The UK is a melting pot of religions and beliefs, and though Buddhism is a minor religion in Britain, its number of adherents has slowly been rising over the years.
As such, you may find yourself attending — or even arranging — a Buddhist funeral. With many being unfamiliar with the practices and beliefs involved in Buddhism, this might be confusing and very different to the usual Christian funeral arrangements.
What is a Buddhist funeral?
A Buddhist funeral service may feel very different to those who are unaccustomed to Buddhist beliefs. Though the religion of the deceased probably won’t affect how somebody feels about a person’s death, the general Buddhist perspective of death is that it is a natural part of life and an inevitable stage in the cycles of reincarnation.
Traditionally, a Buddhist funeral would be held at a monastery, but such structures are small in number in the UK. It is likely that the ceremony would be conducted in a funeral home or at a family home.
Buddhist funerals focus on remembrance more than showing grief. Although showing grief is perfectly acceptable, it is also ideal to express happiness for the life led by the deceased and celebrate their movement through the stages of their life journey, as is in accordance with the Buddhist faith.
What happens at a Buddhist funeral?
Buddhist funerals, like many funerals, are meant to give time and space for mourners to come and pay their respects. Ultimately, you will find that a Buddhist funeral ceremony is aiming to give closure and peace of mind to those attending.
Similar to Christian funeral liturgy, a Buddhist ceremony involves sermons and chants, as well as sutras—historical teachings that have been passed down, resembling prayers. Guests are invited to either join in with chanting if they wish or sit quietly—whatever feels most comfortable.
If the deceased was part of a Buddhist community, it is likely that they will have some connection to a teacher, spiritual leader, or group of monks who can lead the ceremony properly.
Although Buddhists can choose either burial or cremation, Buddhist customs mean that cremation is usually the preferred option.
What do Buddhists do at a funeral?
Buddhists may choose to follow a variety of practices during a funeral, including:
- Approaching the altar upon arrival before taking a seat and marking their respect for the deceased with a bow.
- Making offerings to the deceased such as fruit, flowers, or candles and incense.
- Wear a specific colour such as white or black, depending on the type of Buddhism they practice.
- Offering cloth to the monk, a ritual called paṃsukūla which references the discarded pieces of cloth that monks used to use to make their robes.
- Display a picture of the Buddha as well as the deceased and pay respects to both.
Buddhists will understand that non-Buddhist guests will largely be unfamiliar with their practices, and there is generally little to no expectation for guests outside of the religion to adopt anything beyond the usual marks of respect or directions from monks guiding the ceremony.
How long does a Buddhist funeral last?
Buddhist ceremony funerals last from around 40 to 80 minutes, depending on how the family want to structure the ceremony and what wishes they have for their loved one.
If the family themselves are Buddhist or wish to properly observe Buddhist tradition, there may be a long mourning period following the death that could last up to 100 days. In this time, it would be traditional for the family not to attend celebratory events, and there may be another ceremony to mark the end of the mourning period and celebrate the passing on of the deceased.
Building on folklore and tradition, particularly in Tibetan culture, Buddhists believe odd numbers to be ‘becoming’ and signify the incomplete nature of humans, with ‘complete’ even numbers being reserved for celebratory events connotated with fulfilment, like weddings.
As such, a Buddhist funeral’s activities might last for three or five days, though guests will of course not be expected to participate for the entire duration of a ceremony lasting so long.
What do you wear to a Buddhist funeral?
One of the core ethos’ of the Buddhist faith is to eschew a materialistic life and displays of wealth. As such, guests to a Buddhist burial would do best by coming in simple clothes and minimal jewellery. This is the best way to show respect to the faith of the deceased and any of their fellow Buddhists in attendance.
Buddhists themselves, depending on the branch of the religion that they follow, will likely wear a specific colour such as white or black. It isn’t typically expected that all guests adhere to this, and wearing understated clothing in calm colours should be fine.
What to say at a Buddhist funeral?
Typically, you won’t have to prepare anything to say at a Buddhist funeral. Eulogies aren’t commonplace like they are in Christian funerals, and the emphasis is placed more on remembering the person and doing—or resolving to do—good deeds in their name.
Generally, the same words of respect you would use at any other funeral will be more than suited for a Buddhist funeral. Expressing words of comfort, sorrow, and love for the deceased and others who have joined to mourn are always appropriate.
Buddhist funerals in the UK
Buddhist funeral services in the UK are somewhat uncommon, but they are a service for which we are knowledgeable and prepared all the same.
To get help in arranging a Buddhist funeral, reach out to us at Middleton’s Funeral Services. We’ll be your guiding hand.
Your funeral your way
Middleton’s Funeral Services are a rich and diverse community and believe in honouring the individual regardless of religion or belief.
If you wish to organise a religious ceremony for your loved one you can contact us using the form below or visiting the contact us page.