How does Buddhism see death

Buddhist burial - an overview of the procedure and costs

In Germany there are around a quarter of a million people who live according to the Buddhist faith. This religious community has many different currents. Despite the diversity and the distance to the home countries, some burial rituals have also established themselves in this country. The Buddhist burial in Germany is characterized by the fact that the traditional rituals of the respective countries of origin are mostly simplified and abbreviated. Especially in the traditionally long farewell to the deceased, the funeral laws of the federal states are particularly restrictive. In contrast to Jewish and Islamic burials, both burial and cremation are permitted in Buddhism.

© Anthony Shaw -

Death - a new beginning

The focus of Buddhist burial rituals is belief in Samsara, the painful and eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. Buddhists believe that only the body dies and the soul continues to exist in another form of existence. She leaves the old body after death and looks for a new one. In which area of ​​existence the soul will be reborn in the next life, that decides karma, a spiritual concept. According to this, one can influence whether one is reborn in the world of humans, gods and demigods (good karma) or in the world of animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings (bad karma) during one's lifetime through good or bad deeds, thoughts, intentions and longings. Positive thoughts in the dying process also influence the future realm of existence.

According to Buddhist belief, a person can be reborn up to 500 times. The ultimate goal is to free yourself from the seemingly endless cycle of rebirths and that Nirvana as a paradisiacal state of perfection and redemption. The "Noble Eightfold Path“As part of the Buddha's teaching is a practical guide on the way there.

Occurrence of death

If a member of the Buddhist faith dies, he should be cared for by people whom the dying person likes and who are pleasant to him. Encouraging and positive words should help the dying person develop healing thoughts. The last impressions and thoughts influence that karma and decide in what form the rebirth will take place.

According to Buddhist teaching, a person's body consists of 5 elements (earth - water - fire - air - emptiness), which dissolve into one another in the process of dying. Before, during and after death, the recitation of the Buddha's name plays Amitabha by the dying person and the people around him. It should make the dying person aware of his wish, in the Pure Land Sukhavati (the land of the Buddha) to be born again. According to tradition, the deceased must not be touched for up to 3 days after death. It is believed that the process of dying is not yet complete and could be disturbed by touch. In Germany, the laying out time is often shortened due to local conditions and legislation (source). The body was then washed without any fixed rules, either at home by the relatives, in the hospital or in the funeral home.

Buddhist burial rituals

The burial rituals in Buddhism are not designed as uniformly as in Christianity or in Judaism. In Buddhist countries, burial ceremonies are an interplay of relatives and monks. You recite Sutras (Speeches of the Buddha) and the monks give lectures. In Germany, Buddhist burial rites consist of a speech, the recitation of texts and meditation in which the Buddhist attitude towards death and rebirth is expressed. Monks are rarely present in this country - there are simply too few of them in Germany. (Source). During the ceremony, the deceased is always the focus, but not the family.

Buddhist burial - The funeral service

The funeral service takes place in the hall of the cemetery, whereby any Christian symbols that may be present do not interfere. In some cities there is also Wats (religious centers) where funeral ceremonies can also be held. The coffin or urn is laid out for the ceremony. A gong strike initiates the celebration. In addition, an altar is set up, which is decorated with a Buddha figure, incense sticks, flowers and offerings (e.g. cigarettes, rice, fruit). The ceremony itself traditionally consists of hymns of praise, prostration and recitation of mantras, which are supposed to reflect the worship of Buddha. There follows a funeral devotion in front of the memorial altar.

In Buddhist countries, the mourning ceremonies often last several days. In Germany, however, time is limited. A cemetery hall can usually be rented for 1 hour. Dates for Buddhist funeral services are therefore often given at the end of the day. Any odor nuisance from incense sticks does not arise for subsequent mourning parties if the Buddhist celebration is the last of the day. The exact day of the burial and the mourning ceremonies is decisive for Buddhists. This is calculated by a fortune teller according to astrological criteria. However, the German cemetery administration is often unable to meet this deadline, so that the mourning community often has to make compromises.

Buddhist burial - the burial

Monks or relatives first subject the grave site to a ritual cleansing. Then the coffin or urn is buried. The mourners then throw a handful of soil or flowers into the grave. This “farewell” can also be observed at Buddhist burials. After the burial in a cemetery, mourning rituals are held in the house of the deceased or in the premises of the Buddhist community. You eat a meal together.

The Buddhist cemetery

In recent years, several Buddhist grave fields have opened in various cemeteries in Germany. You can find them e.g. in Hanover, Berlin and Dresden. In principle, members of the Buddhist faith can be buried in all non-denominational cemeteries. There are no restrictions here. The respective cemetery statutes specify the design options. Buddha statues as grave decorations are therefore rarely found, unless the cemetery has a Buddhist grave field. Fruit and incense sticks are often found as grave decorations. Lotus flowers as a unifying symbol of Buddhism adorn tombstones and grave slabs. The design of the graves is often kept very simple.

Buddhist burial costs

The amount of funeral costs depends on the city or region in which the death occurs, what type of funeral and equipment is desired and which funeral home is chosen. From a simple cremation to a high-quality burial, every conceivable variant is possible. Since Buddhists often want a farewell at the coffin even at cremations, the costs for a laying out are added to the usual burial costs. Some undertakers in Germany have familiarized themselves with the rituals and ceremonies of Buddhist burials and will be happy to advise you on the possibilities and costs in your region.

Mourning rituals in Buddhism

For many devout Buddhists, death is not a sad event. Often, grief is even interpreted as selfishness. Still, mourning is allowed: You can cry and sob, although many Buddhists tend to mourn in silence. In the time immediately after death, the thoughts and actions of the relatives are aimed at supporting the deceased on his way to a positive reincarnation, e.g. through prayers, meditation or the distribution of alms. During the Bardo (an intermediate state of 49 days after death) it is decided in which form the rebirth takes place.

During this time, the family erected a memorial altar with a portrait of the deceased in the mourning house. It is assumed that after 49 days the deceased has achieved his intended rebirth. The ancestor cult is very important in Buddhism. There is an ancestral altar in every house. At the end of the 49 days, the memorial altar erected for the deceased is dismantled and his picture is added to the ancestral altar. On the 100th day after death and on the first and second days of death, the relatives perform further devotions. The mourning period is a total of 27 months and consists of 24 months and one month each in honor of heaven, earth and man. Buddhists living in Germany usually shorten the mourning period to 49 days. The period of mourning is traditionally ended with a ceremony (source)