Buddhism is rooted in the discovery of enlightenment, eventually reaching Nirvana - a release from the cycle of rebirth.

Through good karma, good deeds and a commitment to discovering inner peace and wisdom through meditation, you can be released from suffering.

One important thing to note about Buddhism, especially as it relates to end-of-life planning, is that not everyone who identifies with Buddhist beliefs is a practicing Buddhist. But, there are various ways to incorporate Buddhist funeral practices, either partially or entirely, into funeral planning.

About Buddhism

Buddhism was founded more than 2,500 years ago, with roots in India. The teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as The Buddha, were spread after The Buddha gave up his wealthy lifestyle to endure poverty and suffering. After years of searching and exploring meditation, Guatama is believed to have achieved enlightenment. From there, he spread his teachings.

The word Buddha itself means “enlightened.”

Buddhism is most predominant throughout the Asia-Pacific region, but has been embraced to varying degrees in Western culture. It’s fairly common for people to adopt Buddhist practices or live by some of the teachings of Buddhism, without identifying entirely with a Buddhist lifestyle.

Some of the key beliefs or practices of Buddhism are:

  • Followers don’t acknowledge an ultimate god. Instead, their focus is on achieving enlightenment.
  • Followers can worship in temples, but may choose to worship in the place of their choice, such as their home.
  • The avoidance of self-indulgence.
  • The concept of karma.
  • The idea that reincarnation happens after death and there is a continuous cycle of rebirth.
  • Following the most important teachings - The Four Noble Truths. They are: the presence of suffering, determining the cause of suffering, understanding that suffering has an end whether through the end-of-life or through spiritual life (achieving Nirvana - a state that transcends suffering) and the Noble Eightfold, which is a set of practices to follow to end suffering.

With these beliefs and practices in mind, particularly those relating to end-of-life, there presents a different path to funeral planning.

On Death and Dying

It can often be difficult to discuss funeral planning with a loved one before their death. It’s difficult to acknowledge our own mortality, as well as the mortality of those we love.

In Buddhism, illness and death are fundamental to life itself. So you may be able to talk openly with a loved one to help facilitate planning.

If they have strong roots in the Buddhist community, they may want a teacher or member of the Buddhist community to attend to their deathbed and help them through the process of dying.

Buddhism is rooted in peace. That emphasis on peace carries over to end-of-life care and dying, with the belief that dying should take place in a calm, tranquil atmosphere. After death, some members of the Buddhist community believe the body should remain undisturbed for a period of hours before being moved. And, an interval of at least three-and-a-half days before the body undergoes autopsy or cremation. Again, this can vary according to your beliefs.

Planning a Buddhist Funeral

It’s important to note that there is no specific funeral tradition Buddhists are required to follow.

There are various branches of Buddhism a person can follow and varying degrees to which they make Buddhist practices part of their life.

When planning a funeral, you first need to acknowledge what your loved one would have wanted. First, take into account any plans they may have discussed with you - Buddhist tradition or not.

Practicing Buddhists are often part of a community with a leader who can take on a funeral service. Connections to the community are an important part of ensuring someone who wants a more traditional Buddhist funeral approach has their wishes met.

You can consult their connections in the community, or a leader at your local Buddhist temple.

Common Buddhist Funeral Practices

Again, there are no specific traditions or rituals to follow step-by-step.

There are common themes or practices that do typically occur during a funeral with Buddhist practices woven in.

Generally, Buddhist funerals take place at home, a funeral home or at a Buddhist temple, providing there is one in the community. Typically, a member of the Buddhist community officiates, like a monk. However, if the family opts to blend Buddhist traditions with the Christian faith, a minister or priest might oversee the ceremony.

Prayer and meditation are common at Buddhist funerals, as well as the chanting of verses.

Mourners are not encouraged to wear black. Rather, they should wear white or plainly patterned clothing.

The deceased is often remembered with an altar and their photo as the centerpiece. All around it, people may place offerings like candles, flowers and fruit. Incense is typically burned at the altar. Buddhist tradition dictates that an image of Buddha should be placed near the altar, too.

Most Buddhists are cremated. Buddha himself instructed his followers to cremate his body after death.

Perhaps most importantly, simplicity is essential to Buddhist funeral planning. The ceremony doesn’t need to be ostentatious. For example, avoid going with a casket that might push your budget beyond your means.

Overall, the atmosphere should be calm and tranquil.

Blending Rituals

There are no strict rules to follow with Buddhism. It’s a religion rooted in spiritual health, wisdom and well-being. The end of suffering is at the root of all Buddhist practices.

That’s why it’s important to plan a funeral for your loved one in a way they would want to be remembered, incorporating their Buddhist beliefs and blending them with other traditions where appropriate.