Buddhism is practiced by about 300 million people around the world. Most Buddhists do not consider their faith to be a religion, but a way of life which was originally taught by Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha. The word Buddha ("budhi") means, "to awaken" and it refers to the spiritual awakening that comes through following Buddhist practices.

An Overview of Beliefs

The main teachings of Buddhism can be understood in the context of three major teachings. Buddhists are called upon to: 1. Lead a moral life, 2. To be mindful of their thoughts and actions, and 3. To embark upon a lifelong path to develop wisdom and understanding. There are five precepts of Buddhism including not taking the life of any living thing, to receive only things that are freely given, to abstain from any kind of sensual excess, including those related to food and sexuality, to tell the truth, and to avoid drunkenness.

A basic tenant of Buddhism is that solutions to human problems are within individuals, and they do not come from outside sources. Followers of Buddha are encouraged to develop compassion and wisdom.

Views on Death and the After-Life

Buddhists believe in Karma, which is the belief that all actions have results. All actions in life should be measured by evaluating the intention behind the action and the results of that action upon oneself and others. In a reincarnated life, people will either benefit or suffer as a result of the accumulation of their positive and negative actions.

Based upon their Karmic standing a person is reborn into one of six different realms which include heaven, hell, another experience as a human being, Asura, hungry ghost, life as an animal. None of these states are permanent and a Buddhist has the ability to move on to a different realm upon death.

Buddhists do not fear death because they see life as impermanent and they are ready to proceed to the next stage of their spiritual existence. In Buddhist teaching people never escape the continual cycle of death and rebirth.

Mourning and Funeral Rites

Buddhists believe that the spirit of a person lingers after the body has died and so it is important that the body be treated with respect. Doctors, nurses and family members are encouraged to wait a few hours after the apparent death of the person before touching the body. Buddhists believe that if the body is not treated with respect that the spirit of the person may become angry or confused and that may result in the person going to a lower realm rather than a higher one.

There is a wide range of Buddhist funeral rites, but they almost all include the presence of Buddhist clergy who reminded the living to prepare for their own death. In some branches of Buddhism, prayer for the dead lasts for 49 days after the passing of a loved one.

How to Express your Condolences

In addition to the usual ways of expressing your condolences, which include verbalizing your sense of loss to the surviving spouse or closest relatives of the deceased, flowers or donations to the family are considered appropriate, however gifts of food are not considered to be polite to Buddhists. If you cannot express your condolences in person, a letter or e-mail is appropriate.

Important note: The statements made about beliefs and rites are general in nature and may vary by sect, denomination, country or ethnic group. The information provided here is intended as an overview, and if you have questions about specific matters you should contact the clergy or other person conducting the funeral service. If you read anything in this section that differs from the beliefs in your tradition, please contact usso we can update this page