With Australia home to a large multicultural society, Buddhism has become a fast-growing religion practiced in many suburbs across the country. Although there are various forms of Buddhism, the general trait involves the belief that death is a part of the reincarnation process.
This reincarnation process, referred to as saṃsāra, relies heavily on the notion that behaviours and actions during the course of one’s life will subsequently affect them when reincarnated in their next life. Therefore, the path of Buddhism is often oriented towards the social goal of nirvana, the highest state of enlightenment, peace and happiness one can attain.
Planning for a Buddhist Funeral
If you’re unsure what someone’s last wishes may have been, a Buddhist would typically express their desire to have a religious funeral in their will. The will also contains specific details as to instructions on how they would like the funeral to proceed, or certain pieces of commentary, including chants, which they would like to feature at their Buddhist funeral.
Buddhist funerals will normally be held at a Buddhist temple, or the home of a loved one on the 3rd, 7th, 49th or 100th day after passing. There is however, some flexibility with these timings. It is more common for Buddhists to opt for cremation as opposed to burial, and embalming is something that is typically avoided unless there is a specific medical need. The funeral service itself may sometimes occur either before or after the cremation. This is a decision left to the wishes of the deceased, or those involved in organising the service.
At the altar there will be an image of the deceased, or at the open coffin – if the service is taking place before cremation – mourners may leave flowers, fruits, candles and incense. Loved ones of the deceased may also receive these items from mourners.
Those attending a Buddhist funeral will wear simple, understated clothing, often white, albeit this depends on the specific practice of Buddhism. With that said, black is not worn. Mourners who arrive at the funeral service will bow at the altar with their hands together, reflecting on the deceased.
Monks hold a position of significance at Buddhist funerals. When they stand, mourners are expected to do the same, and they will generally sit above the level of others in attendance. The monks are also the ones who will perform the eulogies and lead the chants instructed by the deceased or their loved ones, so you should observe silently in these moments.
Where a cremation has taken place, the ashes may be scattered at sea or over land, or enshrined in a columbarium. In the event that a burial will take place, which is less common, a procession of mourners will be required to as pallbearers and carry the casket from the service to a hearse. With the chants an integral part of the service, they will often continue right through until when a casket is taken from the service and buried.