Burial Rituals of Taoists

Taosim is based on the principles taught by Lao Tzu and outlined in the book Tao Te Ching.
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Taoism (Daoism) is not a centrally organized religion. It is divided into various sects which are united by shared beliefs in various teachings. These teachings also influence the burial rituals. Generally speaking, burial rituals differ depending on the age and status of the deceased. This is particularly true in China which holds the largest number of Taoist funerals.

1 Preparation

A coffin is typically ordered before the individual passes on and will be kept in the house. Traditionally, bodies are buried in special rectangular coffins with three humps, although recently, many people choose to be buried in Western style coffins. All statues within the families' homes must have their faces covered in red paper. A white cloth is then placed over the doorway of the house, and a gong is placed to the left of the door for women and to the right for men. Prior to burial, the individual is cleaned with a damp towel and talcum powder and then dressed in that person's best clothing. Usually muted colors such as white, black, brown or blue are used. The face is covered in a yellow cloth and the body is covered in a blue one before placing the deceased in their coffin.

2 The Funeral

The funeral begins with the priest chanting Taoist scripture. During the funeral, mourners are expected to grieve as loudly as possible, becoming loudest as the coffin is nailed shut by the eldest son. However, mourners must turn away from the coffin as it is taboo to watch it being sealed. Yellow and white paper is affixed onto the surface of the coffin, and then it is placed outside while more prayers are said. Once the individual is loaded into the hearse, a procession forms behind the hearse in order of status. Mourners must once again turn away as the body is lowered into the ground.

3 Post-Funeral

After the burial, tradition states that the family must have a feast for the guests who attended the funeral. Some families choose to restrict the number of courses in this meal to the lucky number seven. Afterwards, guests are presented with a red packet filled with money, and everyone must burn the clothes they wore to the funeral. The funeral does not mark the end of the rituals, as relatives are expected to mourn for a period of 49 days with prayers occurring every seven days.

4 Taboos and Beliefs

In addition to prescribed rituals, Taoism also teaches that a number of actions are taboo during burial ceremonies and many other actions may have negative consequences. It is forbidden to dress the body in red clothing, as some Taoists believe it will cause the spirit to come back as a ghost. Similarily, Children and grandchildren of the deceased must not cut their hair for 49 days after the funeral. Some believe that people who see the deceased's coffin reflected in a mirror will soon have a death in their family, and so all mirrors are removed from the house while the coffin is inside.

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.