A Look into Asian Funerals: Comparing Traditions within Buddhism
Death is a universal experience that we all must face at some point in our lives. The death of a loved one is never easy, and different cultures have unique traditions and practises to help cope with the loss. In Asia, the Buddhist religion plays a significant role in funeral customs. Buddhism is an essential part of the culture and everyday life, so it's only natural that it would have a significant impact on the final rites. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the different traditions within Buddhism across Asia, from Japan to Thailand, and how these customs reflect the beliefs and values of the community.
In Japan, funerals are a solemn and formal affair. The deceased's body is placed in a casket with a photo facing up and presented with offerings of incense and flowers. People dress in black and white clothes to symbolise their sense of loss. Japanese Buddhists believe in the concept of reincarnation; hence, the funeral practises focus on the spirits of the dead. It's customary for families to make offerings of water that will sustain their loved ones during their journey to reincarnation.
China's Buddhist culture places significance on ancestor worship. Therefore, funerals are a symbolic event of celebrating the life of the deceased and ancestor veneration. There's a belief that the soul of the deceased must be sent to a heavenly paradise, which is why cremation is a popular funeral practise. Mourners wear white clothes, and the ceremony is signalled with the ringing of a bell. It's customary to burn offerings and incense to carry the spirit's blessing on their journey. Additionally, paper offerings such as money, houses, and clothing are burned as symbolic offerings for the deceased's use in the afterlife.
Vietnamese customs blend facets of Buddhism, Confucianism, and local traditions to form their funerary practises. The Vietnamese funeral begins with a wake, where the family members dress in black and white and offer incense and flowers to the deceased. Afterwards, monks lead a Buddhist chant that honours the dead's soul. The funeral procession includes people dressed in white carrying the casket to the hearse, which is usually a decorated wooden carriage. The procession is brightened with colourful flowers, umbrellas, and fans to honour the spirit of the deceased.
Thailand's Buddhist culture emphasises the idaea of merit-making and the desire to achieve good karma. The Thai funeral ceremony typically lasts for around three days. The body of the deceased is placed in a traditional casket and displayed at the family's home or temple before the cremation. Monks lead merit-making ceremonies such as chanting and processions that involve offerings of flowers, candles, and incense. The funeral procession to the temple is grand and elaborate, with dancing and music to escort the spirit of the deceased.
For more information on Asian funerals, contact a professional near you.