Funeral Services and Memorials
From the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha said on his deathbed:
“My disciples, my last moment has come, but do not forget that death is only the end of the physical body. The body was born from parents and was nourished by food; just as inevitable are sickness and death.
“But the true Buddha is not a human body— it is Enlightenment. A human body must die, but the Wisdom of Enlightenment will exist forever in the truth of the Dharma* and in the practice of the Dharma. He who sees merely my body does not truly see me. Only he who accepts my teaching truly sees me.
“After my death, the Dharma shall be your teacher. Follow the Dharma and you will be true to me.”
* Dharma means “the Buddha’s Teachings”
With this profound understanding of death, Buddhists have developed funeral rites and memorial services as a way of accepting human death.
The Midwest Buddhist Temple encourages members and friends to embrace the Buddhist rituals by contacting the resident minister to arrange funerals and associated services as desired. The funeral service, traditionally, is held at the temple or at a funeral home.
There are various ways to observe and share the death of a family member. It is more common today to have the body cremated and have a Sogi memorial service, which is like a funeral but without the casket and physical body. Additionally, there can be other services held, such as:
- makura-gyo (pillow service), held just before or just after the death
- family viewing, held just before the body is sent to the crematorium
- otsuya (wake service), held on the day before the funeral service
- kasoba service, which is held at the crematorium
In Japan, memorial services have been an important part of Buddhism because there was not a congregational gathering on a regular basis. Rather, the priest would visit the family home to conduct a memorial service, which was also the primary means of teaching Buddhism.
In America, however, the weekly Sunday Service became the norm. While private family memorial services are not as common in the United States, private memorial services can be conducted in the family home as well as at the temple.
Additionally, the Midwest Buddhist Temple has adopted a collective Monthly Memorial Service, held during the regular Sunday family service on the first Sunday of each month, when loved ones can be remembered and honored.
Although memorial services are held in memory of a loved one who has passed away, the purpose of the memorial service is for us, the living, the ones who remain behind. The memorial service provides an opportunity to express appreciation and gratitude for the many benefits we have received from the person who passed away.
There are several significant dates on which memorial services should be observed:
- 49th Day
- One-Year Anniversary
- 3rd Year (actually the second calendar year, since the funeral counts as year one)
- 7th Year
- And years ending in 3 or 7, until the 50th Year
Casket burials vs. cremation
The Buddhist tradition is to cremate the body of someone who has passed away. But it is a family decision whether to have a casket burial or cremation. Similarly, it is a family decision to bury the cremation urn in a cemetery or to place it in the temple’s nokotsudo (columbarium), located just outside the hondo (temple hall).
A short service is often observed for either the cemetery burial or placement in the nokotsudo.
Guidance for Making Funeral Arrangements
If you’ve had a loss and would like some guidance from our temple on making arrangements, please contact us at 312.943.7801. After office hours, click the “Funeral Contact” button below to send a message to the temple and someone will respond to you as soon as possible. We can arrange a meeting in person or by phone to answer your questions.
You can also view and print our Funeral Guidelines document which can provide some guidance in during this difficult time.