Buddhist Funeral Rites

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Buddhist funeral rites are an interesting thing. No funeral rites are the as they could apply from one country to another. There are plenty of Buddhists in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and other countries of Southeast Asia. Depending on the culture and the location, Buddhist funeral rites will be different.

Sky Burial

In Tibet, they implement something called a “sky burial” as the current Dalai Lama’s father was given the “proper” sky burial during his death. What they do is go to the sky burial site and hack up the body and offer it to the vultures. Due to Tibet’s environment, ground burials are pretty much impossible because of the mountainous terrain. In a sense, the deceased offer themselves to the vultures. As a result, their essence lives on in the sky.

Sky Burial

However, sky burials are pretty expensive and may not be a feasible form due to finances. The dead bodies are thrown onto the mountains to rot and decompose on their own. Vultures speed up the process. During Chinese occupation, the sky burial was banned due to its “barbaric” looking nature. A decade ago, China legalized the sky burials.

In the Buddhism that’s practiced in India, the body is burned after death. Buddha’s body was cremated when he died. This was the original funeral rite in Buddhism. Also Buddhism originated from India which is something theology students should already know.

In comparison between the funeral rites in Tibet and India, they are pretty different. Burning isn’t feasible in Tibet because the smoke causes pollution. You have to take into consideration the low levels of oxygen of Tibet’s climate as many Chinese soldiers have gotten sick due to not being prepared for the thin air.

A traditional Buddhist ceremony in China can last about two months for over 49 days. Daughters of the family usually pay the funeral expenses. It doesn’t mean that the daughters always do that. The head of the family which is from father to eldest son is supposed to be present for burial or cremation.

Funeral rites in Thailand are mainly cremations taking place within three days. There’s a nightly feast for friends and neighbors with cards and huge dominos. An orchestra is present on the day of the ceremony where the music is supposed to banish all the bad feelings.

Vietnam and Japan tend to follow the same ceremonies as China. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Japanese added bits of Shinto the ceremony. But all rights are supposed to represent the circle of life, death, and rebirth.

There’s no universal Buddhist funeral rite. When my step-grandfather died, we had a regular funeral with a casket. This is coming from a practitioner of Buddhism. My grandmother stood at the casket giving off Buddhist prayers.

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