What Do Monks Do at Funerals?

In Buddhism, monks play a critical role at funerals.
... Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

In Buddhism, funeral traditions and rituals must be performed in a certain order. Monks play a very important function before and after the funeral of the deceased. The role of monks and the rituals performed at funerals is crucial to Buddhist funeral tradition.

1 Monks Involved Before Death

It is not unusual for monks to come to the home, or wherever a critically ill person may be located, to provide comfort to the dying. Monks chant verses to the person, which EthnoMed explains is to “chase away bad spirit and bless the sick to recover.” Monks are also next to the dying to prepare him or her for the next life. The presence of one or more monks at the moment of death is believed to be able to calm the soul of the deceased.

2 Involvement of Monks After Death

After death, monks continue to chant over the deceased. This is believed to help the good energy from the deceased to be released, according to Buddhanet. Family and close friends participate in a bathing ritual of the deceased, after which time the body is placed in a coffin. Wreaths, flowers and a portrait of the deceased surround the coffin as four monks are then invited to recite chants. The chanting may continue for up to seven days or a shorter time period if the family is not well off or cremation needs to occur on a certain day. If chanting is shortened to a fewer number of days, as Buddhism in Thailand explains, then the chanting must occur more often on the days on which the monks are able to recite the chants.

3 Role of Monks at the Funeral

There may be some slight difference in funeral rites among Buddhist sects and from one country to the next, but overall, they are very similar. In Buddhism, the body of the deceased is usually cremated. On the day of cremation, there is more chanting and food is offered to the monks who will be performing the funeral rites. Monks will then precede the coffin from the house as family and other mourners proceed to the crematorium. Once at the crematorium, robes may be placed at the front of the coffin, which the monks then take, as if the robes had been offered to them by the deceased. The monk will say a prayer as the robe is received. Monks will perform last rites before the casket is permanently sealed. Most family members will leave at this point, as the casket is lifted into the crematorium oven.

4 Role of Monks After the Funeral

When the funeral service has concluded, this does not end the role of monks in Buddhist funeral tradition. The day after cremation, family members return to the crematorium to receive the ashes of the deceased. A monk will also be present as a witness.

Donna Hicks has been a writer for more than 20 years. Specializing in culture and history, legal, antiques and home decor, she enjoys writing on nearly any topic. She has won numerous writing competitions and has been published in print as well as extensively online.