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Buddhist Funeral

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Buddhist Death Rituals
Death and what comes after death have intrigued the human race since time immemorial and each religion has its own views concerning death rituals. No matter what culture an individual belongs to, death is an inevitable reality of life that nobody can escape. An eminent anthropologist described death as “the supreme and final crisis of life” (Malinowski, qtd. in Tsuji). Each human being’s dying experience is distinctive to him or her, and no one can fully predict what it will be like or when it will come about. However, when this moment does come to pass, spiritual leaders or funeral directors are often called upon to provide professional and suitable services, as well as comfort to the grief-stricken family and friends. When we think of death we generally think of it as being a time for mourning and sorrow for that are loved ones are no longer with us. Buddhism has an entirely different approach towards death and the burial rituals that most of us are accustomed to. For a Buddhist, a funeral is not a time to mourn but prepare the individual for his/her rebirth. Buddhists believe that death is not the end of life instead death is a natural part of life, and so they are encouraged to face it serenely. Buddhism allows traditional and cultural practices to be performed as long as these practices do not go against the teachings of the Buddha.
As an expression of bereavement and filial piety, a Buddhist funeral is simple, solemn and dignified. At the moment of death and for a period after death, the monk, nun or spiritual friends read prayers and chants from the Buddhist Scriptures. In Buddhist traditions, this death bed chanting is regarded as very important and is ideally the last thing the Buddhist hears. The chanting of sutras (sermons in Sanskrit) is the main feature of a Buddhist funeral. Flowers and fruits are offered to show respect for the deceased. Children, relatives and friends of the departed participate in the service by chanting together with the monk. Buddhists believe that soon after death, a person can still be subtly aware of what is going on. Therefore, to help a Buddhist pass away peacefully without pain and the craving for life, his relatives and friends are requested to chant the sutras instead of crying before and at his death. Different Buddhist traditions have slightly different funeral rituals and practices. However, most of the rituals and practices consist of the chanting of sutras to help the deceased pass away peacefully and to be reborn in a happy state. These rituals and practices are to be simple, meaningful and also solemn. Buddhists are not very particular regarding the burial or cremation of a dead body. But in many Buddhist countries, for hygienic and economic reasons, cremation is customary. After the cremation, the bones and ashes are collected and kept in an urn. The urn can be placed in a columbarium. Usually the remains are kept in a temple because; chanting is often carried out by the monks to transfer the merits to the departed ones. More rituals continue every seven days until the forty-ninth day after death, and again on the one-hundredth day. Then the series of periodic rituals succeeds at the first, third, seventh, thirteenth and fiftieth death anniversaries. The ritual on the forty-ninth day after death is “a turning point” (Smith, qtd.in Wada) when the spirit of the newly deceased, which is believed to have been in limbo with this world and the other world, enters the realm of the dead and becomes a new Buddha. Hence, the forty-ninth day ceremony is more elaborate and has more attendees then other weekly post-funeral services. Daily, monthly, seasonal and periodic rituals for the dead also link the world of the living to the world of the dead, which meet at the Buddhist altar and the family grave. These rituals have positive effects on elders because the knowledge of joining the ancestral group and being cared for after death by the descendants helps to “mitigate the pain of aging” (Lebra, qtd. in Tsuji). It also comforts elders to know that death is not “complete obliteration” (Myerhoff and Tufte, qtd. in Valentine), because they will be remembered for many years after passing. In this manner, Buddhist mortuary rituals guide the deceased in their journey through the different post-mortem, first from the spirit of the newly dead to the new Buddha, then to the Buddha and finally to ancestor.
To conclude, none of us can avoid death and if we are not free from the vicious cycle of death and rebirth, we are doomed to the endless cycles of life and death and its paradoxical nature of suffering, of happiness and sadness, youth and ageing, healthiness and sickness, pain and death, all because we are so attached to the existence in the first place. The Buddha urged us to prepare for death, to prepare for that journey by cleansing the mind and not being so attached to things, to be able to let go and release ourselves for needing to be, from needing to have. Through this we will not suffer so much as we pass through the final stage of the present life, we can let go, be grateful for what we had but not clutch to it, not try to ensure permanency and cause ourselves to suffer more than we need to. This way we can end the cycle and leave forever, obtaining nirvana and release from the cycle of death and rebirth.…...

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