Sayadaw Bhaddanta Silanandabhivamsa, D.Litt
is unique among religions in that it knows no ceremonies comparable
to those in other religions. Ceremonies and rituals, elaborate
and tiresome in performance, have no room in Buddhism. We do
not find any instance in the Pali Canon where the Buddha lays
down the rules and methods for the performance of ceremonies
for the laity. It is left to the individual whether or not to
perform them. He has only one thing which he must take into
consideration, that is his performing of ceremonies does not
clash with the teachings of the Buddha.
In the absence, then, of any rules governing the performance
of ceremonies in Buddhism, man cannot but follow the customs
of the place where he lives, provided that these customs do
not go against the tenets of Buddhism.
If the customs or performance of the ceremonies do not accord
with Buddhist religion, or if the religious compunction does
not approve of them, then the method of performance, rather
than the ceremony itself, should be adapted to suit the religious
teachings, or an entirely new way of performing the ceremony
should be sought for.
A man will want to do something of a ceremony when a child is
born to him, or he has an occasion to give away his son or daughter
in marriage, or at the time of death of other persons. The following
are the ways of performing ceremonies in connexion with occasions
mentioned above, and they are so arranged as to be acceptable
to all Buddhists.
A few days after a child is born to a man, it occurs to him
to give the child a name, a name which would be auspicious and
pleasant to the ear. To do this he should invite some Bhikkhus
and laymen to his house and offer food and other requisites
to the Bhikkhus. When the offering of the food is over, he should
place the child in front of the Bhikkhus, take Five Precepts
”Panca Sila” from them and request them to recite Buddhist
Suttas called Parittas and give a name to the child.
The Bhikkhus will then recite such Suttas as Mangala
Sutta, Ratana Sutta, Metta Sutta, all of which can
be found in Khuddaka Patha of the Khuddaka Nikaya,
and such other Suttas as they think fit to recite on
The leader of the Bhikkhus will give a name to the child, or
if the father desires that the name be given by some other person,
he can ask a person whom he likes, to give the name. He is free
to choose a man who will give the name, or if he wishes, he
could himself choose a name for the child. After the recitation
of the Suttas and offering are over the Bhikkhus will
leave his house, after which he can give a feast to the people
whom he has invited to participate in the ceremony.
The significance of this ceremony is to help the child grow
up in good health and live a long and prosperous life. The effect
of reciting the Suttas is to scare away the bad spirits who
might harm or even kill the child. There was an instance, at
the time of the Buddha, of a certain child who was destined
to die after seven days as a demon had got permission from his
superiors to eat the child. The parents knew this from their
family ascetic and at his advice went to the Buddha and requested
Him to save the child. The Buddha then told them to have a pandal
built in front of their house and invite eight or sixteen Bhikkhus
to recite the Suttas for seven days without stop. They
did exactly as advised by the Buddha so as to save the child.
On the seventh day the Buddha Himself came to the pandal, where
a great gathering of powerful gods who came to listen the Dhamma
was formed. The demon got no chance to snatch away the child
as he dared not approach the assembly of gods. The child accordingly
was saved and lived a very long lifeâ€”for one hundred and twenty
For Buddhists, marriage is totally secular and has nothing to
do with religion. No Bhikkhus in Theravada countries officiate
at marriage ceremonies. Neither are marriage ceremonies performed
at Buddhist Viharas, Temples or Pagodas. They can be
done at any convenient place other than the places already stated.
Ways of ceremony may differ with the place where the individual
concerned lives. As marriage is secular in its nature, the individual
is free to follow the custom of the place or country in so far
as the tenets of Buddhism are not impaired. It is, therefore,
not allowable for the marriage to be held. e.g., in a Christian
Church, or to have it been officiated by a Christian. The best
place to have a marriage ceremony performed is at one's
own house, or if the house is not big enough for the gathering,
the town hail or some other suitable place. Marriage can be
conducted by the parents of both sides, or by an elderly man
respected by both families, or any other person whom the two
sides choose. There will, no doubt, be rejoicings and feasts,
which can be done freely.
But if the individual is desirous of having some religious flavour
in marriage, he can do no better than invite some Bhikkhus,
a day or two after the ceremony, and offer them food and requisites
and request them to give advice or admonition to the newly-wedded
couple. The Bhikkhus will recite some Parittas and one
of them will give advice to the husband and wife. Buddha Himself
gave advice to the maidens who were about to be married.
Buddha was once invited to the house of a lay follower named
Uggaha to accept food. When the Buddha had finished eating food,
Uggaha asked the Buddha to deliver a sermon giving them advice.
Buddha then preached to them regarding their behavior towards
their husbands.* *
In the famous Singala Sutta *** of Digha Nikaya, Buddha
laid down duties of husband and wife to each other. These duties
should be told to the newly weds so that they may lead a happy
duties of a wife are:
do domestic work (or to have it done) well in time,
please the relatives of both her husband and herself by treating
them with affection and by sending presents, messages, etc.
abstain even from thought of misconduct with another man,
take good care of whatever has been earned by the husband,
have skill and zeal for whatever she may have to do.
duties of a husband are:
treat the wife with due affection,
avoid superiority complex,
abstain from misconduct with other Women.
authorize the wife to do what she pleases (in the kitchen
and other household affairs), and
let the wife have clothes and ornaments according to his rank
and position in life. ***
duties were laid down over 2500 years ago, yet they are applicable
in these modern times. These are the duties which, if properly
fulfilled, would make the couple happy and prosperous. There
is another set of advice given by her father to Visakha, who
later became the foremost female devotee of the Buddha, before
sending her away in marriage to her husband. ****
In order to understand the meaning of the funeral ceremony performed
by the Buddhists, it is necessary to understand the philosophy
underlying it. Funeral ceremony performed without the knowledge
of this philosophy will not be beneficial both to the deceased
and to the person who performs it. This philosophy which is
so essential in this ceremony is as follows
According to Buddhism, a person after his death, is ordinarily
liable to be reborn in one of the 31 planes of existence. His
rebirth is conditioned by good or bad deeds which he does in
the present life or in some cases by deeds done in past lives.
If he is virtuous, or if he does good deeds during his life,
he may be reborn in the world of gods where he will enjoy godly
pleasures; or if he is vicious in this life, he may be reborn
in one of the four woeful states known in Pali as Apaya,
which consists of Hell, Animal World, World of Petas
and World of Asuras. He will suffer various torments
and inflictions, hunger and thirst, etc., in those states.
Again, according to the Buddhist Law of Kamma, even a person
who has done good deeds is not definitely certain where he will
be reborn, whether in higher planes or in woeful states. Through
Kamma which he has done in past lives and which gets
chance to give result, he may be reborn in a woeful state. Such
is the Buddhist Law of Kamma. We cannot, therefore, be
sure where a person, who has passed away, will be reborn.
If he is reborn in the world of gods or Devas, we can do nothing
to help him in his new existence. Neither could we do any thing
in the case of his being reborn in Hell or Animal World or world
of Asuras. But if he is reborn in the World of 'Petas'
, we can help him. A peta does not get enough to
eat, enough to drink and enough cloth to cover up its body.
It is always hungry, thirsty and deficient in all necessities
of life. It is to help such beings that we perform ceremonies
at or after the funeral. But as we can never know where a deceased
person is reborn, we perform funeral ceremonies whenever death
occurs, so that in case the deceased is reborn in the World
of Petas, he may benefit from our ceremony here, and
even or if he is reborn elsewhere we may acquire merits for
The ceremony should be performed in this way:
Bhikkhus should be invited to the house where a person has died,
or to the cemetery. The corpse should be placed before the Bhikkhus.
The relatives should then assemble and take 'Panca Sila'
from the Bhikkhus. Then they should offer the Bhikkhus some
thing from the deceased ”a piece of cloth is usual”, and after
that they should invite the deceased to take a share of the
merit for meritorious deed by rejoicing at it. If the deceased
could come and rejoice at it, i.e. utter Sadhu! Sadhu!,
he will at that very moment be free from the woeful state he
has fallen into and will enjoy godly clothes, ornaments, abodes
and so on, and he will be thankful to his relations.
Also seven days after the death, offering of food should be
made to the Bhikkhus. The same procedure should be repeated
here, and the deceased should be invited to take a share of
the merit by rejoicing at the meritorious deed.
a result of this offering of food he will be able to enjoy godly
food there . So, to put it in a nutshell, ceremony connected
with the death of a person should be performed twice, once,
at burial or cremation and again seven days after death. Both
should be done with the intention of helping the deceased, if
by some evil Kamma he is reborn in the World of Petas.
Inviting others to take shares of the merit by rejoicing at
one's own meritorious deeds itself is a meritorious act
called Pattidana (giving of merit acquired): and rejoicing
at meritorious deeds done by others is also a meritorious act
called Pattanumodana(rejoicing at merit acquired by others).
Besides, one's own merit does not decrease although it is
shared with others just as the light of a candle does not decrease
although other candles are lighted with it. That is why all
Buddhists, when they do meritorious deeds, invite all other
beings to take shares of the merit by rejoicing at the meritorious
between ordinary offerings and the offerings made for the benefit
of the deceased
However, ordinary offerings are made primarily for the benefit
of the donors them selves and the benefit of others, who rejoice
at the offerings and thereby get a share of the merits therefor,
is only a matter of secondary consideration; whereas offerings
made at or in connection with funerals are primarily for the
benefit of the deceased and the benefit of the donors themselves
is only a matter of secondary consideration.
Besides, in the case of ordinary offerings it is not essential
that the donors and the sharers of their merit should get immediate
benefit, whereas in the case of offerings made for the deceased
it is absolutely essential that they should on rejoicing at
the offerings get immediate benefit, e.g. in the form of godly
clothes, ornaments, abodes and so on. The deceased cannot wait
for future benefits like the donors and other sharers of merits
and they can get immediate benefit only if the donees are virtuous.
essential conditions for effectiveness of offerings made for
the benefit of the decease.
So three essential conditions must be fulfilledin order that
the deceased might get the full benefit of theoffering made
by his relative.
These three conditions are:
the donor must make the offering expressly for the benefit
of the deceased saying "Let the merit for this offering
reach my relative so and so.
the donee must be a virtuous person; and
the deceased himself must rejoice in and express appreciation
of the offering. *"
The first condition does not prevent the donor from inviting
other deceased relatives and all other beings to rejoice at
the offering; and take shares of the merit therefor.
With reference to the second condition there was an instance
of a Peta, who had not benefited by three offerings made
successively to one and the same vicious donee, crying "The
vicious person has robbed me!" (i.e. of the benefits
which might have arisen to me immediately if the offerings had
been made to a virtuous person).*""
However, the second condition is essential only for the special
purpose of letting the deceased benefit immediately by rejoicing
at the offering.
without such special object can be made to any being, good or
bad. Even offering a little food to a dog is an act of merit;
the donor will get benefit therefor; and the sharer will get
benefit for rejoice thereat although the benefit in either case
may not be immediate and the amount of merit for offerings increases
with the virtue not only of the donee but also of the donor.
performing of funeral ceremony or in other words, giving dana
and share merit with the spirits is the duty of every relative
(nati dhamma), be he a near or remote, as the person
who has passed away from this world and is reborn in the Woeful
State of Petas always hope for an opportunity to utter
'Sadhu', i.e., to rejoice at the dana done
for his benefit by his relatives.
For sons and daughters, it is imperative that they perform funeral
ceremony at the death of their father or mother. Expectation
that they would perform such ceremony is one of the reasons
for the parents' desire to have children. Says the Buddha
in Anguttara Nikaya: *""""Seeing
five things, Bhikkhus, parents desire a son born in the family.
What five? He will support and attend to us in our old age,
having been reared by us; he will do for us what must be done;
our tradition will long endure (on account of him); he will
enjoy the heritage; and he will make offerings for us and will
share merit with us when we are dead." It is also one of
the five duties of sons or daughters towards their parents to
do meritorious deeds and to share merits with the parents who
have passed away.
conclusion, it should be noted that only ceremonies which are
in accord with Buddhism are permissible. It is most important
for a Buddhist, when performing ceremonies, to be careful not
to go to other religions or deities for refuge discarding the
Triple Gem; i.e., the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. If the refuge
in the Three Gems is discarded, he will no longer be a Buddhist.
Dhammapda Commentary, Vagga 8
** Anguttara Nikaya, Vol. II., pp. 30-31, 6th Syn. Edn.
Please see Suttanta Pitaka, Digha Nikaya, Pathika-vagga,
Singala Sutta, page 146, 6th Synod Edition; and Pathika-vagga
Atthakatha, Singala Sutta Vannana, page 124, 6th
Dhammapada Commentary, 4, Story 8.
Petavatthu Atthakatha. 6th Synod Edition, p. 25.
Majjhima Nikaya, Uparipannasa Atthakattha,
4. Vibhanga Vagga, 12. Dakkhina-vibhanga
Suttavannana, p. 219, 6th Synod Edition.
*""" Anguttara Nikaya, Pancaka
Nipata, Pathama Pannasaka, 4. Sumana-vagga,
9. Putta Sutta, p. 37, 6th Syn. Edn.