Arranging a Buddhist funeral in the UK should be a manageable process. This simple guide will help you prepare for what happens at a Buddhist funeral.
Ten Buddhist Traditions for planning a Buddhist Funeral
The Buddhist beliefs and buddhist traditions associated with a funeral service are not as complicated as some people may believe. By understanding a few of these, you will be able to plan a Buddhist funeral service that meets the wishes of your loved one.
What do Buddhists believe happens after death?
Buddhist beliefs are based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha after his enlightenment. The basic teaching of Buddhism is an acceptance that existence is suffering: birth, death, illness, old age are all a part life itself. As a result, the Buddhist attitude towards death is accepting, solemn and respectful.
Buddhists believe in the reincarnation of the soul over multiple lives, in a cycle known as Samsara.Part of the Buddhist rites of passage is that the soul initially stays connected with the body after death. Buddhist beliefs state that a soul only leaves this life after burial or cremation.
A Buddhist funeral thus serves two main purposes:
- to honour the deceased
- to grant the soul a peaceful transition from the physical form
What is a Buddhist funeral?
A Buddhist funeral is usually a simple ceremony. There are three main options for a Buddhist
- at the family home
- at a Buddhist temple
- at a funeral home
The casket at a Buddhist funeral ceremony may be open or closed. An altar should be place nearby, with a portrait of the deceased and an image of Buddha. The altar should be decorated. Items like flowers, candles, fruit and incense are appropriate.
Who officiates a Buddhist funeral?
A Buddhist funeral service should be officiated by either:
- A Buddhist teacher
- a family member
- or a Buddhist monk
How to plan and arrange a Buddhist funeral?
When arranging a funeral on behalf of a Buddhist, one would ideally know the following:
- the specific Buddhist tradition the deceased identified with
- their preferred officiant
- any specific chants or texts they would have liked recited
- A preference for burial or cremation
If these details are not available to the organisers of the funeral ceremony, it may be helpful to contact your local Buddhist society or community, for advice. Funeral directors in the UK could also advise on arranging a service in keeping with Buddhist rituals.
Is cremation a burial practice accepted by Buddhists?
Most Buddhist traditions accept cremation as an important ceremony for the release of the soul from the physical form. This follows the example of the original Buddha, who was cremated on a funeral pyre. In some Buddhist traditions it is customary for close family to witness the cremation.
This can be arranged at certain crematoriums in the UK. Though cremation is more common, burial is also an acceptable Buddhist funeral rite.
What happens before a Buddhist funeral, when someone dies?
According to Buddhist customs, death and dying should ideally take place in an atmosphere of peace and quiet calm. Close friends and family should be at hand to see to the comfort of their loved one. The dying person may be attended to by a Buddhist teacher, who can provide support and spiritual comfort by chanting protected verses. A statue of picture of Buddha should ideally be placed near the bed.
After the person has passed, family members should clean and dress the body in simple, everyday clothes. Some Buddhist traditions require 3-4 days to pass before the body is cremated. In general, the body should be left as undisturbed as possible.
Buddhist beliefs do allow certain procedures to take place:
- medical autopsies: where necessary
- organ donation: as a way of helping others
- embalming: should an open coffin be preferred
These options can be discussed in more detail with your undertaker or funeral director.
What happens at a Buddhist funeral?
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 usually an alter to the deceased, next to a casket (open or closed). Some families may hold a simple memorial service after a cremation, others may choose to host a wake.
Whichever form the Buddhist funeral takes, the event should be a simple; respectful and dignified.
This means that one should not:
- display material wealth
- record the service on any camera or device
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 Buddhist meditation and chanting, if they are able to do so.
What are the different Buddhist funeral traditions?
Buddhist funeral rites vary across cultures. In Thai funerals, the ceremony usually takes place within three days of death. Chinese funeral traditions allow the memorial service to be held on the third, seventh, forty-ninth or one-hundredth day after death.
In most Buddhist funeral traditions, however, there are common customs. Mourners entering the space should approach the altar, bow in prayer with their hands pressed together, and pay their respects. They may then be seated.
Mourners should not be seated higher than the monks. All who are present should follow the leadership of the monks, whenever they:
- begin to chant
If monks are not present, family members may lead the chants, or a recording of chants may be played. During the funeral service, mourners should remove head coverings during prayer. If an attendee is unfamiliar with the chants, they can sit silently, or slowly join in with the chanting.
What is the acceptable etiquette at a Buddhist funeral in the UK?
Mourners attending a Buddhist funeral should maintain behaviour appropriate to the somber occasion. As with most other religious funerals, mourners are there to offer respect to the deceased, and to offer comfort to the mourning family.
Some basic protocols should be followed:
What to wear at a Buddhist funeral?
In Japan, Buddhists wear black clothes when in mourning. Most other Buddhist traditions prefer mourners to wear white as a symbol of their grief. Neutral colours are also acceptable. The following attire is not acceptable:
- bright colours
- bright patterns
- the colour red (particularly in Chinese funeral traditions)
- anything that displays wealth (jewellery and accessories are usually avoided)
How to behave at a Buddhist funeral?
Upon arrival at the funeral service, it is customary for mourners to approach the altar and pay their respects to the deceased.
One may doing this by presenting flowers to the family – this is done by placing the flowers 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.
The mourner should then sit wait for the funeral ceremony to begin. During the service, the mourners should follow the monks’s lead when standing or chanting. Mourners should sit in silence during prayer, sermons or eulogies.
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 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 lowered into the grave.
Who can help me organise a Buddhist Funeral in the UK?
At Fenix Funeral Directors, we can help you plan a personal, respectful Buddhist funeral service, in keeping with Buddhist customs. We would be happy to organise a teacher representing the Buddhist tradition of the deceased, to assist with each aspect of the Buddhist ceremonies.
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 needs to return to physical form and it is finally released from suffering on earth.
What do Buddhists wear to a funeral?
At a Buddhist funeral in the UK it is acceptable to wear simple clothes, in white or neutral colours.
Mourners should avoid the following:
– any display of wealth
– jewellery or accessories
– bright colours or patterns
– the colour red
What do Buddhists do with their dead bodies?
After death, the body is washed and dressed in simple clothes and left as undisturbed as possible. A funeral or memorial service is held and the body is either buried or cremated.
Your chosen funeral director will be able to assist with this. At Fenix Funeral Directors, we pride ourselves on providing a supportive and respectful funeral service. We are committed to making your funeral arrangements as simple and stress-free as possible, during this difficult time.