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The Importance of Filial Piety in Buddhist Funeral Rites

Filial piety, commonly seen in not just Chinese culture, but across Asia, is the practice of treating our elderly parents or relatives with the greatest esteem and respect. Filial piety originated during the Confucian era (dated from 551 BCE to 479 BCE) with the objective to maintaining social order.

It applies to not only respecting to our parents, but also to elderly uncles, aunts, teachers, or even to elderly strangers who had contributed to our society growth during their youth. According to Confucius, a government or king with a filial piety philosophy will ensure peace, well-being, and harmony of its people.

Filial piety has largely influenced our Asian cultures as well as in our religious funeral practices. Similar to Taoist funerals, the influence of filial piety is also deeply rooted into Buddhist funeral rites today.

In this article, we will explore how true filial piety to our parents is practised for Buddhist devotees from two angles. Firstly, when our parents are alive; and secondly when our parents are departed.

Filial Piety While Our Parents are With Us

While our parents are alive, we need to support them, take care of their daily lives, their well-being, medical care, as well as their religious and spiritual needs. There will be times when we may not agree with our elderly parents’ opinions, this is common. However, even at times like these, it is important for us to be understanding and grateful to their concerns and loving intentions.

That is true filial piety. It is as simple as that. True filial piety will ensure good karma in our present lives and thus giving us better prospects in our next lives. Hence, it is essential of us to always respect and take care of our parents while they are still with us.

Do take care of your aged parents while they are still around. Cherish their memories and protect their reputation when they are no longer with us
Do take care of your aged parents while they are still around. Cherish their memories and protect their reputation when they are no longer with us

Filial Piety During Buddhist Funeral Rites

In Buddhist funeral practices for one’s deceased elderly parents, the objective is to offer sincere prayers to them so that they can travel safely into their next life. There are some instances where filial piety is also practised in Buddhist funerals such as:

Mourning Pins

In the past, each family member of the deceased wore a mourning garment of different colours; for children of the deceased, they would wear a rough burlap overcoat. Today, things are more simplified when it is replaced by a white or black t-shirt (or polo tee shirt) with a mourning pin. The mourning pin is known as ‘Xiao’ 孝, the Chinese word for filial piety.

The male family member will wear the mourning pin on the left sleeve while the female family member will wear it on the right sleeve. Wearing the mourning pin is the sign of filial piety and respect for the elderly deceased. Traditionally, the mourning pins were to be worn from the first day till the 49th day or 100th day of the mourning period. Today, it is okay to wear it during the funeral.

Vigil Duty at the Buddhist Funeral

Overnight vigil duties at the Buddhist funeral are usually tasked to the younger members of the family (the older grandchildren or younger adult children). The objective is to stay awake and guard the funeral annex and make sure that the casket is not being disturbed by stray animals or passers-by.

This is extremely taxing for small families whereby the deceased elderly has two or three adult children to mend the funeral. Henceforth, by volunteering to stand by the funeral annex during the wee hours, is a show of respect and filial piety to the elderly deceased. However, it is important to take care of one’s health while doing the vigil duty. It is advisable not to do vigil duty for two consecutive days without sleep. If you are feeling too sleepy, call a relative to cover your duty while you have a good rest.

Families keep ancestral tablets with an altar for daily prayers

Prayers During Buddhist Funeral Rites and Ji-Ling Period

In Buddhism, we believe in the concept of samsara, where death is the beginning of a new life. The journey from death to rebirth takes 49 days. Hence, Buddhist prayers are chanted during the funeral ceremony and also on the 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th, 35th, 42nd, and 49th day after death. These prayers are meant to ensure better facilitation and protection for the deceased parents on their path from death to rebirth.

During the Buddhist funeral rite on the final night, the children, grandchildren, and younger relatives (niece, nephews, brothers, cousins) of the deceased, are gathered to pray for the departed, with the senior priest leading them at the front. There will be about 3 to 4 sets of prayer sessions where the family members and relatives will follow the priest’s lead. For some Buddhist schools of thoughts, burning of paper effigies such as paper mansion for the deceased, is a common practice.

At funeral possession ceremony, the family members and relatives will walk around the casket for one last time before the casket is sealed and transferred to the crematorium. During the ceremony, they will say their final goodbye and words of gratitude to the deceased. Once the casket is loaded onto the hearse, the family members and relatives will follow the hearse via walking, before embarking to the crematorium via the shuttle bus.

These gestures are signs of respect and filial piety to the departed parents and elderly relatives.

Ancestral Tablets and Qing Ming

 In traditional Chinese culture, we believe in the worshipping our ancestors. Deceased parents become our ancestors for us, our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. That is why in some homes, families keep ancestral tablets with an altar for daily prayers. During Qing Ming festivals, we pay our respects to our departed relatives and family members as well. Food offerings and joss sticks are placed on the altar table. These food offering were once the deceased ancestor’s favourite food when they were alive.

Hence, worshipping to our ancestors is not just an act of filial piety, it is also served as a teaching to our younger generations to respect the elders and know their roots.

Protecting The Deceased Parent’s Reputation

The best way to honour the deceased parent is to protect their reputation. Never let anyone badmouth the deceased parents. On top of that, we must strive to become exemplary individuals of our society and to live with dignity. In this way, we can proudly tell others that because of our parents’ teachings, we are who we are.

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About Nirvana Singapore

The key objective of Nirvana Memorial Garden is to provide a conducive and comfortable environment for individuals to send prayers and pay respect to their dearly departed. We also provide quality Buddhist funeral services.

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