Friday, January 8, 2010

By Bariel Tan

Buddhist funeral rites and rituals are replete with religious significance for Buddhists. The funeral ceremony, according to Buddhism, symbolizes the setting free of the deceased person's soul, which was trapped in the futility of existence, and its quest for a new life thereafter.

The Buddhist funeral services which conclude with cremation in most cases, are carried out by Buddhist monks with the aid of the bereaved family. When a person has passed away, Buddhist monks recite verses from scriptures to liberate the good energies from the soul. To avoid any decomposition in case of a late cremation, the deceased's body is prepared cautiously while the chanting is going on. Once the body is washed, it is placed along with candlesticks, bouquets and incense in a coffin along with a photograph of the deceased person.

If the funeral is delayed by some days for distant relatives to bid their final goodbyes, the monks go to the deceased person's home daily and recite verses from the Abhidharma, an important Buddhist holy scripture.

The monks finish the final rites on the funeral day and the head monk gives a speech mentioning the good deeds and actions done by the deceased and consoling the grieving family members and friends. Other rituals like wrapping a white cloth around the coffin during the religious incantation and Pansakula, a ritual of delivering virtues and blessings to the soul of the deceased are also performed.

Just before the cremation, a close member of the family is requested to say something about the deceased person. After the cremation, a special meal is arranged for the people gathered at the funeral.

Although some modifications in traditions can be seen, these are the broad ritualistic procedures carried out during funeral ceremonies by followers in countries like Tibet, Thailand and China, where a huge number of Buddhists reside.

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