What happens at a Buddhist funeral?

Buddhist chants form the main part of the funeral. During this time, you can sit quietly and reflect on the person’s life.

Buddhist monks often lead Buddhist funerals. They take place at a Buddhist temple or the family’s home.

What is a Buddhist funeral service like?

Monks begin the service by chanting

Buddhist funerals are simple, peaceful events. There are many traditions within Buddhism, but they often follow the same format.

Guests will sit and listen to Buddhist chants (which Buddhists call ‘sutras’). The chants or prayers they sing will depend on the branch of Buddhism the person who died followed. 

Buddhists do not have priests or ministers in the same way many religions do. But they do have monks, who they consider the most holy and learned members of the community. Monks often live in monasteries and devote their lives to Buddhist meditation. 

Monks will sometimes lead the chanting at funerals. But if monks are not present, it’s common for friends, family, or community members to lead the chanting. 

There are many different types of Buddhism

There are three main schools of Buddhism: Vajrayana, Mahayana, and Theravada. All Buddhists follow the same religious texts, but practice their faith in different ways. You can read more about the different schools of Buddhism online. 

People practise Buddhism all over the world. It’s most popular in China, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, and India. 

But there are also lots of people in the Western world that follow Buddhism. There are 3.5 million Buddhists in the United States, for example. As a result, Buddhist funerals are different depending on where you are in the world. 

When mourners arrive, they go to the altar first 

At Western funerals, people usually take their seats straight away. At Buddhist funerals, guests walk up to the altar first. Here, they’ll give a small bow, usually with their hands pressed together as if they’re praying. Sometimes they’ll present a small offering like a flower, candle, or incense. 

Presenting a small offering pays respect to the person who’s died. You might like to do the same. Often, you’ll be able to see what to do by watching other people. If you’re not sure about what to do when you arrive, it’s okay to ask someone. 

Buddhist guests wear white (but you do not  have to)

Buddhist friends and family of the person who’s died usually wear white. But this depends on their nationality. Japanese Buddhists often wear black instead, for example.

If you do not follow the religion, you should wear simple and understated clothes. Dark colours like black, grey, and navy blue are welcome. Simple things like shirts, trousers, long skirts, and modest dresses are good options.

Buddhists consider expensive or “flashy” clothing and jewellery to be unnecessary shows of wealth. It’s most respectful to attend a Buddhist funeral without getting too dressed up.

Buddhist beliefs and traditions around death

It’s common to see an open casket at a Buddhist funeral 

The kind of casket will depend on the family and the type of Buddhism they follow. You might like to prepare yourself for an open casket, which will have an open lid so you can see the person who’s died.

Around the casket, friends and family usually place:

  • white and yellow flowers

  • a picture of the person who’s died

  • a picture of the Buddha

  • offerings from the people attending the funeral.

It’s respectful to maintain a calm and peaceful manner around the body of the person who’s died.

Buddhists almost always choose cremation

A Buddhist funeral will likely end with a cremation rather than a burial. 

After the monks have finished chanting, the funeral directors or attendees close the casket lid. They’ll then take it to the cremation chamber, where the cremation will happen privately. Buddhists do not believe in creating unnecessary waste, so the casket will usually be a simple box.

If you need to arrange a cremation, we can help

No matter which religion you follow, we can help you arrange a simple and meaningful cremation,  and help you understand the costs and your options.

It’s acceptable to show grief at a Buddhist funeral 

It’s okay to cry or show emotion at a Buddhist funeral.  In fact, it's traditional for family members to show they need support by walking with sticks.

But it’s very rare for guests to read eulogies, even close friends and family. You do not need to prepare anything to say. The focus is on remembering the person and thinking good thoughts about them. 

What to bring to a Buddhist funeral

It’s not necessary to bring a gift 

Generally speaking, you do not need to bring anything to a Buddhist funeral. If you’d like, or if you’ve discussed it with the family, you could bring a small gift to place at the altar. This should be something simple and symbolic like: 

  • A flower

  • A piece of fresh fruit

  • A candle 

  • An incense stick 

It’s best not to bring red flowers to a Buddhist funeral. Red flowers symbolise wealth and happiness, so are not appropriate for a funeral. White and yellow flowers are okay to bring. 

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