Are These Funeral Procedures Alright?

Question: A wake attended had a Buddha image placed opposite the photo of the deceased, instead of at the front. When visitors paid respect to the deceased, their backs were to the Buddha image. Is this appropriate?

Answer: It is better to place the usual way for these reasons –

[1] Non-Buddhist visitors might bow to the deceased only, and not to the Buddha (or Bodhisattva) image. This is against Buddhist etiquette, as the Buddha image should not only be paid respect to, but first. (When we visit wakes, it is alright to half-bow in the direction of both Buddha and the deceased at the same time, or separately, one after the other.) Having the back facing the Buddha image in a small space while bowing is considered the wrong direction too, considered disrespectful by many.

[2] Not placed together with the Buddha image, the deceased’s consciousness, if around, might not associate himself or herself with the Buddha. This leads to lack of a sense of respect and refuge, which should be nurtured at this crucial juncture.

Question: During the last rites by a monastic before going for cremation, there was a verse for dedication of merits to reach Pure Land. However, right after the monk left, the funeral parlour staff asked the deceased’s child to offer food, and to ask the deceased to come and eat it, thereafter saying ‘来世再续亲人缘’ (i.e. ‘In a future life again continue the affinity to be relatives.’) Are these last two messages not very confusing for the deceased?

Answer: Yes, they are confusing for these reasons –

[1] If not yet departed for Pure Land, there should be continual Nianfo (i.e. sincere mindfulness of the name of Amituofo), for connection to be guided to his Pure Land. What more, it is right after the official chanting session, which might have yet to successfully urge this. Asking to eat distracts from Nianfo. (If eating is needed, it will be ‘automatic’.) Instructing to eat sends the conflicting message of asking to stay around and eat, instead of practising Nianfo to leave for Pure Land.

[2] The last line will usually be interpreted as ‘to come back immediately as a human to rejoin the family’, while it does not show how to do so. It is likely to stir up attachment, sorrow and confusion, even staying around to become a wandering spirit. This is the opposite of the clear message to Nianfo till Amituofo is seen, and to follow him to his Pure Land. It is through Pure Land, that we will be able to recall all our past lives and reconnect to all past relatives in the best ways possible: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2018/09/how-to-have-the-ultimately-blissful-reunion

Question: Is this a common practice by most funeral parlours?

Answer: It is hard to say if this is so unless they are surveyed in detail. That said, the potential for errors is why we should only use actual Buddhist funeral services. With our right understanding of how practices should proceed, we ourselves should be the actual funeral directors – in case the ones engaged do not do a good job. There should also be checking of procedures before going ahead with them, and to correct wrong procedures immediately. It is after all our chief responsibility to direct funerals for loved ones well, not to outsource this responsibility to those meant to only facilitate, who might not do so ideally.

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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