Death and funerals have been the theme this week. On Tuesday afternoon I attended the funeral of a Sangha friend’s father, having visited the family and meditated alongside the open coffin at their house the day before. At the Sangha Evening on Wednesday we picked up the topic of ageing and dying, considering the prospect of our own decline and death and sharing experiences of caring for others as they aged and died.
The teaching in the Zen tradition is that the best preparation for death is to train ourselves to step into the next moment with openness, acceptance and non-judgement whether the next moment is a moment of life or a moment of death.
As a Buddhist monk I am also a priest and can perform funeral ceremonies. Since I moved to the Hermitage I have not had occasion to do one, and it occurred to me that it would be good to be prepared, so I have spent some time sorting through my notes on funerals and started to gather together the items needed to perform the ceremony.
I have not been asked this question recently but it is a relevant one on this topic:
Q. What is the meaning/purpose of a Buddhist funeral ceremony?
A. A Buddhist funeral ceremony is essentially the ordination of the deceased to the Buddhist monastic Sangha. When a person is ordained as a monk* they are leaving home and leaving behind worldly attachments in order to seek for the Truth. At death we have the opportunity to leave everything behind and return to the source of compassion, love and wisdom. A Buddhist funeral ceremony encourages both the deceased and those present to realise impermanence and open their hearts to their True Nature which is immaculate and beyond birth and death.
*I use the term monk to apply both to women and men, as is the customary usage in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.