D. Mao – Week Three – Description of a Ritual

Three days ago, I went to one of my father’s friend’s funeral. Unlike in the United States, funeral in China is different. Because many Chinese people believe Buddhism, therefore, most funeral in China is in Buddhist way. This funeral was conducted in a mourning hall in an Old People’s Home. In front of the mourning hall, there were several long chairs for guests to sit. Remains was in a freezer with glass top located in the center of the mourning hall. In front of the freezer there was a long wood table. Family members placed a deadee, three burning incenses, several paper made gold ingots and some tributes on the long wood table. There was a big wood table placed in front of the long wood table. Around the big wood table, there were six Buddhists praying for the dead. These Buddhists were reading different kinds of Buddhist scriptures. These Buddhist scriptures all related to expiate the sins of the dead. Three Buddhists sit at the left side of the table and three Buddhists sit at the right side of the table. There was also a wooden fish and a copper made scripture barrel on the table. There were many funeral wreaths placed on the wall. These wreaths were given by dead’s family members and friends. People wrote their name and a sentence said “Cherish the memory of the dead forever” on the wreaths. Family members were all wear black clothes. They also put a white paper flower on the either shoulders or chest. When there was no guest in the hall, many of them just sit on the chair. When there were guests came into the hall, they would quickly stand up and welcome guests. Their voices are low. Guests would cherish the memory of dead at first. Then guests would talk to family members about their regrets. About every 20 minutes when Buddhists finished a section of scriptures, one Buddhist would knock on the wooden fish and one Buddhist would rotate the copper made scripture barrel. At this time, all family members and guests have to stand in the front of the big wood table and worshiped the dead for three times. The length of the funeral was about four to five hours.

Because the funeral was in Buddhist way, therefore, reading Buddhist scriptures, knocking wooden fish and rotating copper made scripture barrel is really important. These actions show the funeral was connected to Buddhist and the Pure Land. When family members and guests worshiped the dead for three times, it means that they were seeing the dead off and wishing the dead have a good time in the Pure Land. Also, family members would burn paper made gold ingots in the same time. This means they were giving money to the dead so dead can use money in the Pure Land. In this ritual, it demonstrates that a people from live to death and the mortal world to the Pure Land. For family members and guests, this ritual means they lost a family member or friend. In the funeral, people like memorizing old experiences and events. This made the community connect more close.

2 thoughts on “D. Mao – Week Three – Description of a Ritual

  1. As a Chinese, I never been to a Chinese funeral, and I think your description certainly helped me to have a general idea about Chinese funeral. In part one, there are a lot of details in it, and really graphic, and the part you mentioned about the voices are low, really makes the place feels solemn. But in the part two, I think you should categorize the different parts of the funeral into different rites. I think this funeral can be categorize in different rites such as closure, promotion of familiarity, also in some senses, it can be categorize as well as instrumental rites, with the Buddhist’s help, the family of the deceased feels that the deceased will be treated well in the Pure Land. But overall, I think you did a great job at describing the ritual and really paying attention to the funeral. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. I enjoy learning about different traditions that occur among different cultures than my own. I appreciate you sharing this with me, because I learned so much. I knew funerals were unique for some, but not to this extent. Your description was very visual for me, I found it easy to imagine myself in the setting of a Chinese funeral. Though I am American and not Chinese I do feel that you lacked some details pertaining to the interpretation of a ritual, so foreign to myself and many others. I’m not familiar with Buddhism, so had you explained what exactly the Buddhist way meant to you, I would understood the ritual better. I also would have liked to know more about classification of the ritual rites and what the Pure Land meant to them as a community. Is it like heaven, or something completely different. Above all, your post was an enjoyable read. My assumption about funerals have drastically changed.

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