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Buddhism in Japan is sometimes described as funeral Buddhism, both because of the monopoly over the funeral industry held by Buddhists in Japan, and because some people perceive Japanese Buddhism as being overly focused on death and dying. As Buddhism loses popularity in Japan, some commentators have suggested the funeral Buddhism may be responsible, by not meeting the spiritual needs of modern Japanese. Some attempts have been made to reform the practice of the Buddhist faith in Japan in response to this.
Death and dying are extremely important in the Buddhist tradition, especially in Japan. People must follow a set of precisely prescribed rituals in the days leading up to the funeral and in the months and years beyond. Historically, Buddhist temples have dominated the funeral business in Japan, because of the complete assortment of services they offer; they care for the body, handle the rituals associated with the funeral, provide officiants, and guide families through the complex process of a traditional Japanese Buddhist funeral.
However, some critics have suggested that Buddhism in Japan is overly focused on funerals, failing to provide for the living. This has led to the slang term “funeral Buddhism” in reference to the practice of Buddhism in Japan, emphasizing the stress on holding proper funerals.
As Japanese culture has shifted, so have religious values. Many young Japanese have turned to funeral homes and secular providers, and as a result some Buddhist temples have closed, with many more struggling to survive. Surviving on the trade provided by older Japanese and traditional families may not be possible, leading some Buddhists to fear that traditional Japanese Buddhism could die out, or at the very least become drastically reduced.
Changing perceptions about funeral Buddhism may take time, and not everyone is convinced that this is possible. It would require a shift in thinking for many Buddhist temples, with attempts to more actively engage with the community, emphasizing the fact that Buddhism is not just for funerals. Japan, like some other societies, is also becoming increasingly secular, and the society may reach a tipping point beyond which there is no return.
The focus on the process of death and dying involved in Japanese Buddhism is backed by centuries of tradition. It is perhaps not surprising that people refer to the Japanese practice of Buddhism as funeral Buddhism because of the focus on funerals and ceremonies for the dead, but by the same token, it would be a pity for these traditions to be lost forever.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the key components of a Buddhist funeral?
A Buddhist funeral typically includes several key components: the chanting of sutras to aid the deceased's journey to the next life, offerings to merit the deceased, and a eulogy or sermon reflecting on the impermanence of life. The ceremony may also involve meditation and reflection on the teachings of the Buddha. The specifics can vary based on cultural traditions and the school of Buddhism followed.
How do Buddhists view death and the afterlife?
Buddhists view death as a natural part of the cycle of samsara, which is the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The concept of an afterlife in Buddhism is not a permanent heaven or hell but rather a transition to another rebirth, which is influenced by one's karma. The ultimate goal is to achieve Nirvana, a state of liberation from the cycle of suffering.
Is cremation preferred in Buddhist funerals?
Cremation is commonly practiced in Buddhist funerals, especially within Theravada and Mahayana traditions, as it symbolizes the release of the spirit from the body and the impermanence of life. However, burial practices can also be found in some Buddhist cultures. The choice between cremation and burial often depends on regional customs, personal preferences, and the specific teachings of the Buddhist community involved.
Can non-Buddhists attend a Buddhist funeral?
Yes, non-Buddhists are generally welcome to attend Buddhist funerals. It is considered a sign of respect and compassion to join the bereaved in mourning. Visitors are encouraged to follow the lead of the practitioners in terms of etiquette, such as bowing, offering incense, or participating in chants, but participation in these rituals is not mandatory for non-Buddhists.
What should one wear to a Buddhist funeral?
Appropriate attire for a Buddhist funeral is typically modest and respectful. Mourners often wear white, which symbolizes grief and purity in many Buddhist cultures, or black, which is a common color of mourning in Western cultures. Bright colors are usually avoided out of respect for the solemnity of the occasion. It's best to check with the family or the temple for any specific dress code.