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Death Customs in the Jewish and Buddhist Religions

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It is a basic teaching of Buddhism that existence is suffering, whether birth, daily living, old age or dying. According to tradition, when a person is dying an effort should be made to fix his mind upon the Buddhist scriptures or to get him to repeat one of the names of Buddha. The name may be whispered in his ear if the person is far gone. Sometimes four syllables which are considered the heart of the Abhidharma, ci, ce, ru, and ni, representing "heart, mental concepts, form and Nibbana" are written on a piece of paper and put in the mouth of the dying man. It is hoped that if the last thoughts of the patient are directed to Buddha and the precepts, that the fruit of this meritorious act will bring good to the deceased in his new existence. In a village, at the moment of death, the relatives may set up a wailing both to express sorrow and to notify the neighbors who will then come to be of help.

After death a bathing ceremony takes place in which relatives and friends pour water over one hand of the deceased. The body is then placed in a coffin and surrounded with wreaths, candles and sticks of incense. If possible a photograph of the deceased is placed alongside, and colored lights are suspended about the coffin Sometimes the cremation is deferred for a week to allow distant relatives to attend or to show special honor to the dead. In this case a chapter of monks comes to the house one or more times each day to chant from the Abhidharma, sometimes holding the bhusa yong, a broad ribbon, attached to the coffin. Food is offered to the officiating monks as part of the merit-making for the deceased. The food offered in the name of the dead is known as Matakabhatta from mataka ("one who is dead").

At an ordinary funeral, the cremation takes place within three days. The neighbors gather nightly to feast, visit, attend the services and play games with cards and huge dominoes. The final night is the one following the cremation. On the day of the funeral or orchestra is employed and every effort is made to banish sorrow, loneliness and the fear of spirits by means of music and fellowship. Before the funeral procession begins the monks chant a service at the home and then precede the coffin down the steps of the house, which are sometimes carpeted with banana leaves. It is felt that the body should not leave the house by the usual route, but instead of removing the coffin through a hole in the wall or floor, which is sometimes done, the front stairs are covered with green leaves to make that route unusual.

Judaism specifies seven immediate family members who are expected to directly observe the mourning period: the mother and father, son and daughter, brother and sister, (including half-brother and half-sister), and husband and wife.

These seven certain members of the family in mourning do not wear leather

shoes, put on make up or use perfume, shave, take haircuts, or bathe, and no marital relationships take place. All mirrors in the house where the family is sitting Shiva are covered as mourners are not to be vain. All mourners sit on low stools or the floor. The word Shevah in Hebrew means seven, and the word Shiva is taken from that to mean seven days of mourning following the funeral.

The mourning period begins with the funeral. It is tradition for the burial to

take place as soon as possible, even on the same day of the death, but no more than two nights after the death. Only under certain circumstances, the burial can be delayed. It is considered disrespectful to keep the body from being buried as soon as possible because his soul has returned to God, but his body is left to linger in the land of the living. That would be considered a matter of great shame.

Jewish people do not have a wake (where the body is displayed), because Judaism beliefs are that the body should be brought to its resting place as soon as possible. It is not customary to bring flowers because the funeral is to be as simple as possible. Only wood coffins are used in Jewish funerals because the Judaism belief is that they do not preserve the body because as the body decays, the soul ascends to Heaven.

The Rabbi or a representative tears the blouse or shirt of the seven mourners as a sign of mourning. It is called tearing the Kria. For a mother or father, the left side of the shirt is ripped because it is considered a deeper loss for the parent who brought the deceased into the world and are considered closest to you in feelings. For other family members, the right side of the shirt is torn. Services starts with the Kaddish, a special prayer which is



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