Buddhist funerals in the UK: how they work, and how to plan one.

Buddhist funerals in the UK: how they work, and how to plan one.

by Martin Jackson2022-09-190

What are Buddhist beliefs about death?

With over half a billion followers, Buddhism is the world’s 4th-largest religion. As with many religions, there are numerous denominations, sometimes called sects, but all are united by the idea that death is a vital element in the eternal cycle known as ‘samsara’. 

This belief in reincarnation is expressed through the rites and traditions you’ll find at a Buddhist funeral in the UK.

What is a Buddhist funeral like in the UK?

A Buddhist funeral is usually a simple, respectful ceremony that honours the dead and prays for the soul to have a peaceful transition, or rebirth, into its next physical form. The funeral takes place at either the family home, a Buddhist temple, or a funeral home.

The casket at a Buddhist funeral ceremony may be open or closed. An altar is often placed nearby, with a portrait of the deceased and an image of Buddha. The altar can be decorated with items like flowers, candles, fruit and incense.

As there are a number of different beliefs within the Buddhist religion, the funeral rites and practices can vary quite substantially. If monks are not present, family members may lead the chants, or a recording of chants may be played.

How to plan and arrange a Buddhist funeral?

It’s common for Buddhists to express their wishes and make plans for their own funeral prior to death, but this is not always the case. Whatever your plans, and whatever the deceased’s wishes were, we can help you plan a Buddhist funeral in the UK. 

From choosing burial or cremation to arranging transportation and finding the right officiant, our personal advisers are here for you, every step of the way. (We’re proud of the feedback we receive from people who’ve placed their trust in us, and aim to offer everyone the same peace of mind.)

Can Buddhists be cremated?

As Buddha was cremated on a funeral pyre, it’s very common for Buddhists to be cremated. As is becoming more common in many parts of the world, natural burials are also rising in popularity amongst Buddhists.

Embalming, organ donation, and the donation of a body to medical science are also permitted by the Buddhist religion.

What happens at a Buddhist funeral in the UK?

The format of a Buddhist funeral depends on the tradition or the wishes of the deceased and family. It is usually a simple funeral service, followed by a burial or cremation. There is often an altar, honouring the deceased, next to a casket (which can be open or closed).

Whichever form the Buddhist funeral takes, the event will be simple, respectful, and dignified.

This means that attendees should not:

  • Display material wealth, e.g. my wearing lots of jewellery.
  • Record the service on a camera or any other device.
  • Wear the colour red.

Upon arrival at the funeral service, it is customary for mourners to approach the altar and pay their respects to the deceased.

A Buddhist funeral ceremony is usually under an hour long. Buddhist monks, teachers, or community members will usually lead the mourners in prayer. The congregation may follow the meditation and chanting, if they are able to do so.

What to wear at a Buddhist funeral?

Most Buddhist traditions prefer mourners to wear white or pale/neutral colours as a symbol of their grief. Stay away from bright colours, strong patterns, and the colour red. If in doubt, you can contact the person who invited you. 

If you’re planning a Buddhist funeral in the UK, it might be a good idea to indicate what the dress code is on the invitation, especially if you are inviting non-Buddhists.

Do you take flowers to a Buddhist funeral?

Yes, it’s acceptable to take flowers along to the funeral service. You can present the flowers to the family on arrival, or place them near the altar. After presenting the flowers, it is appropriate to give a slight bow with hands in the prayer position. This is followed by a quiet moment in front of the casket.

Are condolence gifts appropriate at a Buddhist funeral?

Sympathy cards or white flowers may be sent to the family on hearing the news of the deceased’s passing. Gifts of food may also be sent, or donations to charity. Mourners can choose to bring white flowers to the funeral. Bright flowers (particularly red flowers) are not appropriate.

What happens after a Buddhist funeral ceremony?

After a Buddhist funeral service, the family members and mourners may carry the casket to the hearse. They would then follow behind the vehicle in procession. The body may then be interred for cremation, or taken to the gravesite for burial.

If monks are present, they will lead the mourners in chanting. If no monks are present, family members may lead chanting as the casket is cremated, or lowered into the grave.

What do Buddhists believe happens after death?

Buddhists believe in reincarnation. They believe that the soul has multiple journeys on Earth, in a cycle known as Samsara. The ultimate goal of most Buddhists is the achievement of ‘Nirvana’. Once Nirvana is reached, the soul no longer returns to physical form, and is released into paradise.

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