In times of grief, many people find comfort in the specific traditions and rituals of their faiths. This article continues a series of explorations of why and how turning to your faith may help you.
Buddhism is consistently evolving with time, revelation and technology, and is based on four noble truths: Life is suffering, All suffering is caused by ignorance, Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment, and The Noble Eightfold Path (which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation). The ultimate goal is enlightenment.
Being a progressive religion, Buddhism allows for many differences. In the end, a humble service where the memory of the deceased is reflected on by friends and family who gather together are what is important.
There are many steps to the Buddhist mourning rituals. Matsugo-no-mizu, or water of the last moment is to give water to the deceased for when they arrive, or revive. Kamidana-fuji is a household shrine, which is said to keep the home pure from the impurity of death. Makura-kazari is a small table by the deseased’s bedside that holds flowers, incense, a candle and several other small items. A hanging picture, or Kakejiku is where the soul of the person arrives. It is essentially in between the spiritual world and the real world for the soul of the deceased. Kitamakura is a ritual where the head of the deceased is turned to the North, or in certain circumstances to the West. The Sakasagoto ritual is practiced when the body is prepared for the funeral, and involves the opposite of daily life. The deceased is then dressed in Shinishozoku, which is attire for eternity in the Buddhist tradition. To notify neighbors and others of the mourning period Kichu-fuda is practices where outside of the home a notice is hung. Today, Buddhist mourners typically wear black clothing, but traditionally they would have worn a white (or Mofuku) costume.
There are many other steps to a Buddhist funeral and mourning process, but the rituals vary depending on where and what type of Buddhist the deceased followed. There are many Buddhist mourning and funeral services that resemble a Catholic burial (prayers, a eulogy…). In some parts of the world, like Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Thailand, there are sometimes three ceremonies that last 45 minutes a piece.
All Buddhist traditions and sects quote from the Sutras, which are the collected sayings of the Buddha. One aspect of Buddhist mourning rituals that remain the same across the globe is the cremation of the body and prayer offerings.
Traditionally the remains of the deceased are kept in an urn in the family’s home for 35 days. The urn is placed on an altar and incense is burned for 12 hours. Visitors will come and pay respects and spend time with the family and burn incense sticks. The mourning period for the family of the deceased varies. Abstaining from entertainment or celebrations for one year, and wearing black (or sometimes, white), are just a couple customs associated with some (usually Asian-based) Buddhist mourning traditions.