Funeral Rites Across Different Cultures: Buddhism

Originating 2,500 years ago in India, Buddhism is one of the world’s largest religions.  Buddhists believe that the human life is a cycle of suffering and rebirth, and that meditation, good behavior, and spiritual and physical labor are the ways to achieve a state of enlightenment (nirvana).  Based on the teachings of the Buddha, or “Awakened One,” Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to insight into the true nature of reality.

Buddhist tradition suggests that once the person has died, his or her body should not be touched or disturbed in any way for at least four hours.  This is because Buddhists believe the soul does not leave the body immediately after breathing stops.  The body must be kept cold until it can be washed and prepared for burial or cremation.  The deceased is not dressed in fancy clothes, but the everyday clothes he or she normally wore.

Typically, the body is presented in a simple open casket allowing loved ones to say goodbye.  Mourners bring candles, fruit, flowers, and other offerings, and take turns lighting incense and ringing gongs.  Buddhist monks may lead the funeral ceremony, where they will read sermons and chant appropriate sutras (prayers).  Guests are expected to pay their respects with a slight bow as a show of honor and respect.

Death for a Buddhist is a natural and inevitable process, but also a smooth and peaceful one.

Woodlawn continues to be a non-sectarian cemetery without a specific religious affiliation.