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Buddhist funeral traditions

Note: Buddhist funeral traditions may change depending on the nation.  There is a difference between Zen Buddhism in China, Zen Buddhism in Japan or Japanese religion Buddhism.  All information contained on this article is intended to provide a general summary of Eastern philosophy about funeral rituals. For specific information, we recommend that you speak to teachers who have studied the subject.

The funeral customs vary according to the nation. Some funerals are particularly traditionalist and solemn, others more simple and dignified. Generally, Buddhist funerals are particularly spiritual, meaningful and less expensive.

 During the funeral rite, the family and the friends of the deceased pray for the peace and serenity of his soul whose, according to tradition, will follow the cycle of reincarnation.

What is reincarnation?                                                                              

Reincarnation, also called transmigration or metempsychosis, in religion and philosophy, is the rebirth of an individual that persists after bodily death in one or more successive existences. Depending upon the tradition, these existences may be human, animal, spiritual, or, in some instances, vegetable.

What will happen during a Buddhist funeral?

Generally, for the funeral, an altar is set up with a portrait of the deceased along with offerings of candles, incense, flowers and fruits. An image of the Buddha is placed next to or in front of the altar.

The monks could celebrate the funeral service and prepare the homily.  In the event that the monks cannot preside over the celebration, the ritual can be carried out by relatives, friends or people who have suffered mourning.  Prayer can be recorded in audio-cassettes or chanted.

Prayer is called chanting.


What is the difference between praying and chanting?

 Chanting is different from conventional prayer. Traditional prayer invokes a God outside the person while in the Buddhist tradition, chanting is a promise that you invoke within yourself.  When the person chants, a promise or a determination born within himself. In conventional prayer, the person asks God to help him and to make this or that happen, instead of chanting is like promising that, this or that will happen.

What to wear?

At a traditional Buddhist funeral, the family will wear white or cover their clothing with a traditional white cloth, along with a headband or armband.

Other rituals could be:

  • Walk with sticks to symbolize that grief has left them the need for support
  • chanting
  • Bring offerings of flowers and fruit
  • Burn incense to sweeten the air
  • Ring gongs or bells

 Cremation or burial?

 The choice of cremation or burial is strictly a personal choice of the deceased.  According to the Buddhist tradition, cremation is preferred because the soul will be reborn in another form. For Buddhists, as for Catholics, death leads only to the death of the body. In fact, in the Buddhist tradition death is a transformation of energy.






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