Saturday, September 5, 2009

Do we need funeral rituals?

Question: (Unedited)
I have just begun studing Buddhism and am unclear on the practical aspects for how Buddhists treat death. When someone has died, how do Buddhists treat the body? Are there common rituals among the different Buddhist traditions? Are the dead buried or cremated. Do Buddhists have funereal ceremonies? Are there common meditations for the dead?

Answer: Hi J,

Thank you for asking me.

The pristine teachings of the Buddha is about realizing the true nature of existence and how to live a peaceful and happy life. Even before the Buddha's time more than 2500 years ago, Indian civilization was already very well established. It had its own culture and tradition, catering for all sorts of social and community events. The Buddha did not introduce any new rites and rituals. The communities then still carried on with their traditions and customs, while following the teachings of the Buddha. This was because the Buddha taught universal truths which transcend tradition, culture, race, nationality, belief, and even time and space. This means that his teachings could be practised by all peoples without having to change their traditions, customs, and what have you, while maintaining their traditional beliefs. That is why we have Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, and even Western Buddhism. The difference is essentially in the manner of practice, incorporating the different cultures and traditions of the particular nationalities.

Having explained this, you will now be able to understand that there are diverse practices in respect of rites and rituals performed in the name of Buddhism. So, the Thais will have their perculiar rites; the Burmese, the Sri Lankans, the Tibetans, etc will have different versions of their own. In general terms, the Theravada tradition of the Thais, Burmese, and Sri Lankans will recite similar suttas during wakes and burials. Whereas the Mahayana tradition will have different chanting. The Chinese Buddhists and the Tibetans will have different rites and rituals; so would be the Japanese Buddhists. The beauty of the Buddha's teachings is that followers are free to adopt their respective customs and traditions for their social and community events, while still be able to practise his teachings. Generally, cremation is the norm.

The Buddha's teachings are for the living. Meditation is also for the living. It is while we are alive that we can benefit from his teachings, by practising throughout our lives, to reduce our greed, hatred and delusion. It is the wholesome conduct of our lives while we are still living that is important. When we experience inner peace and happiness while still alive, that we really benefit from the Buddha's teachings. Rites and rituals for the dead are actually just to console the feelings of the living relatives. If we fully understand the teachings of the Buddha, we will take heart to lead a harmless and peaceful life, without being a nuisance to people around us.


PM said...

I have instructed my family when I die, no prayer or chanting and just wait for all the family to return. The next day just send my body to be cremated.

No matter how much chanting and praying it will not help the dead.

No burden to anybody.

CheaHS@n said...

In my Will I have stated - cremation and ashes thrown in the sea no need to keep in the house or temple.

PM said...

Why do chinese cry so loud during ritual. Is it love for the departed or crying because they have to pay a huge sum for the ritual and burial.????

Even at death money can be made or pathetic. Esp the taoist priest..I just hate them for giving all sort of rubbish advice to the surviving members on the various ritual to be carried out and charging a huge sum for it.

Cunning bastards...

A true Malaysian said...

I don't believe in rituals as well, but we still need to accord greatest respect to the dead body.

Cremation then throw the ashes into the sea....the best funeral rituals.

One's spiritual development during lifetime is the best way to face death, not rituals after death.

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