Buddhism believes in Karma and along with that, we also believe in the inter-relation of cause and effect. The question that many people ask is; “Is there anything that we can do to help the deceased?
According to Theravada Buddhism, we can perform good deeds in memory of the deceased. In this way, the death of that person becomes the cause of our good actions. Therefore, the deceased also receives “a fraction of the good karma.” Good actions refer to any deeds of charity or kindness.
We must perform the deed with the full awareness that we are doing it because of the deceased person. In another word, the death of that person causes us to “Donate money to a charity” or “Volunteer to clean up the temple” or “Help a blind person cross the street” or “Adopt an animal from the shelter” When we are performing the charitable action, we should mentally dedicate merits to the deceased. For example, “I dedicate the merits of this action to (name of the deceased). May he/she be well and happy, free from suffering.”
The Buddha also taught that the best merit is from attaining enlightenment. To attain enlightenment, we need to practice mind training such as meditation. This is where Buddhist funerals start to have these various religious overtones.
If we practice meditation, then one would probably practice meditation during the funeral and dedicate merits to the deceased. One appropriate theme for practice is the contemplation of impermanence or the filthiness of the human body. If you attained enlightenment during that funeral practice, the merits would be enormous and the deceased’s death become one of the causes that lead to your enlightenment. Thus, the deceased will share a fraction of that enormous merit.
Some people cannot meditate. SO they invite monks to teach a sermon or recite a sutta (Buddha’s teaching) instead. Afterwhich, they dedicate the merit to the deceased.
In Mahayana Buddhism, we believe that reciting scriptures has enormous merits. Many sutra state the enormous merits arising from their recitation. Consequently, practitioners recite Buddhist scriptures at funerals to benefit the deceased. Since Mahayana practices often accompany the recitation of scriptures with musical instruments, it becomes more religiously vibrant in context.
To take the above notion further, people claim ignorance of scripture recitation. (Suddenly, they cannot read?) Since they do not know how to recite sutra, can they pay others to do it on their behalf?
Tada! you have commercialized Buddhist funerals. Why not pay people to meditate? I guess that is because you won’t know whether that guy is meditating or in dreamland? You can ot quality check on meditation, But for chanting scriptures, at least you can see him or her really chanting?
Not saying that commercialized Buddhist funerals are absolutely bad because they may save a monk from starvation.
However, you can see how the teachings of Buddha are “watered down”?
I guess at the end of the day it is up to the sincerity of the bereaved. From a Buddhist perspective, the funeral is the last and least important deed. The most important thing to help a dying Buddhist is to remind him of the Buddha’s teachings on his deathbed.
And if you wish to engage in some Buddhist practice at a funeral, then I would recommend the following.
- Observe the 8 Buddhist precepts and dedicate merits to the deceased (8 precepts includes fasting and various acts of austerities)
- Practice meditations and scriptures recitation for extended periods, and dedicate the merits to the deceased. If we normally meditate for 30min on usual day, we can try doing so for the entire day with intermediate breaks in between. That way, the funeral becomes a cause for our “mini” Buddhist retreat.
May all be well and happy.