral services last between 45 – 75 minutes, depending on the wishes and particular traditions of the family.

What Do Buddhists Do At A Funeral

Buddhist funeral customs include:

  • Offering cloth to the monk on the deceased’s behalf
  • Decorating the alter with an image of the deceased person and Buddha
  • Pouring water from a vessel into an overflowing cup
  • Walking with sticks to symbolize they need support for their grief
  • Chanting or singing appropriate sutras (prayers)
  • Bringing offerings such as flowers, candles and fruits
  • Burning incense
  • Ringing gongs or bells

Buddhist Mourning Period

When the funeral is over, the family may choose to host a reception where family and friends continue paying their respects.

While many other religious traditions hold a single event after the passing of a loved one, it’s common for Buddhists to have multiple services throughout the mourning period.

Specific days are significant in the Buddhist mourning journey, with activities or rituals happening on the 3rd, 7th, 49th, and 100th day following the person’s death.

Odd numbers offer a sense of “becoming,” which is why families might hold the funeral 3 or 7 days after death or continue funeral activities for 3, 5, or 7 days.

One notable occurrence is 49 days after death in Buddhism.

The total mourning time often lasts for 49 days, with Buddhist prayer for the dead conducted every 7 days, for a period of 7 weeks.

The prayers help to facilitate the deceased as they journey into the afterlife.

(Video) How to do a Buddhist funeral

In Buddhism, the belief is that rebirth happens 49 days after a person passes away, although this exact length of time varies between Buddhist traditions.

For example, some groups believe that the person’s karma determines how soon the reincarnation will happen, which affects the mourning period after the funeral.

Families in mourning will continue to avoid celebratory activities for 100 days after the passing of a loved one.

On the 100th day, they have a celebration to honor the successful passing of the individual into their new life that lies ahead.

During this ceremony, the family can choose to include prayers and offerings on behalf of their loved one, and later they may enjoy foods that were loved by the person who died.

Buddhist Funeral Etiquette

What Is a Buddhist Funeral? (2)

Since there are varying practices between Buddhist groups, the family will often communicate the expected etiquette for those who will attend.

You should always feel free to ask if you’re not sure.

Traditional Buddhist funerals might include some of the following:

  • Arrival: When mourners arrive at the service, they may proceed quietly to the altar to pay their respects. Traditionally, hands may be pressed together at the chest or folded in prayer, with a slight bow to honor the loved one, but you can also ask when you arrive what is appropriate.
  • Offerings: When mourners attend Buddhist funeral services, they sometimes bring offerings to lay at the casket, such as fruit, candles, and flowers. But these are not expected, so do not worry if you’re not sure. Just show up and you’ll be fine.
  • Chanting: Funeral attendees are always welcome to participate in the chanting. If you aren’t familiar with the chants, don’t worry at all. It’s perfectly fine (and very lovely) to remain silent and observe the ceremonies.
  • Cues: Monks leading the funeral service will usually offer cues about when to sit and stand during the services, so you won’t feel out of sync.
  • Clothing: The family wears white clothing or white cloth to cover themselves. Are you wondering what to wear to a Buddhist funeral? Mourners should wear simple, dark, or black clothing. Avoid flashy or expensive clothing and jewelry and opt for basics instead.

There are many differing beliefs, practices, and rites for Buddhist funeral services, but what’s most important to know is that you’ll be very welcome.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure what to do.

Feel free to ask someone in advance if you want to make sure to wear the right thing or arrive at exactly the right time, or to know how condolences can best be expressed.

Your presence will be much appreciated by the family--they’ll be honored that you’re there.

(Video) Buddhist Funeral Ceremony

And you’ll experience a beautiful tribute filled with meaningful rituals and moments.

How Long Is A Buddhist Funeral

Depending on the wishes of the deceased and their family, a Buddhist funeral will usually last between 45 – 75 minutes.

FAQs

What happens in a Buddhist funeral? ›

The body is presented in a simple open casket with an image of the deceased, and an image of Buddha placed nearby. Mourners may also lay candles, fruit, flowers and light incense around the body. After the ceremony, the casket is sealed and carried to the crematorium.

What do you send to a Buddhist funeral? ›

Depending on the traditions and customs observed by the individual the most traditional items include sending sympathy flowers, baked goods and desserts, fruit, dried fruit, & nuts, and assorted chocolates.

What do Buddhists do when a person dies? ›

When Buddhists in Mahayana countries are dying, someone whispers the name of the Buddha into their ear so that this is the last thing the person hears before they die. After death, relatives wash the body. They then place the body in a coffin surrounded by wreaths and candles.

How soon after death is a Buddhist funeral? ›

The prayers help to facilitate the deceased as they journey into the afterlife. In Buddhism, the belief is that rebirth happens 49 days after a person passes away, although this exact length of time varies between Buddhist traditions.

Do you give money at a Buddhist funeral? ›

Condolence Money (Bai Jin) at Buddhist Funerals

Monetary gifts also known as 'pek kim' or 'bai jin', is a common tradition in not only Buddhist funerals but also in most chinese funerals. Usually, the money is kept inside a white envelope. This contrasts with the red packets that are given during Chinese New Year.

Do you send flowers to a Buddhist funeral? ›

Buddhist Funeral

White flowers are the traditional Buddhist flower of mourning and may be sent to the family. Sending red flowers or gifts of food are considered poor funeral etiquette. A donation to the family or a designated charity in the name of the deceased are appropriate.

What is an appropriate color to wear to a Buddhist funeral? ›

During a traditional Buddhist funeral ceremony, the family will wear white and adorn themselves with a headband or armband.

Do Buddhist get buried or cremated? ›

Buddhists typically favor cremation because they believe it is an important way to release the soul from the physical form. Buddha himself was cremated, so his followers often follow his lead. But burial with embalming is allowed, too. Buddhism also allows the donation of organs and autopsies.

What are the 3 main beliefs of Buddhism? ›

Buddhists believe that the human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment, or nirvana.

Do you wear black to a Buddhist funeral? ›

For example, you may find that at one Buddhist funeral, the family members wear white, while the other mourners wear black. Family members of Japanese Buddhists may wear black, but other mourners may wear white. If you are not sure of the appropriate color for the occasion, choose to wear muted colors.

What do you wear to a Buddhist ceremony? ›

Typical attire

The family typically wears white, whereas friends may wear black. Japanese Buddhist mourners wear black but others may wear white.

Is it OK to wear jeans to a funeral? ›

Bottom line: jeans are not appropriate for a funeral. Unless the family requests them, you should avoid wearing denim to a funeral. However, if it's a casual, outdoor service, you can consider a dark (almost black denim) paired with a button-down shirt and blazer.

What is the significance of 49 days after death? ›

In many Buddhist traditions, 49 days is the total mourning period, with prayers conducted every 7 days, across 7 weeks. These Buddhists believe that rebirth takes place within 49 days after death. So these prayers are conducted to facilitate this journey of the deceased into the afterlife.

Can Buddhists eat meat? ›

Many Buddhists interpret this to mean that you should not consume animals, as doing so would require killing. Buddhists with this interpretation usually follow a lacto-vegetarian diet. This means they consume dairy products but exclude eggs, poultry, fish, and meat from their diet.

What Buddha said about Jesus? ›

Some high level Buddhists have drawn analogies between Jesus and Buddhism, e.g. in 2001 the Dalai Lama stated that "Jesus Christ also lived previous lives", and added that "So, you see, he reached a high state, either as a Bodhisattva, or an enlightened person, through Buddhist practice or something like that." Thich ...

Are Buddhists atheist? ›

Atheism in Buddhism, Jainism

While Buddhism is a tradition focused on spiritual liberation, it is not a theistic religion. The Buddha himself rejected the idea of a creator god, and Buddhist philosophers have even argued that belief in an eternal god is nothing but a distraction for humans seeking enlightenment.

Are there sins in Buddhism? ›

The term “sin” does not have any special connotation in Buddhism, as it has in major theistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. In all these religions, the general belief is that sins are individual actions which are contrary to the will of God or to the will of the Supreme Being.

What is the best message for condolence? ›

For more personal condolences, anecdotes are appropriate. Start with a message of sympathy, then support, followed by a fond memory of the loved one lost. My deepest sympathy for the loss of your [family member]. I will hold the memories we shared together so close to my heart.

Can you give a Buddhist flowers? ›

Those attending Buddhist funeral services should check beforehand if it's appropriate to send flowers (flowers are usually sent before the service or displayed modestly). Buddhist funeral flowers are typically white, to signify mourning. Sending red flowers should be avoided.

How do you Conveal condolences? ›

Example condolence messages
  1. I'm sorry for your loss. ...
  2. Please accept my deepest condolences for you and your family's loss. ...
  3. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family. ...
  4. I am truly sorry to hear about the loss of your father. ...
  5. It was with great sadness that we learned of Daniel's passing.
Jul 1, 2021

What is better to say than rest in peace? ›

Peace in your eternal and easy rest. May you rest easy in grace and love. Rest easy in sleep eternal. Rest easy on the wings of eternity.

What can I say instead of RIP? ›

10 Alternative Phrases or Sayings for 'Rest in Peace'
  • “They will be missed.” ...
  • “Rest in Power.” ...
  • “He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Writer. ...
  • “May their soul find rest.” ...
  • “I'll remember them/you.”
Jun 4, 2022

How do you say sorry to a death? ›

I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm going to miss her/him too. I wish you peace and comfort as you grieve. Please accept our deepest condolences for your loss.

What is the significance of 49 days after death? ›

In many Buddhist traditions, 49 days is the total mourning period, with prayers conducted every 7 days, across 7 weeks. These Buddhists believe that rebirth takes place within 49 days after death. So these prayers are conducted to facilitate this journey of the deceased into the afterlife.

What to say after someone dies? ›

The best things to say when someone dies
  • I'm so sorry for your loss.
  • You are in our thoughts and prayers.
  • They will be so missed.
  • I'm very sorry to hear this tragic news.
  • I'm shocked and saddened by this devastating news.
  • I can't imagine how you must feel right now.
  • If you want to talk, I'm here at any time.
May 19, 2022

What do you say when someone dies suddenly? ›

What to say when someone dies unexpectedly
  1. This is such a tragedy. I can't imagine how you must be feeling. I'm so sorry you're going through this.
  2. I can't believe Sam is gone. You must be devastated. I just wanted to say that I'm here for you.
  3. I'm thinking of you. This is so unexpected and so sad.

Videos

1. Tibetan Buddhist Funeral Rites | The Walrus
(The Walrus)
2. How does Buddhism view traditional funeral customs?(GDD-411) DVD
(Master Sheng Yen)
3. See how Buddha's funeral ceremony is done Part - 1 | funeral ceremony | Buddha's funeral ceremony
(SB All IN ONE)
4. What DYING in Japan is Like | Japanese Funerals 101
(Ryotaro's Japan)
5. Buddhist Funeral Service
(Pon Dawn of Stockton)
6. Buddhist funeral services
(Neak Sdab)

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