Buddhist Funeral Service: Customs, Traditions and Rites to Know Of

As we go through life, funerals are something we eventually witness, attend, or unfortunately participate in. These events often come with much confusion, discomfort and perhaps, even a general sense of loss.

Our four-part series will provide you with the answers you’re looking for, by delving into the funeral customs, traditions and etiquettes of Singapore’s four major religious groups. In this first part of the series, we’ll explore the ins and outs of Buddhist funeral traditions, customs and rites. Read on to find out more!

What is a Buddhist funeral?

In a country where the Chinese ethnic group is the majority, we’ve all seen our fair share of ‘Chinese’ funerals. These Chinese funerals typically fall into either of two categories—Buddhist or Taoist.

Buddhism has many denominations under its umbrella, and this often determines the manner in which the funerals are conducted. Most Buddhist funerals have monks onsite to offer prayers and meditation.

All About Buddhist Funeral Service

Buddhist funeral traditions

So, what exactly is the essence of a Buddhist funeral? Well, let’s take a look at some of the traditions!

Upon entering a Buddhist funeral, you’ll almost always spot an altar with fruits, candles and the deceased’s portrait, alongside objects that honour them on display. You’ll also see a Buddha statue or motif either on the altar or near the enclosed area surrounding the deceased.

All About Buddhist Funeral Service

Buddhist funeral setup with Buddha statue displayed on the altar and motifs of Buddhist deities and sutras on the backdrop

Aside from these Buddhist customs that are more visual, you may also come across monks reading the sutras and reciting chants. Some families may opt to have monks invited throughout the course of the wake, while others may prefer to have them only at certain points of the wake.

A procession follows at the end of the wake, where family members of the deceased trail behind the hearse containing the casket. They do this for a short distance before making their way to the cremation or burial site. This procession symbolises the last journey and send-off of the deceased.

While funerals traditionally contain more sombre connotations, Chinese customs do incorporate a slightly more celebratory tone if the deceased is above 100 years of age. In such a context, the family serves what is known as longevity peach buns to celebrate the long and prosperous life lived by the deceased.

Longevity peach buns - All About Buddhist Funeral Service

Longevity peach buns

Buddhist funeral etiquette

You might ask, do these traditions extend to us as guests at a wake? Are there things we should take note of when attending a Buddhist funeral?

While most of the Buddhist traditions are specific to those who are directly involved in the wake (i.e. the family of the deceased), it’s always courteous and respectful for us as guests to familiarise ourselves with the traditions.

For Buddhist funerals, family members are usually dressed in white. For guests, darker colours are often adhered to and of course, red is to be avoided (as this is a colour that’s often associated with celebratory occasions within the Chinese ethnic group).

It’s understandable that some of us may be averse to offering joss sticks, whether due to religious or personal reasons. Offering a simple bow or moment of silence when viewing the deceased are viable forms of showing one’s respect as well.

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Other typical forms of expressing sympathy and condolence are through the giving of baijin (condolence money) and the gifting of sympathy stands (whether floral or LED). If you’re intending to gift the bereaved family LED sympathy stands, do be sure to engage a licensed LED wreath vendor as Singapore’s government has recently tightened the rules surrounding the display of such stands.

These days, it’s also becoming more popular for funerals to feature wishing trees and memory books, where guests can leave condolence messages and share fond anecdotes of the deceased.

Wishing tree and memory book

Wishing tree and memory book provided by the Direct Funeral Services team

After all, what better way to honour the legacy of those who are no longer with us than to remember the beautiful moments that we once shared with them?

What other aspects of a Buddhist funeral in Singapore would you like us to explore? Drop us your suggestion via our Instagram @directfuneralservices! In the meantime, stay tuned for the second of our four-part series where we explore the customs, traditions and rites of Catholic funerals.