Taiwanese funeral etiquette of Buddhist, a personal experience of Taiwanese funeral culture and a lesson of life and death…
my grandpa’s funeral (others are internet pics)
My grandpa passed away at the age of 88, it has been 3 years after my grandma passed away. I felt less sadness for this funeral, probably it is a relief for grandpa from sickness and pains of losing his beloved one. Although my family is not a typical Chinese family, which we have decided to have a simple cremation, the relatives of my mother’s side are religious. They are Buddhist and half of them are vegetarians. Participating in a funeral is a way of experiencing the local culture.
The Buddhist funeral etiquette varied in term of formality and gender of the one… The funeral is a series of activities include the day when the one’s death, the seventh day of his death, the day before the farewell ceremony (overnight) and the farewell ceremony, where the body would be cremated. This article would mainly discuss the details of the day before ceremony and farewell ceremony.
In Taiwan, the funeral takes place in front of the house where the one lived. If the person is died because of some accident like a car accident, it might take place on the main road and at the side of the street. The body is put into coffin-like preservation and freezing purpose until the day of cremation. Our home has a temple set-up near the entrance, which would be used to put the picture of the person, flowers, and some lights. Some personal belonging, mainly personal necessaries like toothbrush and toothpaste would be put on the table. If there is enough space for the set-up, the funeral would take place outdoors. Some of my cousins didn’t bring their sons and daughters because it is inconvenient for them to take care of their children.
Etiquette of visiting the house
During the period, we have to burn an incense stick to one whether we are back. It is a way to say a few words to the one that who are we and what have we done. We are not recommended to visit other‘s houses before the farewell ceremony. We usually wear clothes in dark clothes to show our respect to the one.
The day before the farewell ceremony
There are a few procedures for sending the one to another side of the world
There is a paper stand which a paper character is drawn. The family member would gather and form a circle, hold the paper stand during the process. The religious leader wears a custom and leads the prayer in Taiwanese, the prayer content includes asking the one to leave and go to another side of world peacefully and blessing his family member. The leader would get a few drops of blood from a chicken and draw it to the paper character after the prayers end.
2.kneeing around the coffin
The family member is queued according to their family position: eldest son, sons, eldest grandson, daughters, grandchildren… We have to kneel around the coffin for once and cry as loudly as we could. The louder you cried, more respects to the one is shown.
3.sending financial assistance to the one
Buddhist believes that there is an afterlife. In another part of the world, the one still needs a place to stay, car for driving and money for spending. These “ghost money” are sent by their offspring every year. Ghost money could be folded into a paper-mache object, which called “lotus” in Taiwanese. They were folded during the weeks of the funeral to show their respect to the one.
On the day of the ceremony, they are burnt in the middle, where the family member is required to form a circle with a long red rope. The family member would ask the one to pick the money up in Taiwanese, like “grandpa, pick up the money”
After a half hour, family members are required to get closer to the “burning area” and walk around twice.
At night: Stand vigil before the catafalque
Most believe that the one would come back and visit his beloved one 3 days after his physical death. His relatives would light a candle so he could find a way back home, while the relatives have to stay awake overnight to keep the candle light up. The relatives would take the shifts during the weeks and all of them would gather together at the last night, the day before the farewell ceremony. It is quite informal and the family would have a talk about the one. The number of family member is not limited but usually, the eldest son and his eldest son should be here. However, the couple couldn’t accompany if they are not get married.
farewell ceremony for the family session
The ceremony divided into two sessions: family and relatives only for the first hour and open to the public like friends for the second hour. It takes place in the early morning, around 06.30. It starts with giving a salute and kneel down. The host would ask the family member to give a salute and kneel down for three times. The whole set of manner would be repeated for three times.
Importance of eldest son and grandson
The eldest son and grandson, as well as their family member, would stand at the side of the venue, whenever there are any other relatives and friends coming to show respect, they have to thank the incoming guests by kneeling down.
farewell ceremony for friends or others session
Unlike the family session, the other friends would show their respect by giving out flowers, instead of kneeling down. In my city Kaohsiung, the government officers, like parliament member, executive member of the city and the district, they would show their respect in person or sending a representative to come.
The family would hire some musicians who play the violin and Chinese orchestra, the music is traditional Taiwanese songs and it is quite touching when you listen to the live performance.
way to crematorium
After the ceremony, the casket is put to a black vehicle and the eldest male family member would sit in front of the cars. There is another vehicle as the lead and playing some traditional song, which aims to inform others that someone is on the way to the crematorium
We have rent a shuttle bus and all other family members and friends would take the bus and accompany the one on his last journey of life.
arriving the crematorium place
The priest will lead the family member and friends to the furnace, it is the last time for the family and the beloved one to burn incense to the one during the ceremony. The whole process is done after the dead body put into the furnace
after the ceremony
It take a while for the cremation. The family may go back home if it is not far from the crematorium. All have to cross the “fire” to “make their body clean”. The family member would put the ashes in a place, where every locker is used for every ancestor.
Cost of the funeral
It depends on the scale and the complexity of the funeral, which is quite costly if you organized it in your own place. We have around 30 staff hired for the funeral, the estimated cost would be NT200000-300000.
It is not my first time to participate in a funeral but it is a fascinating experience of understanding the Taiwanese culture. It is a great lesson about life and death education.