Death, according to Buddhists, is part of the natural cycle of life, which includes birth, living, death, and rebirth. As a result, their customs for death are aimed towards assisting their deceased loved ones in moving to the next life, and funerals serve as a reminder of the temporary nature of our existence. As Buddhist burial practices are frequently influenced by local culture, the ceremonies performed may differ from country to country. However, some funeral rituals are common among different sects and cultures, and are thus performed at most Buddhist funeral services in Singapore.
According to Buddhist beliefs, after death, people can be reborn as an animal, a person, a celestial creature, or a demigod. Our actions in this life continuously influence how we are reborn, and this never-ending cycle is known as samsara. The only way out of samsara is to achieve Nirvana, the state of enlightenment. Buddhist funerals serve as an acute reminder of this journey and life’s impermanence.
When someone dies, Buddhists, like other religions and cultures, hold a wake, a funeral and a burial or cremation. Most funeral rites in Buddhist funeral services in Singapore take place over an odd number of days, as odd numbers are viewed as ‘becoming’, whereas even numbers are seen as ‘complete’. Choosing an odd number of days serves as a reminder that the individual’s spirit is still in transition.
Let us look at the ceremonies, customs, and rituals Singaporean Buddhists traditionally observe during a funeral service.
Preparations for the Funeral
When a person dies, they are cleansed, beautified, and dressed in fresh, clean garments, with the funeral taking place the same day or the next, depending on the circumstances.
Once the dressing is completed, the deceased is taken to the location of the wake, which is typically held over an odd number of days, such as 3, 5, or 7. Buddhist prayers and blessing ceremonies are performed on these particular days, depending on the family’s preferences or beliefs. A Buddhist monk will perform the final round of prayers and blessings before the body is laid to rest.
At the funeral wake, the body will be on display in an open casket dressed in simple attire for guests to pay their final respects. This ceremony occurs prior to the Buddhist funeral service in Singapore and allows mourners to spend time with the deceased’s friends and family, sharing memories and offering consolation. The family of the deceased will be present and sitting at the front to meet visitors, who will offer their condolences to the family before bowing at the casket as a token of respect.
According to Buddhist funeral traditions, an altar will also be present at the wake for guests to pay their respects. A portrait of the deceased will serve as the centrepiece of the altar, and it is usually decorated with candles, incense, fruits, and flowers. Photographs or statues of Lord Buddha are also placed around the casket as part of the funeral practices. The wake is a solemn and peaceful occasion, and shows of wealth and luxury are inappropriate during this ceremony.
The Buddhist funeral service is often held on the morning of the cremation or burial and is led by a monk who offers a variety of sutras (Buddhist funeral prayers) and chants, as well as reading sermons.
Guests attending the funeral will pay their respects at the casket and altar upon arrival and then take their seats for the remainder of the ceremony. Typically, a monk will guide the proceedings of a Buddhist funeral in Singapore. Everyone in the room should stand up when the monk enters the room and also make sure that their seating is lower than the monk’s.
The monk leads chants and meditations reflecting Buddhist teachings throughout the service. They also invite mourners to reflect on the circle of life and rebirth, as well as the impermanence of life. During the ceremony, family members may also read sermons and eulogies.
The ringing of bells or gongs is also a part of the funeral service. Civil or military funeral customs and other traditional rites are also permitted as long as they do not contradict the Buddhist faith.
Cremation and Burial
In Buddhism, as the physical body is considered merely a vessel for the soul, it has little significance after death. Therefore, Buddhists tend to prefer cremation, since it is thought to aid in the departure of the spirit from the body. It is customary for the family to gather in a dedicated viewing chamber to observe the cremation. The ashes are placed in an urn and will be either displayed, buried, or spread at a personal location.
If the family decides to bury the deceased, a burial ceremony will be held following the Buddhist funeral service in Singapore. As the casket is lowered to the ground, the funeral attendees turn away in respect. Several Buddhist factions practise the natural burial of the deceased.
Mourning and Remembrance
Following the funeral, the family may decide to organise a reception where relatives and friends can continue to pay their respects. While other religions may hold a single service after the death of a loved one, Buddhists typically hold multiple services throughout the mourning period. Specific dates are significant in Buddhist mourning, with certain activities and rituals taking place on the 3rd, 7th, 49th, and 100th day after the person’s death.
Buddhist mourning lasts 49 days, with Buddhist prayers for the departed done every seven days for a period of seven weeks. As a result, the 49th day following a Buddhist funeral service in Singapore is regarded as a significant occurrence. The prayers offered during this time are to assist the deceased in their journey to the afterlife.
Although the exact time varies between Buddhist traditions, rebirth is thought to occur 49 days after death in Buddhism. Some sects believe that a person’s karma dictates how quickly they will reincarnate, which can affect the mourning period after the funeral.
Families in mourning will refrain from celebratory activities for 100 days after the death of a loved one. They will organise a celebration on the 100th day to commemorate the individual’s successful transition into their new life. During the ceremony, the family will include prayers and offerings on behalf of their loved one, and they will later enjoy foods that the deceased loved.
Buddhist Funeral Services in Singapore
Most people nowadays prefer to employ funeral directors to organise Buddhist funerals rather than doing everything themselves. This is owing to their extensive exposure and familiarity with a wide range of religious and cultural practices. As these professionals can manage and coordinate all aspects of a funeral, they will alleviate some of the burdens on bereaved families.
A. LifeGrad Funeral Services LLP is a one-stop funeral services provider that has been in the business for over 15 years. We strive to create meaningful and memorable funeral services for your loved ones. Our Buddhist funeral packages in Singapore are customised to the funeral venue and can be personalised to meet the needs of the bereaved.
Our staff is always available to guide grieving families through this difficult time by providing clear and upfront information regarding funeral products and services. For more information, contact us at +65 6262 3086.