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All You Need to Know About Buddhist Funerals

Japanese funeral ceremony

In the complex fabric of human existence, few moments possess the profound capacity to evoke emotions as deeply as bidding farewell to a cherished individual. When it comes to Buddhism, this departure goes beyond just the passing of time and enters the realm of spiritual depth. Buddhist funerals present a moment to honour and commemorate the life of the person who has passed away, while simultaneously serving as a reminder of life’s fleeting nature. Emerging from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, renowned as the Buddha, these funeral services embody vital principles such as impermanence, karma, and the pursuit of enlightenment. 

Whether you are a practising Buddhist seeking a deeper insight into your own heritage or simply intrigued by the assortment of funeral customs around the world, this article provides a comprehensive overview of the rituals, customs, and symbols that accompany the departure of a loved one in the Buddhist tradition.

Understanding the rituals and beliefs of Buddhist funerals

Understanding the rituals and beliefs of Buddhist funerals

The rituals and beliefs associated with Buddhist funeral services are intricate and reflective of the core principles of Buddhism. Within each step lies a deep and meaningful purpose, reflecting the rich tradition and belief that shapes these ceremonies. In this section, we explore the essence of a Buddhist funeral, exploring its purpose and customs.

The purpose of a Buddhist funeral 

Buddhists believe that life is a continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, with the quality of one’s present life shaping their future existence. This cyclical nature of life is driven by karma – the accumulated actions, both positive and negative, that influence the trajectory of one’s journey through samsara. Such a belief spans across all forms of Buddhism and creates the foundation for Buddhist funeral customs.

The rituals and practices performed during a Buddhist funeral are intended to assist the deceased in their journey by creating a positive environment and generating good karma. Through prayers, offerings, and meditation, Buddhists seek to ensure that the departing soul is met with compassion, tranquillity, and a favourable path in their subsequent life.

Buddhist funeral customs 

Buddhist funeral customs can vary based on the specific branch of Buddhism practised, regional traditions, and cultural influences. In Singapore, two main types of Buddhist funeral customs are prevalent: Mahayana Buddhist Funeral Customs and Theravada Buddhist Funeral Customs.

Mahayana Buddhism, which includes traditions like Zen, Pure Land that is widely practised in China, emphasises the concept of compassion and the belief in bodhisattvas – enlightened beings who postpone their own nirvana to help others achieve enlightenment. Mahayana funerals entail extensive rituals over days, featuring pivotal elements like chanting, meditation, and offerings. Chanting sutras guides the departed through transition, while meditation generates positive energy for their journey. Additionally, offerings such as incense, candles, and food, symbolise respect and the transference of positive karma.

On the other hand, Theravada Buddhism, prevalent in countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand, places a strong emphasis on individual enlightenment and the teachings of the historical Buddha. Theravada funerals tend to be more subdued compared to Mahayana ones. Common practices include offering alms to monks, recitation of Buddhist scriptures, and sharing merits with the deceased. The merit-sharing ritual involves dedicating the positive karma generated through good deeds, prayers, and offerings to the departed. This is believed to aid the deceased in their journey towards a better rebirth.

The key moments of monk chanting

The commencement of the funeral sees the resonance of monks chanting on the very first day. As family and loved ones gather to pay their respects and bid farewell to the departed, the chanting sets a tone of reverence and reflection. It serves as a gentle reminder of the impermanence of life and the interconnectedness of all beings. As the funeral rites draw to a close, the last night before the final goodbye is marked by another session of monk chanting. This poignant moment provides an opportunity for contemplation and the sharing of blessings. 

The pinnacle of the chanting occurs on the funeral day itself. As family and friends gather to bid a final farewell to the departed, the monk’s resonating voice is filled with compassion, guiding the departed through the intricate pathways of the afterlife.

The resting place

Upon arriving at the crematorium or burial ground, the blessings of the monks and the energy of the chanting infuse the atmosphere with sacredness. For those destined for cremation, the monk’s presence assures a gentle transition of the earthly remains into ashes, symbolising the impermanent nature of existence. In the case of those embarking on a burial, the monk’s chants evoke a sense of unity between the living and the departed, extending solace and support.

Mourning period 

The mourning period following a Buddhist funeral is a significant aspect of the process. The duration of the mourning period typically spans 49 days, aligning with the belief in rebirth within the six realms of Buddhist philosophy. During this period, it is common practice to continue offering prayers and conduct Buddhist blessing rites every seven days up till the 49th day of the passing of the deceased, culminating in a final ceremony. These services involve offerings, prayers, and the sharing of merits, with the intention of nurturing the departed soul and assisting them in navigating the complexities of samsara.

Essential procedures to follow when planning a Buddhist funeral

Incense sticks burning

Buddhist funerals are rooted in ancient customs aimed at guiding the departed on their spiritual path. Keep reading as we delve into the essential procedures to follow when planning a Buddhist funeral, each step imbued with profound significance.

Funeral arrangements

Upon a loved one’s passing, the family’s first task is to commence funeral arrangements. This involves reaching out to a Buddhist organisation or a funeral service that specialises in handling these rituals. When considering Buddhist funeral options, delve into their background – inquire about their familiarity with Buddhist practices, the quality of funeral caterers enlisted, and their collaborations with monks. Doing so will help ensure a meaningful departure for a loved one, while also providing peace of mind during a difficult time.

Learn more: Family’s Financial Concern | Confidence Funeral Services

Setting up the altar 

The altar is the heart of a Buddhist funeral and serves as a focal point for prayers, offerings, and remembrance. Traditionally, the altar is adorned with an image or statue of the Buddha, along with candles, incense, flowers, and fruits. These offerings represent the impermanence of life, reminding everyone of the transient nature of existence. The presence of the Buddha’s image signifies enlightenment and guides the departed on their spiritual journey. Hence, it is important to ensure that the altar is positioned in an area of respect, away from disruptions and noise.

Viewing and paying respects

People attending the funeral usually present incense at the altar, where they place joss sticks and perform three bows. The family’s representatives will be present by the altar, acknowledging the presence of guests with bows as a gesture of thankfulness. Nonetheless, it is perfectly acceptable for visitors to politely decline partaking in this ritual due to religious or personal grounds. Instead, they can engage in a quiet moment of contemplation followed by a bow as a general sign of respect.

Do’s and Don’ts of attending a Buddhist funeral

A red traditionally decorated bowl contains burnt incense sticks

The passing of a loved one is a solemn occasion that carries significant meaning in Buddhist culture. This section explores some Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind when attending a Buddhist funeral, ensuring that you honour the traditions and provide comfort to the grieving family.

Dress appropriately

One of the fundamental etiquettes to uphold when attending a Buddhist funeral is to adhere to the appropriate dress code. Dressing modestly and conservatively is a sign of respect for the deceased, the family, and the religious tradition. Typically, subdued colours such as black, white, or grey are the preferred choices for attire. These colours symbolise mourning and reflection, allowing attendees to blend in and honour the sombre atmosphere. Avoid flashy or attention-grabbing outfits, as they can be seen as disrespectful and distracting. Instead, opt for clothing that mirrors your appreciation of the event’s gravity and your intention to extend respect to the mourning family. 

Avoid inappropriate behaviour 

Inappropriate behaviour can disrupt the serene and contemplative atmosphere at Buddhist funerals, causing unnecessary discomfort to the grieving family and other attendees. Avoid engaging in loud conversations, making excessive noise, or displaying behaviour that might be perceived as disrespectful, such as public displays of affection. 

It is also particularly crucial to maintain a reverent attitude during the various Buddhist ritual ceremonies throughout the funeral proceedings. These ceremonies hold deep spiritual significance for the family and are integral to helping the departed soul find peace in the afterlife. Show your respect by remaining quiet and attentive during these moments, allowing the rituals to unfold without disruption. 

A gesture of support: Offering condolence money

Hands pass the white envelope to the other hands

Presenting condolence money, known as ‘pek kim’ or ‘bojin’, to the grieving family is a compassionate gesture that holds significant cultural importance. These heartfelt contributions serve the purpose of assisting in covering the expenses associated with the funeral arrangements. Additionally, the act of giving condolence money not only offers practical assistance but also conveys your empathy and respect for the bereaved family during their time of loss. 

While there are no set rules, your relationship with the family and your own financial circumstances can guide your decision in determining an appropriate sum. Typically offered in a white envelope, it is equally acceptable to place the funds directly into the designated condolence money box positioned at the funeral wake’s reception table. Alternatively, sending condolence money via convenient electronic platforms like PayNow or PayLah has become increasingly prevalent. This modern approach allows individuals to uphold the tradition of offering condolences, even from afar.

Don’t disrespect altar offerings

The altar of a Buddhist funeral is usually adorned with various items, such as flowers, candles, incense, and photographs of the deceased. These offerings are made to provide comfort and guide the departed soul on its journey. Hence, treat the altar with the utmost respect and refrain from touching or moving any items without permission. If you’re unsure about the proper protocol when interacting with the altar, it’s best to observe and follow the lead of those who are more familiar with the customs. By doing so, you ensure that your actions align harmoniously with the essence of the occasion, underscoring your sensitivity and respect for the rituals involved.

Do stay for a while

Staying for an appropriate duration at a Buddhist funeral is a way to express your empathy and solidarity with the grieving family, regardless of your level of acquaintance with the deceased. This gesture is especially meaningful as it underscores the value of human connections, and the power of collective empathy. By dedicating your time, even briefly, you leave an indelible impact on the bereaved family, offering a steadfast reminder that they are not alone on their journey through grief.

Refrain from eating non-vegetarian food

Food Industrial Banquet Catering Service

Buddhist customs are deeply rooted in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, who emphasised ethical and spiritual values to guide individuals towards enlightenment and liberation from suffering. Among these values, compassion, non-violence, and mindful living are principles that shape the way Buddhists approach life and death. Abstaining from meat during a Buddhist funeral aligns with these principles, as it demonstrates reverence not only for the deceased but also for all sentient beings. 

Take your leave discreetly

Guests wishing to take their leave from the funeral proceedings are requested to do so discreetly. Prior to leaving, it’s recommended to inform one of the hosts. Keep in mind to avoid departing during significant rites or sermons to minimise disruptions. 

In the case of a Buddhist or Taoist funeral, you might observe containers holding red threads placed on each table. These threads are traditionally believed to ward off negative influences and spirits. Guests are encouraged to loosely tie one thread around their finger, and can be removed and discarded before returning home. 

As part of traditional Chinese customs, attendees are also expected to ritually cleanse themselves using water infused with pomelo leaves or assorted flowers to symbolise the purification of bad luck. Modern funeral service providers have made this practice more accessible for guests by providing basins of flower-infused water near the exit of the funeral area. This allows departing guests to participate in the cleansing tradition by either dabbing their face or rinsing their hands.

Questions you may have

List of question for Buddhism

We conclude this guide with some additional questions you may have surrounding Buddhist funerals.

Do Buddhists believe in God?

Buddhism is a distinct religious philosophy that stands apart from the concept of a singular god or deity. Unlike the physical representation of a god such as in religions like Christianity or Islam, Buddhism is rooted in a spiritual framework that encompasses meditation and the cultivation of wisdom. 

How much does a Buddhist funeral cost in Singapore?

The typical cost of a Buddhist funeral amounts to $5,988 for a 3-day funeral arrangement and $6,988 for a 5-day funeral arrangement. That said, it’s important to note that prices can change over time and can vary greatly based on various factors. To get an accurate estimate, we recommend getting in touch with funeral service providers in Singapore to inquire about their packages and pricing. Keep in mind that the most appropriate and respectful choice should be made based on the deceased’s wishes, family preferences, and available budget. 

Do Buddhists practise burial for deceased individuals?

Yes, Buddhists do practise burial for deceased individuals. The choice between burial and cremation can vary based on a combination of factors, including diverse Buddhist traditions and pragmatic aspects. In the context of Singapore, the scarcity of available land has significantly shaped prevailing attitudes, leading the majority of Buddhists to lean towards cremation. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that some environmentally-conscious Buddhists may choose to opt for burial as a more eco-friendly alternative to cremation, as cremation is often associated with carbon emissions.

Can non-Buddhists attend Buddhist funerals

Certainly, non-Buddhists are typically invited to participate in Buddhist funerals as a gesture of honour towards the departed and their kin. However, it’s recommended to approach this with cultural sensitivity by familiarising yourself with the specific customs and rituals observed during the event. This approach showcases genuine respect for the beliefs and practices of the bereaved, contributing to a harmonious atmosphere during the funeral proceedings.

Can I bring children to a Buddhist funeral?

Bringing children to a Buddhist funeral should be approached with caution due to the sombre and solemn nature of the event. If you choose to bring them, it’s important to first gauge their age and understanding, and then have a thoughtful conversation about the purpose of the funeral and the importance of behaving respectfully. Keep in mind that while some children might be able to grasp the significance of the occasion, others might find it overwhelming or confusing. Quiet distractions and supervision such as taking them on occasional walks can aid them in processing their emotions, fostering an inclusive and empathetic environment for both the children and the grieving family.

Moreover, children may experience a strong emotional reaction to the loss of a loved one, often expressed through tears. Providing comfort and understanding to your children during this time is crucial in conveying the validity of their emotions and the normalcy of the grieving process.

What flowers can I send to a Buddhist funeral?

Funeral flowers are often used as an embodiment of condolences. However, choosing the right funeral flowers are crucial, especially in the context of a Buddhist funeral. The types and colours of flowers send poignant messages to the recipient. Thus, it is important to avoid making the wrong choice and possibly offending the mourning family. 

In Buddhism, the customary funeral flowers are predominantly white and yellow. White flowers embody not only purity but also the concept of liberation, signifying the release from the present life to embrace rebirth or enlightenment. Likewise, yellow blooms mirror the journey of the soul towards enlightenment. However, one colour to avoid entirely is red, as red signifies joy and festivity, emotions that stand in contrast to the sombre nature of funerals. 

Common choices for funeral flowers at Buddhist funerals include chrysanthemums, lilies, and lotuses. These flowers embody notions of tranquillity, purity, and liberation. Other appropriate options also include carnations and orchids.


In conclusion, Buddhist funerals are a profound and intricate blend of spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions that provide solace and guidance for both the departed and the living. From the tranquil rituals to the symbolic offerings, every aspect of a Buddhist funeral carries deep significance, offering a path towards understanding and acceptance of the cycle of birth and death. As we’ve explored the various components, rituals, and practices associated with Buddhist funerals, it becomes distinctly apparent that these funerals transcend mere ceremonies; they are a way to honour the deceased, seek spiritual enlightenment, and find comfort in the face of loss.

If you’re seeking guidance and assistance in arranging a meaningful Buddhist funeral for your loved one, contact the team of experienced funeral directors at Confidence Funeral to assist with navigating through this delicate time. From the arrangement of rituals to the handling of logistics, our expertise ensures that you can focus on commemorating your loved one’s life while being supported by a team that values tradition and empathy. Reach out today to learn more about the services available and how we can help you create a heartfelt Buddhist funeral that honours your loved one’s memory in a meaningful way.




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