When considering to send a gift or donation in memory of the deceased, it is difficult to know the customs and rituals that each religion and culture may observe. What are the appropriate items to bring or send to express condolences to the grieving family in the Buddhist tradition? The type of condolence gift and amount spent is generally dependent upon the relationship shared with the deceased and family.

Sending a condolence gift is a common and appropriate way to express sympathy to friends, colleagues, clients and others. Depending on the traditions and customs observed by the individual the most traditional items include sending sympathy flowersbaked goods and desserts, fruit, dried fruit, & nuts, and assorted chocolates. These types of gift items provide both comfort and nourishment to mourning families and are a respectful way to offer condolences.

Sending a Condolence Gift

Following a death, the family gathers and often receives many visitors. One of the most customary and traditional ways to express sympathy and offer condolences is by bringing or sending food and condolence baskets to the family members of the deceased. There are several different types of food arrangements, baskets and sympathy gifts that may be sent. Appropriate food items and gift baskets include baked goods and desserts, fruit, dried fruit, & nuts, and assorted chocolates. A gift basket is generally delivered or shipped to the home of the mourning family. When a family is mourning a loss, it is common to provide support and comforting items. Additionally, those who cannot attend the funeral or memorial service may consider sending a sympathy basket or other condolence item to the home.

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Gourmet Gifts Baked Goods & Desserts Fruit Baskets Assorted Chocolates

Below are additional common ways to show respect and honor the deceased, along with appropriate items and gifts to bring or send to the bereaved.

Food, Meals and Sympathy Baskets

The appropriateness of the gift of food will depend upon the traditions followed and the circumstances and desires of the family.

The beliefs and practices of Buddhists can vary even within the same school of thought, depending upon the country or local traditions. Some traditions provide that the family supplies all food prior to the burial service. When considering sending food or a meal to a mourning family, it may be advisable to confirm the type of food that is preferred during the early days of mourning.

During the ceremonies held after the funeral services either in the home or the temple, food is served as an integral part of the rituals. It is appropriate for both Buddhists and non-Buddhists to show respect and concern by providing food to the family for use on these occasions. The seven-day period following the death is a tradition held by all Buddhists and food would be an appropriate gift at this time. The family may choose additional days of ceremony during the months to come.

In general, where gifts of food would be considered appropriate, vegetarian food is welcomed.

Food offered on behalf of the dead is known as Matakabhatta.


Flowers as a gift of honor or tribute for the deceased are usually welcomed at the home of the family or at the grave site, but are usually not appropriate at the funeral home. Calling a family member to find out about the family’s preferences is a sign of thoughtfulness and consideration. When flowers are appropriate, white flowers are the traditional Buddhist flower of mourning. Red flowers, a Buddhist symbol of joy and celebration, would not be an appropriate gift during a difficult time of mourning.

Distribution of Religious Material

It is quite common for people to bring pamphlets and booklets containing teachings of the Buddha in honor of the deceased. The material is often distributed at the funeral, grave site or cremation services to non-Buddhists. The material serves as a tribute to the dead, a means of passing on merit and karma to the deceased, and a practical way of informing others of the teachings of Buddhism.

Alms Giving

Many Buddhist traditions encourage the practice of giving alms. Almsgiving involves giving to others either financially, materially or emotionally as an act of virtue. Alms may be given in the form of money, food, medicine, and animals or property. The alms traditionally are given to the Buddhist monks or nuns by a lay Buddhist. Rather than an act of charity, Buddhist followers see a symbolic representation of the connection between the spiritual and material realms. It is a first significant step on the journey to Nirvana. The act of giving in Buddhism is called “dana.”

The practice of almsgiving is seen to be an act of virtue that earns merits. The follower of Buddhism can offer the alms on behalf of the deceased and transfer merits to the credit of the departed. This merit adds to the good karma of the deceased and assures a better circumstance for the rebirth.

The amount given would depend upon the relationship shared with the deceased and the personal circumstances of the giver. There is no set prescribed amount of money that would allow for the transfer of merit. Rather, the motive and spirit of the heart of the giver provides the virtue necessary for the transference of merit.


Buddhists may also offer donations to charitable organizations, individuals in need, or religious projects and groups in memory of the deceased. When done with a pure heart and from pure motives, the deeds can provide the deceased with more positive merits. Some bereaved families will seek to conduct a special giving service where a large group of family and friends can offer gifts on behalf of the deceased. Temple monks will assist the family in organizing and conducting the event.

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