Nov 30, 2023
Buddhist Funeral Traditions in Singapore
In the multicultural landscape of Singapore, where diverse religious and cultural practices coexist, Buddhist funeral customs stand out with their unique blend of spiritual depth and cultural significance. This blog aims to provide a comprehensive exploration of the core beliefs and practices of Buddhism, shedding light on the distinctive funeral rituals observed by the Buddhist community in Singapore.
Core Beliefs and Practices of Buddhism
Buddhism: A Path to Enlightenment Buddhism, unlike many other religions, doesn’t centre around a supreme god or deity. Instead, followers focus on attaining enlightenment, a state of wisdom and inner tranquillity. At the heart of this spiritual journey is the exceptional being known as Buddha, whose name translates to “enlightened.”
Through morality, meditation, and wisdom, individuals can reach enlightenment. Meditation, in particular, is seen as a practice that awakens truth, explaining why Buddhists engage in it frequently. The religion is characterized by its tolerance and dynamism, embracing a wide range of ideologies and interpretations.
Buddhism is sometimes recognized by scholars as a “way of life” or a “spiritual tradition,” highlighting its flexible nature. Central to understanding Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths, considered the principal lessons imparted by Buddha.
Believers in Buddhism accept concepts such as reincarnation, the perpetual cycle of rebirth, and karma—the law of cause and effect. Worshipping can take place in homes or temples, showcasing the diversity within the Buddhist faith.
Buddhist Funeral Services Customs
Last Rites and Ritualistic Bathing Buddhist funeral customs, while sharing similarities with other cultures, have unique aspects. The Last Rites of Amitabha, a sacred Buddhist text, advises against touching the deceased’s body until it is fully cold, as the soul doesn’t immediately depart after breathing stops.
Friends and family often engage in ritualistic bathing, washing one hand with water. The deceased is then placed in a coffin surrounded by lights, flowers, candles, incense, and a picture. Notably, the choice of clothing aligns with the deceased’s everyday attire rather than elaborate garments.
7th to 49th Day Ceremonies Buddhist funeral ceremonies can precede burial or cremation, with the latter being more common. Cremation is believed to release the soul from the body, though it’s postponed until the seventh day to ensure the spirit isn’t entirely cut off from the world.
Many Buddhists observe seven-day services for seven weeks, culminating in a final service on the 49th day after the death. Regardless of the format, Buddhist funeral services maintain simplicity, discouraging displays of wealth. Mourners typically dress in white as a mark of respect.
Annual Memorial Ceremonies Certain Buddhist traditions include annual memorial ceremonies to honour deceased loved ones. For example, Japan’s summertime ritual, o-bon, involves feasts, processions, and cultural celebrations. Families visit and tidy cemeteries, with dancers in vibrant kimonos performing group dances to invite the souls of the deceased to partake in the festivities.
Grieving in Buddhism Contrary to a common misconception, Buddhism doesn’t minimize or forbid grieving. Buddhists recognize mourning as universal and inevitable, understanding that surviving friends and relatives must learn to carry on without their loved ones. While embracing death as a natural occurrence, Buddhists acknowledge the importance of grieving as part of the human experience.
Buddhist funeral customs in Singapore are a testament to the deep philosophical roots and cultural diversity within the Buddhist community. By delving into the core beliefs, funeral rituals, and continuing remembrances, we gain a profound understanding of this ancient spiritual tradition and its harmonious integration into the cultural tapestry of Singapore.