The traditions and customs of a religion concerning the funeral and burial services can provide structure and comfort for the grieving family during the difficult time of loss. In many religions, the rituals also prepare the deceased for the life to come.

The time before death to many Buddhists is a time to comfort and soothe the mind and spirit of the one dying. By creating a positive atmosphere, the family passes on the merits of good karma to help prepare the spirit for a good rebirth and next life.

Once the Death Occurs

Once the death occurs, the moment of passing is seen as a significant religious event in the normal wheel of life’s existence. For the one dying, it marks the moment in the samsara when the transition occurs from one mode of existence to the next. It is believed that all of the experiences of karma of one’s life become activated and will dictate the next rebirth.

For the living, it is an important reminder of the temporary nature of life and a call to contemplate the purpose and practice of one’s own life. It is also an opportunity to create a positive environment in which the deceased can transfer to the next life. Many hold that the spirit of peace and goodwill that friends and family create at the time of death adds to the positive karma of the deceased.

After death, if the deceased had expressed wishes to donate organs, notification should be made within three hours to the proper authorities. The donation of organs is not seen as having a negative impact upon the spirit. In fact, such an act of kindness may add to the positive karma for the deceased.

Rather than depending upon strangers to take care of the body, family members are often encouraged to clean and dress the body of the deceased. This assures the family that the body is being handled with care and respect. No special clothes or jewelry is necessary for the funeral. The body should be dressed in clothing that the deceased would have worn on a normal day of activity.

In many traditions, the surviving family would place the deceased into the casket. Old clothes are often used to line the casket, not for the deceased to use but to absorb moisture and provide a comforting environment. The family would not need to bow or turn away from the body of the deceased. Facing the body shows respect and speaks to hope for the next incarnation.

Preparing for the Funeral

Buddhism funerals are traditionally simple and somber, showing respect to both the deceased and the surviving friends and family. The amount of money spent on the funeral should be kept to a minimum. Any funds allocated for death are encouraged to be given instead to charities and increase the good karma for the deceased.

What Should Be Done

The place where the body will be kept for the wake should be simple as well. The setting should add to the atmosphere of serenity and peace. A small altar or table is often placed in front of the casket. This setting can house a picture of the deceased. An incense burner may be used for offering candles or incense. Gifts of fruit, flowers and wreaths may be displayed in the funeral hall.

An image of the Buddha should be displayed somewhere around the casket. Some traditions allow the image to be placed inside the casket, while others promote a solitary place of prominence at the head of the casket.

In many Buddhist traditions, the casket will be open for the duration of the wake. Circumstances around the death may prohibit such observance.

Family and friends attending the wake or funeral should be dressed in plain clothing, usually of white or a light plain color. Monks are often asked to attend the funeral and offer Buddhist rites, readings, chants and sermons. If no monks are available, family members or friends may assist in conducting the services. Recordings of chants may be played, helping the mourners think about the temporary nature of life and to transfer meritorious karma to the deceased.

When Should It Be Held

A religious ceremony and service is traditionally held on the third day following the death, though exceptions are often made, depending on the circumstances of the death and the needs of the family. The services may be held in a funeral home, at the family home, or at a monastery. The family may choose to have the service be private for family and closest friends. It may also be open for the larger community to observe.

Additional memorial services are often held on the seventh, forty-ninth and one-hundredth days following the death.

How Should Respects Be Paid

Those attending the wake or funeral will want to do things to both show respect for the deceased and honor the traditions and religious customs of the family. When approaching the casket, guests should stand straight in front of the altar. It would be appropriate to bow or pause reverently with hands clasped. A moment of silence would be a meaningful way to express condolences in this setting.

Chanting will often take place during the wake and the funeral service. Guests should join in the chanting if they are knowledgeable and capable of doing so. If not, the guests should remain silent while a chanting session is taking place.

Out of respect for the Dharma, heads should be uncovered when a recitation or sermon is being given. If the monk is standing, it is appropriate to stand in response; likewise if the monk is seated, the audience should also be seated.

Final Resting State

Many of the sects and schools of Buddhism have preferred traditions and practices for the final resting state of the body. The circumstances of the death, as well as the level of commitment to the traditions, may alter the actual practice. As a rule, the choice of cremation or burial is a personal one. Consultation should be made with religious leaders for answers to specific questions.

During the funeral service, the monk will offer simple and meaningful words for the deceased and surviving family. Contemplative verses and meaningful chants are often given, emphasizing refuge and observance. Following these words, the casket is sealed and lifted into the hearse. Family members often participate in this actively, as a last opportunity to do service to the body of the deceased.


If cremation was chosen for the final resting state of the deceased, it will often take place before the funeral service. Under these conditions, the urn should be placed at the front of the room with the altar or table nearby.

If the cremation is to occur after the service, it is customary for family and friends to follow in their cars behind the hearse as the body is taken to the crematorium. Monks may be asked to offer a final blessing as the body is transferred to the professionals who will assist in the cremation. A representative of the family is given the urn the next day.


If a burial is chosen for the body, family members, followed by friends, will normally walk behind the hearse as a statement of sending off the deceased. Participants in this ritual should think about the temporary nature of life and the need for loving-kindness among the members of the family of the deceased.