There are many steps involved in Buddhism periods of mourning. The rituals vary tremendously depending on the sect of Buddhism followed by the deceased. Though allowing for differences and circumstances, a humble service and time of mourning reflects on a family’s dedication to the Buddha and respect for the deceased.

Types of Services: Burial & Funeral

Services of burial or cremation are considered significant spiritual experiences. Monks are traditionally present offering prayers or leading in chanting. The length and substance of the ceremony will vary. Some traditions have one service lasting about an hour, while others have three shorter services within a similar amount of time. Buddhists and non-Buddhists are invited to the ceremony.

During the service, cameras or recording devices are not generally used. Non-Buddhists can stand, pray and offer chanting if they are comfortable. It is not customary to provide contributions or bring gifts to the service.

After the ceremony, many traditions allow only the family and closest friends that are Buddhist to go to the grave site for the actual burial. As the body is buried, prayers are recited and blessings offered by the monks and priests. A similar time is shared at a cremation service as the ashes are placed into the urn and given to the family.

Mourning Traditions, Customs & Rituals

  • Matsugo-no-mizu literally means “water of the last moment” and is meant to give a drink of water for the deceased when they arrive.
  • Kamidana-fuji is a household shrine. The shrine is used for 35 days following the death and is said to keep the house pure even during the time when death reigns over the house.
  • A Kakejiku, or hanging picture, is said to be where the soul of the person will arrive. It is essentially a place of rest while the soul transitions from one life to the next.
  • The Makura-kazari is a small table placed by the deceased’s bedside. The table can hold flowers, incense, and other small and meaningful items.
  • Kitamakura is a ritual where the head of the deceased is turned either toward the North or West, depending on the specific Buddhist tradition.
  • The Sakasagoto ritual takes place as the body is being prepared for the funeral. It involves patterns that are almost opposite of normal daily life.
  • The clothing that the deceased is dressed in is known as Shinishozoku, and is said to be the clothing worn for eternity.
  • Notifying the neighbors of the death and mourning period is called Kichu-fuda where an announcement is hung on the door of the home.
  • Mourners in the Buddhist tradition typically would have worn plain white clothing, but today many have accepted the more Western tradition of a black attire to designate sorrow and respect.

Length of the Mourning Period

The actual mourning period for the family will vary, depending on the traditions of the sect or school of Buddhism and the circumstances of the family. Many have a more intense period of mourning that involves prayers, chants and other rituals performed in the home. Many traditions hold such services on the seventh day, the forty-ninth day and on the one hundredth day. Other traditions choose the seventh day, and upon the three month and one year anniversaries. The services are simple, allowing the family and friends to gather and share a spiritual experience while remembering the loved one. The actual dates are often not as critical as the gathering of the family.

Many Buddhist traditions include a ninety day mourning period for the bereaved families. There are no set customs regarding refraining from working during mourning, so returning to work is generally left up to the individual. Returning to a regular social schedule is more restrictive during the three months and will depend upon the traditions of the Buddhist sect or school and the circumstances of the family.

There are some rituals of mourning that are less prominent that may last up to a year after the death. Some Asian strands of Buddhism will encourage the family to wear black or white clothing for the entire year. Others prescribe that the family should refrain from taking part in any entertainment or celebration for the year.


Setting aside a day to remember departed souls is not a specific Buddhist term or tradition, but it has become a time for followers to set aside a special day for the entire community to remember departed loved ones. Traditionally family and friends will go to cemeteries on Cheng Beng or All Souls’ Day and clean and freshen the grave site. Flowers and statues are common to adorn the cemetery, remembering the loved one and showing respect for the deceased and descendants. The ritual also allows those of the younger generation to demonstrate a respect for ancestors and their traditions.


If the family chooses cremation rather than burial, the remains of the deceased are kept in an urn in the home for 35 days. The urn is placed on an altar where incense is burned. Some traditions allow the family to keep the urn following the 35 day mourning period. Others encourage the ashes to be scattered, usually in a body of water or at a location of significance in the family’s life.

Comforting the Bereaved

It is appropriate to visit the home of the family to offer comfort and support. Many traditions hold to a seven day period after the death known as “merit transference.” Gifts of virtue and the offering of prayers can be given on behalf of the deceased adding to the good karma surrounding the spirit of the departed. Good energy for the deceased can generate a positive circumstance for rebirth.