It is important to understand the various customs and rituals when planning for a Buddhist funeral. One important aspect that plays a big role in these customs is the idea of reincarnation. Death is viewed as a transitory state from one life to the next that brings the soul ever closer to Nirvana. In this article, we look at the top five Buddhist funeral customs in Singapore that ought to be kept in mind when planning a traditional Buddhist funeral.
1. Funeral Space for Buddhism
Buddhist funeral Services Singapore takes place in a funeral home and not in a temple. The whole funeral is quite simple and dignified and is held within a week after death. The viewing takes place for a night amidst incense and candlelight. It is usually held the evening before the funeral. In Singapore, most Chinese Buddhist will book a funeral venue for the ceremony to be conducted. It can be near the house area of the deceased or it can also be held in Funeral parlour. Commonly seen at HDB void decks, tentages are often a set-up for the funeral services to be conducted. Such an arrangement requires booking of space with the housing board managed by the Singapore Government.
2. Buddhist Funeral Service
In Singapore, Buddhist Funeral customs and rites are often led by monks. During the service, the family sits nearer to the front, greeting all those who come to honour the deceased. Mourners go to the casket to approach the casket quietly with their hands folded in a praying position and show their respect for the dead by bowing in front of the altar. A portrait of the deceased is usually placed at the altar, in front of the casket. Visitors of the wake should approach the altar and pay their last respect and condolences. Monks would then led the funeral ceremony with prayers and food offerings such as fruits and vegetables. A period of meditation takes place during the ceremony to reflect on the life of the departed. The entire Buddhist funeral service usually lasts between three to five days.
3. Funeral Rites and customs
During the cremation ceremony which takes place on the morning of the burial/cremation, monks are invited as per Buddhist funeral traditions. They chant verses, eulogies and give sermons thereby aiding the family with the whole ceremony. Organ donation is not prohibited since it is seen as a way of helping others. However, the medical practitioner is expected to wait for at least three to four days before the autopsy since it is believed that the soul departs the body during this period. While embalming is a common custom for Buddhist Funeral in Singapore, mourners are advised to wear white as it symbolizes sympathy and grief. Since the traditional Buddhist belief is that it takes 49 days before reincarnation of the deceased, prayers will be conducted by the same monk. Buddhist funeral etiquette is similar to that of Taoist funeral in Singapore, where in both religions, it is believed that after the 49th day, the deceased will reincarnate. The 49th day, Buddhist funeral prayer will be conducted by the monk with a series of chanting. Whereas, Taoist funeral customs are led by priests, a Taoist ritual, known as “Gong Teck” which consists of burning of paper house.
4. Burial and Cremation
Chinese Buddhists allow the families to either bury or cremate the dead as per their family custom. Once the ceremonies get over, the casket bearing the dead is taken to the burial site which is often on a hillside via a funeral procession. In Singapore, land burial site is at Lim Chu Kang Cemetery. While the casket is being lowered into the ground, it is customary that the family looks away as a show of respect. During cremation, it is a traditional custom for the family to witness the cremation. In Singapore, regardless of land burial or cremation, post-funeral rituals and chanting must be performed by a monk.
5. Proper Buddhist Funeral Etiquettes
In Singapore, mourners can either send sympathy cards or white flowers to the family after learning of the death of their loved one. Chinese customs include giving condolence money to help ease the funeral spendings of the affected family. However, anything red should be avoided. Gifts, donations, or food can also be sent as a show of respect and charity. During the funeral, it is expected to bring flowers to present to the family as a show of honour and respect. These should be placed near the altar. Mourners are also expected to join in the chanting and meditation that takes place during the funeral and should refrain from documenting the ceremony.
These are the five most unique aspects of Buddhist funeral customs. With this information, you can now understand how to prepare for the Buddhist funeral and follow the etiquettes that go along with it.