Buddhist Philosophy: About Nirvana, & Buddhism Death Ritual

Buddhist Philosophy: About Nirvana, & Buddhism Death Ritual

Every religion has different kinds of rituals when it comes to occasions, events, and activities. Each event that takes place in respect of the religion is different as their cultural annotations are different. Their set of beliefs, faith, and perspective to see things differently along with their cultural heritage is what sets them apart from each other. In this article, we will discuss the peace-loving religion, Buddhism, which tends to call itself a way of life rather than a religion and know what happens in Buddhism’s death ritual.

What Do Buddhists Believe About Life After Death?

The Buddhist perspective about life after death is that when one does, they are reanimated in another form, in another realm depending on their karma and philosophy. Death is not the end in itself as they consider that even after death they will carry on the living dictated by their karma. They believe in inner peace which has to be achieved by following the paths.

1. The Round of Rebirth:

Buddhist beliefs about death are considered to treat every living being in the whole world to be equal. They are pacifists. Buddhism considers man as a part of the conditioned and limited samsaric world equally wondering as other sentient beings in the other five realms.

  • Gods
  • Asura
  • Animals
  • Hungry ghosts
  • Hell-beings.

A human being one day may be reborn into heaven enjoying all the pleasures of animal realism to endure all kinds of suffering depending on their karma, the moral ground. So all sentient beings are in the same boat. Human beings are only one of the six forms of life that one can take place in.

  • Deva-gati: They are considered as the gods but they lack wisdom. They have power and wealth but lack a sense of compassion and that is why they will be later reanimated in other realms.
  • Asura-gati: They are considered to be strong, and powerful but with a lack of virtuosity as they are more envious and impatient. They don’t know the meaning of justice and feel superior to other beings.
  • Preta-gati: These hungry ghosts are those who are consumed by their greed. They have a huge belly that doesn’t get satisfied even after getting what they want. They are insatiable, greedy, and obsessed with things that they desire.
  • Naraka-gati: They are considered to be those who lack kindness and in return attack other kind people vigorously 
  • Tiryagyoni-gati: They are the complacent fools who are unaware of everything that is taking place in this samsara. They are animals as they are innocent.
  • Manushya-Gati: This is the only realm where you can achieve enlightenment and escape the pains and suffering of the samsara with good karma, which means preaching a philosophy that only promotes peace, love, and kindness.

Human birth is a rare occurrence as it is only human beings who can follow a moral life leading to moral perfection. Most moral and spiritual progress needed to achieve enlightenment is made at the human level according to Buddhism because gods are enjoying their good karma so they are not entitled to understand the Dharma whereas human beings have both suffering and happiness so they can reflect on their own temporary state of affair to acquire not only good karma but also enlightenment.

2. Buddhists Believe in The Aspect of Nirvana:

Nirvana is considered the highest moral perfection that offers the promise of transforming karmic conditionedness into an unconditioned state of spiritual liberation which is a realization of the potential available to all forms of sentient being on the karmic continuum. This is why they tend to believe in the harmony of man and nature where they practice the doctrine of good karma based on physical and mental realms meanwhile propagating non-harming of animals, vegetarianism, helping each sentient thrive on their own.

What Happens in The Buddhist Death Ritual?

It is considered in Buddhism that when someone is nearing the end of their lives, they have to prevail in a stable state of mind to procure a stable rebirth process. Their rebirth depends on their karma however to make it much easier, the monks and family and friends are called forth to chant Buddhist scriptures in front of the person to procure a stable mindset and also to prepare them for their rebirth.

What Happens After Death?

It is considered that it takes more than five hours, near about eight hours for the spirit to travel to the other realms. It means the spirit takes around eight hours to resign from the body to start its rebirth. At this stage, the family members and friends should not touch the body. Touching the body would mean creating a disturbance in the process.

Buddhist Rituals Regarding the Death:

When someone dies one has to prepare to make sure that everything is going right according to the plan. The first thing is to not touch the body for eight hours. Let the body cool and then start preparing for their burial.

When making preparations with the body, you have to be very gentle so as not to create any disturbance as it could throw the whole thing out of balance and create problems for the spirit to get rebirth into the higher realms. You have to prepare their daily clothes and wash their body. After cleansing their body they will have to be dressed in their clothes.

Buddha Cremation Practices:

Many Buddhists choose to be cremated rather than being buried because Buddha himself was cremated. It is believed that when Buddha died and was on the pyre, the pyre itself started to be ignited mainly because of the respect and love he had gained for his philosophical perspective and way of living. It is what prompted Buddha to be different from any other being, the one who achieved enlightenment.

When the body is sent to the crematorium for the rituals to be carried ahead, a monk has to be present in the crematorium to chant scriptures and lead others to do so. This option is resorted to only when a family member doesn’t know the process, however, if a family member knows the chants, they can do it themselves.

Similarly to a Christian belief system, a ‘wake memorial’ has to be carried out. Before the cremation, a few things could be shared about the person by the family member or friends. After the cremation, the remains of the body have to be collected the same day. There must be no delay made. The remains can be used depending on how the family wishes it to be.

  • It could be scattered
  • It could be kept.
  • It could be buried.

Burial Ceremony In Buddhism:

The burial ceremony for the Buddhists is the same as that of any other religion. The dead body, after being bathed and dressed is put in the casket which is later proceeded to the burial ground with the help of friends and family members as a sign of the last act they will ever do for the deceased person. The casket is usually sealed. Here is what is different because many times many cultures exhibit the face of the deceased before they are buried. However, it depends on the family members.

Buddhism Customs Regarding The Funeral Procession:

There has to be a service for the dead person. After the service, the casket will be taken to the burial ground or the hearse via a suitable transportation mode. If the distance between the deceased person’s house and the ground is not long then the casket can be taken along with the procession where the mourners will be rallying behind the casket as a sign of love and respect.

At this time the family members and friends of the disease may chant a few scriptures at the burial site. It is dependent on the mourners and the remaining family members to more chant with them or stay silent. At this moment the casket will be laid down in the ground.

A few Types of Buddha Prayer For The Dead:

Every religion has different types of chants, prayers, and religious scriptures depending on the situation. Similarly, each Buddha ceremony has different types of prayers that have to be changed according to the situation. However, the selection of the chants and prayers depends on the family member or the monk as they can select certain chants according to their preferences.

  • Before Death: The prayers offered after death are as important as the ones that are offered before death. If one is suffering from a prolonged illness and death is already looming on his or her shoulder then prayer can be offered before death to make the journey and the mindset of the person more easy and peaceful. The prayer can be offered by the monk or a family member in the hospital or home. The Buddhist monk chants the following.
  • “Even the gorgeous royal chariots wear out;
  • and indeed this body too wears out.
  • But the teaching of goodness does not age;
  • and so Goodness makes that known to the good ones.”
  • The ill should chant the names of Buddha to make his suffering less.
  • During death: At this point, before the body is taken to a crematorium or burial ground, the mourners should chant three jewels.
  • ” I take refuge in the Buddha.

I take refuge in the Dharma.

  • During the procession: During the deceased is taken to the crematorium or burial ground, the mourners in the procession should offer a prayer.
  • The Buddha said,
  • Life is a journey.
  • Death is a return to earth.
  • The universe is like an inn.
  • The passing years are like dust.
  • Regard this phantom world
  • As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
  • A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
  • A flickering lamp – a phantom – and a dream.
  • -taken from ‘Vajracchedika 32’

Ritual Regarding the Mourning:

The mourning has to be attributed to some time. This depends on the choice of the family member. 49 days after death Buddhism is considered to be the most preferred day of mourning in Buddhist culture. However, there are third, seventh, and one-hundredth-day customary mourning periods. Each time one has to host a ceremony for the mourning.

It can be divided into three ceremonies too as it can occur between two days, five days, and then within seven days. However, the days for mourning can be set according to the family members as it is a very flexible ritual. The main reason for this ritual is to gather together for a spiritual binding and to support the family of the deceased.

Purpose of A Funeral in Buddhism:

When you think of funerals, Buddhism, and death, and their unique ways, it is only to make sure that they maintain their philosophical beliefs through their rites. The purpose of chanting and praying before, after the death, and during the procession is to maintain peace for both the affected family and the individual facing the suffering.

The main reason is to lessen the suffering and to ensure the easy-going process of rebirth. Every step is there to ensure that there is no difference created for the deceased one’s rebirth.


Many Chinese funeral superstitions may prompt someone to lead astray. But when it comes to funerals, Buddhists strongly adhere to their philosophical ways to ensure the authenticity of their religion. The funeral process may differ according to their own culture but the purpose of each culture is the same. They want to ensure peace for the deceased one. Give this article a thorough read to get a peek at their perspective on life, death, and the afterlife.

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