Buddhist Funeral Etiquette

Buddhists do not celebrate death with wine, dance, and song. Buddhism isn’t essentially a religion, but there are certain things that mourners do to help the dead pass on to the next stage.

Buddhism has so many sects and the funeral practice depends on what Buddhist sect you belong to. 

Traditionally there are three places where Buddhist mourning is done: at the home of the dead, at the funeral house, and in the temple.  

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Methods of mourning

A Buddhist family in mourning doesn't expect you to send food over. It is considered bad manners.

Buddhists open the casket for mourning. In Korea, mourning is not even done in the house, but Buddhists object to closed caskets because they consider looking at the body as part of meditation. Photographs of the dead person are laid along the sides of the casket. In Buddhism the body is viewed as simply a container of the "soul". To pay your respect to the dear departed, step forward and bow a bit to the casket.

Variations of a wake

There is an evening wake and a late morning or early afternoon funeral wake in Buddhism. The evening wake is called a tsuya (which is held two days after the person's death). Family members and friends are expected to attend both events; while other mourners may choose to attend one or the other. At the funeral, strict attire is observed. Men should wear black suits, black ties, and white shirts; while women wear black, too, along with subdued accessories (though these can be dispensed with). You can say everyone must dress conservatively.

Everyone present is expected to have a Buddhist rosary. You should hold in your left hand as you pray. In Japan they give you a branch of a leaf called sakaki, which you offer to the dead. In some cases invited mourners at the funeral are expected to offer presents, called koden. These gifts may be in the form of money. If you are invited and expected to offer a koden, you need to have an envelop tied with a black ribbon. The amount you're supposed to give depends on the degree of your relationship with the deceased. When you arrive at the wake you present the envelope with both hands to the mourning family.

Burning the dead in Buddhism

Most Buddhists cremate their dead, as the great Buddha was likewise cremated.

Some sects bury their dead. But there is always a monk to chant at the funeral to help ease the spirit of the deceased to where it's supposed to be going. The mourning family offers food and candles to the monk. In China, some wakes go as far as 49 days, with prayer ceremonies every seven days. These prayers are meant to help the dead come back in a much better state than when they passed on.

The Buddhist sect in Thailand burns its dead within three days. Sad music is played along with the burning. If the deceased is a rich person, his remains are kept for a year in a temple where more rituals follow.

You can possibly die a hundred times before you're finally cleansed, according Buddhists. When you reach that pure state, you don't need to come back. Thus far, we haven't heard from any one up there.

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