Funeral Ceremonies

excerpt from the book Buddhist Rituals & Observances

Page 64.

A funeral ceremony includes a shrine, offerings to the shrine and Mātikā chanting by samaṇas.

The family and friends bring the components of a small shrine and arrange it with care. Usually, they include a Buddha rūpa, candles and incense. In addition, each person may bring a flower to be placed on the coffin during the ceremony.

The following is a typical programme for the ceremony when samaṇas are present. If no samaṇas are present, participants may adjust the programme as necessary. (See *)

1 A monk or nun (* or lay elder or family member) lights the candles and incense.
2 The senior monk or nun (* as above) gives a short talk about the significance of a Buddhist funeral.
3 The relatives and friends pass by the coffin spreading mettā to the deceased person and dedicating the blessings and merits of their practice to the deceased person as a way to say goodbye. If they have brought flowers, each person lays one on the coffin.
4 The monks and nuns (*) lead the hearse to the cremation site.
5 Before the cremation, the senior monk or nun (*) gives a short talk on the significance of death according to the Dhamma.
6 The monks and nuns offer the Mātikā chanting, while placing
their hands on the coffin.
7 The mechanism for transporting the coffin into the fire is activated.

Note that some families like to add a paṃsukūla (robe-offering) ceremony. In this case, robes are offered to the samaṇas after the Mātikā chanting. The family places the robes on the coffin and the monks and nuns touch them as they chant recollections on impermanence.

Memorial Ceremonies after the Funeral

Even after the death of a loved one, the insight into impermanence decreases with time. For this reason, the hundredth day after death is also commemorated. In addition, ceremonies including chanting, sharing of the goodness and goodwill of the living with the deceased, and the offering of food and requisites to the Sangha (dāna), are frequently arranged any number of years after the death. Such commemorative ceremonies soften the grieving process, allow us to recall our gratitude and respect for those who have died and sharpen our awareness of the transitory nature of life.

The following are ways that we can remember the passing away of a friend:

1 Take some form of positive action in memory of the person who has died. This may include: dedicating a retreat or a day of meditation to their memory, doing service in a local organization, sponsoring a retreat, starting a fund to benefit the homeless, or making offerings to a local sangha or monastery.

2 Asking the samaṇas to chant the traditional funeral chants, dedicating them to the person who has died. Such chanting usually takes place during the evening chanting period on the day the request was made. Auspicious times to request chanting or to remember the person who has passed away include the day of the death, and the first three days after it (or the day of
the funeral/cremation), fifty days after death, one hundred days after death, one year afterwards and annually thereafter.

3 Visit a monastery with family and friends to hold some form of remembrance ceremony. The hundredth day following the death is a good time for such an occasion. It could include any of the following:

  • Offering alms-food or other requisites to the sangha.
  • Planting a tree in memory of the deceased and ask the sangha to chant some of the traditional funeral chants.
  • Requesting the sangha to offer some Dhamma reflections appropriate to the occasion.
  • Bringing the ashes to the monastery and scattering them around a sanctified area.
  • Placing some of the ashes at the site of a tree that one has planted in memory of the person.

Readings for Funeral and Memorial Ceremonies

The following are appropriate texts to be read or chanted at funera and memorial ceremonies:

  • Sections from the paṃsukūla chants.
  • The story of Kisāgotamī and the Mustard Seed (Therīgāthā: 43).
  • A Single Excellent Night (Bhaddekaratta sutta MN 131).
  • Verses of Sharing and Aspiration.

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