Buddhist Funeral in Singapore – Customs, Rites and Traditions

Singapore is a rare and precious example of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society where people live harmoniously together. People of all faiths live, work and even worship together in our city.

When it comes to religion, Singapore is incredibly diverse with Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, Muslims, and also a portion of non-religious people. That being said, one of the most widely followed religions is Buddhism and its traditions and beliefs can be seen not only in everyday life but during its final moments as well.

If you want to know more about Buddhist funeral customs, Buddhist funeral rituals, and Buddhist funeral traditions, read on.


How does Buddhism Differ from Other Religions?

During the long history of Buddhist traditions and culture, a great number of different branches, or “schools” as they are called, have been formed, all with their own set of beliefs and traditions. The most common school of Buddhism in Singapore today is Mahayana which uses Sanskrit as its main language for conveying the importance of compassion, wisdom, and respect in life and what awaits after.

One teaching that connects all schools of thought and serves as the fundamental principle for Buddhist funerals is reincarnation. After a person passes, their soul finds another vessel and lives on in an endless cycle called samsara. There is only one way to stop the process of reincarnation and that is by achieving enlightenment or nirvana.

Another essential part of Buddhist faith is believing in karma. Karma represents the idea that your actions in your current life have great influence over your next life. Your fortune or misfortune is dictated by your past self which is why you should always treat others with kindness and live your life honourably.

These beliefs also shaped Buddhist funeral traditions in Singapore.


What is a Buddhist Funeral?

Buddhist funerals are generally conducted when the deceased held a Buddhist faith, or when the family members of the deceased choose to undergo Buddhist funeral traditions.

A Buddhist funeral can take place in the family’s home, an outdoor location reserved by a local funeral service provider, or at a funeral parlour. Another common location would be void decks under HDB blocks.

funeral at hdb void deck

A Buddhist monk serves as the officiant and is there to help the soul pass on from its previous host to the next through prayers and chants. An experienced funeral director will usually coordinate and curate the whole funeral service and its ceremonies. He is there to oversee the whole process and provide comfort and assistance to the deceased’s loved ones at the same time.

In most cases, after a Buddhist funeral, the body will be sent to the crematorium for cremation.

As we have already mentioned, although there are some who do not associate themselves with any religion during their daily lives, many non-religious families opt for a Buddhist funeral service during the end of life. Buddhist funeral rites often offer peace and serenity to those in grief and help alleviate some of the pain and sorrow.


What is the Buddhist Funeral Procedure?

Before a person passes away, some may choose to plan their own funeral. If they feel like their time will soon come or if they simply want to make the process easier for their families, they can meet with a funeral director to discuss the details of the funeral beforehand.

When death occurs, the deceased will be cleansed, beautified and clothed in fresh clean clothes. The funeral is then set up the day the deceased passes away or the next day, depending on circumstances.

The deceased will be brought to the wake venue to hold the funeral service, typically held over an odd number of days, such as three, five or seven days. During the period of the wake, friends and relatives can come and visit any time to pay respects and offer condolences.

Depending on each family’s preference or beliefs, some may opt for Buddhist prayers and blessing rites to be done on the first, third, fifth and seventh day of the funeral, while others opt to do it only on the first and seventh day.

In addition, a Buddhist monk will do another round of prayers and blessings before moving off for cremation.

Funeral directors at Embrace Funeral Services will curate the funeral service for the deceased as well as the family, including advising on whether to opt for cremation or burial services, and also on matters like the final resting place of ashes settlement, etc.


Common Buddhist Funeral Traditions

In Singapore, if a Buddhist funeral is held at a void deck, yellow and white tentage is set up over the entire area or around the casket. White symbolises purity while yellow symbolises enlightenment and sympathy.

buddhist funeral yellow and white tentage at hdb void deck

During a Buddhist funeral wake, a portrait of the deceased along with flowers, fruit, incense, and Buddha statues or images are placed in front of a casket. Vegetarian food is usually served at a Buddhist funeral. In Singapore, the burning of paper effigies is optional, depending on the wishes of the family.

It is also common practice to continue to offer prayers and conduct Buddhist blessing rites every seven days up till the 49th day of the passing of the deceased. In addition, it is also common practice to conduct prayers and Buddhist rites on the 100th day of the passing.

Some believe that karma influences the resurrection process, and that accumulating good karma and merits for the deceased will help them in their journey in the afterlife.

It is for this reason that before and after the death of a loved one, their friends and families will try to do good deeds and conduct more prayers and blessing rites to help the departed gain merits. Friends and families may also do good deeds or contribute to charity in the name of the deceased to redirect the merits to the deceased.


Common Buddhist Funeral Etiquette

These are some dos and don’ts based on common Buddhist funeral customs.

It is recommended for friends to inform the family before visiting the wake.

It is appropriate to send a sympathy card, floral wreaths, blankets, or condolences monies.

It is common for family members and close friends to help with funeral expenses by offering condolence money.

When arriving at a funeral, visitors can approach the altar to say a few words of blessings and make a prayer. Paying your respects with joss sticks is a common practice but you can also say a prayer and bow as well if the situation allows otherwise. Any respectful gesture is appreciated.

What to Wear to a Buddhist Funeral?

Is there a Buddhist funeral dress code? When picking out your attire, avoid colourful and flashy outfits.

Guests should try to wear dull coloured clothing. Jewellery of any kind can also be viewed as flashy and disrespectful, so try to avoid wearing them to a Buddhist funeral.

Buddhist Funeral Prayers and Chants

When the Buddhist monks start their chanting and praying, usually only the family members are required to join in. It is optional for others.

If you would like to join in the Buddhist prayers, scriptures booklets will be provided to guide you along. If you do not wish to join in the prayers, you should remain respectfully silent until the end of the rituals.

In general, there are not many strict rules that guests are expected to follow when attending a Buddhist funeral. For the most part, you should just act humble and be respectful. The officiant will offer cues about when you should sit or stand during the rituals and the funeral director is present if you have any questions about how you should act.


The Role of a Funeral Director

A funeral director, or funeral undertaker, is a professional in charge of every aspect of the funeral ceremony – from preparing a wake to making arrangements with funeral parlours, crematoriums, and cemeteries.

He curates the whole funeral process, from the beginning until the final farewell ceremony before heading off to conduct the cremation service at the crematorium. By planning and curating the schedule and flow of the entire funeral program, the funeral director helps to make the whole process more manageable for grieving families.

Nowadays, it is extremely common for people to leave the funeral director in charge of Buddhist funeral services since they possess vast knowledge of various religions and cultures and are more than capable of providing a proper sendoff for the departed.

Do You Need Buddhist Funeral Services?

Embrace Funeral Services believes in providing dignified and meaningful funeral rites so that a loved one’s soul can be guided well in the afterlife.

To us, it is more than just a simple ceremony. We aspire to help grieving families show their final acts of love and affection upon their loved one who has departed so that the healing process can begin and closure can be achieved.

We will provide you with the essential items needed for holding a proper Buddhist funeral ceremony, as well as make necessary arrangements such as transferring the body into our care, booking the crematorium, and post-funeral services.

Find out more information on our Buddhist funeral services.

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