According to a tradition set at the Buddha s death, many Buddhists today believe in cremating the body of the deceased. This cremation symbolises the setting free of the deceased s soul from his or her body, such that the soul is free to be reborn. This cremation should not take place immediately, however, as Buddhists also believe that consciousness continues for several days after the body dies. A Buddhist funeral itself will likely be ordered according to the ethnicity of the deceased with specific traditions attributed to both Chinese Buddhism and Thai Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhist Belief In Consciousness After Death
Buddhists believe in several stages of afterlife following the death of (what they consider to be) just the body. These stages are called bardos. The first bardo is said to pass quickly and may be a time in which the individual passes into the heavens of a deity to which (s)he became attached during life. If an individual fails to access spiritual states during the first bardo, a second bardo may be entered. During the second bardo the soul is believed to be carried through emotional turmoil on its own desires. This is said to be the bardo of becoming . In the third bardo, the soul enters the final stage of reincarnation and is sucked into another body in which to live another life. Because Buddhists believe in these stages of consciousness immediately following death it is important that the bodies of deceased Buddhists are not disturbed for several hours following death and optimally for about 3.5 days.
Funeral Traditions of Chinese Buddhists
Chinese Buddhists may observe a funeral ceremony that lasts 49 days, though the first seven are by far the most important. In some traditions prayers are said for the deceased every seven days, while in others it is more like every ten days. The Amitabha Sutra is often said during a Chinese Buddhist funeral, and though many practising Buddhists discourage it there may be joss sticks or joss paper burned as well. Cremation may be desired by Chinese Buddhists, though burial may occur. After 100 days a final prayer ceremony may occur.
Funeral Traditions of Thai Buddhists
Traditional Thai Buddhist funerals will last for approximately seven days and will include chanting by monks, the distribution of Buddhist scriptures in the name of the deceased, gifts given to Buddhist temples and a photographic display of the deceased. Prior to the funeral a bathing ceremony may occur in which family members and friends of the deceased will pour water in one hand of the body. After the cremation of the body, ashes are often stored in a chedi (structure like a mound) at a temple. Crying is discouraged during Thai Buddhist funerals as it is believed to cause worry to the deceased s spirit, so such funerals may actually appear to be quite cheerful affairs.
Buddhist Funerals In the UK
Buddhist organisations in the UK will be able to offer further information about Buddhist funeral rites according to the ethnicity of the deceased. The Network of Buddhist Organisations (UK) or a local Buddhist temple or monastery may be able to provide further contacts or information. Independent celebrants may also be able to offer information or advice.
Buddhist funeral rites vary according to the type of Buddhism practised by, and correspondingly the ethnicity of, the deceased. Tibetan Buddhist beliefs in stages of consciousness after death and the funeral traditions of both Chinese and Thai Buddhists must be understood in order to organise an appropriate Buddhist funeral.