Thursday, May 23, 2024

Enhancing Buddhist Funeral Services at Fu Gui Shan Zhuang

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This study focuses on the role of structured Buddhist funeral services in providing opportunities to link the community to palliative care and effective planning for end-of-life care. The study was conducted at Fu Gui Shan Zhuang, a voluntary welfare home which has a long history in serving the community, especially in the promotion of elderly Buddhist welfare. The elderly population in Singapore is on the rise, with many being familiar and attached to their religious faith in Buddhism. Buddhism has a rich array of rituals, and funeral services are considered to be one of the most important within the cycle of life and death. This is a time where family and friends would gather to remember and pay tribute to the deceased. It serves to provide emotional and spiritual support for the survivors and to promote merit dedicated for the future well-being of the departed. The event is usually held over a few days, but many Singaporeans are unfamiliar with the meaning of funeral rites and are uncomfortable with the sight of illness, death, and dying. This has, in turn, led to a trend of Buddhist funerals being converted to a simple ceremony done in a day and considerably less religious in practice. As many Singaporeans are unsure about future and end-of-life issues, they tend not to think ahead or prepare for advanced care planning and palliative care. This has subsequently led to a situation where survivors of the deceased are left emotionally and spiritually unsatisfied. The rapid changes and modernization of our society today are also hindering factors as Singaporeans become more materialistic and are not willing to spend much on a funeral service. These will be further explained in the subsequent sections.

In this section, it is necessary to introduce what Fu Gui Shan Zhuang is and its history, and the reasons why its funeral service might not be effective in galvanizing the public for changes. This information will give readers a better understanding of the subject and why change is necessary. The section will also outline why Buddhist funeral service was chosen in particular and why Buddhist rituals are necessary to introduce to the community. A comparative study between Buddhist and Christian rituals will also be explained to justify why it is more beneficial to concentrate on the Buddhist funeral service compared to other religions’ funeral service in this community.

Background of Fu Gui Shan Zhuang

The facilities that Fu Gui Shan Zhuang provides allow family members and friends to conduct a funeral at a comfortable and affordable place. By making a funeral comfortable and affordable, this enables friends and family to perform meritorious deeds for the deceased, and these good wishes can be transferred to the deceased for a better rebirth. A better rebirth of the deceased is the ultimate goal and often served at such modernized Buddhist funeral establishments. These modernized Buddhist funerals serve the needs of both the traditional and modern world.

Fu Gui Shan Zhuang was set up with an exceptional objective in mind. Unlike the typical extravagant and lively Taoist funerals which involve the burning of joss paper and incense as well as elaborate processions and noise, the Buddhist way of death and care for the deceased is silent and dignified. Unfortunately, the traditional Buddhist wake, funeral, and cremation often do not meet public facilities or HDB void decks. Fu Gui Shan Zhuang aims to bridge the gap between public facilities and home by providing a comfortable venue to conduct Buddhist funerals.

Fu Gui Shan Zhuang is a recognised Buddhist funeral home in Singapore that was established in the year 1994 by the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery. Situated on a tranquil hilltop overlooking the serene Chinese Garden, Fu Gui Shan Zhuang provides a comprehensive suite of funeral services for Buddhists, Taoists, and their respective families. The establishment was created to address the often-cumbersome process of conducting funerals at home for the likes of free-thinkers, Taoists, and Buddhists.

Importance of Buddhist Funeral Services

The importance of Buddhist funeral services and the mission of Fu Gui Shan Zhuang are to ensure that anyone can receive a decent, proper Buddhist funeral regardless of their financial situation. The home will work to provide educational resources to the public about the various Buddhist funeral services, their meanings, and how to properly plan for a funeral. With an emphasis on community involvement, the home will also provide volunteer services to others in educating and helping them to plan a pre/post-life service.

With this in mind, our care for the departed is a service to the living. By performing post-life services for the deceased, we comfort the living family members and help them to recover from their sense of loss. The deceased are remembered with an annual memorial service on the anniversary of their death.

Buddhist funeral services are the manifestation of the Buddhist teachings of filial piety, gratitude, and the repayment of kindness. In view of the uncertainty of life, the Buddha instructed that it was important for a person to discuss and decide upon the form his funeral and related services should take. A pre-planned funeral removes the burden of decision making from the family of the deceased during their time of grief and allows the services to reflect the spiritual beliefs of the individual. This will help the deceased to have a fortunate rebirth and also help the survivors to remember the departed and to cultivate the proper attitudes of gratitude and kindness.

Comprehensive Buddhist Funeral Package

The purpose of introducing the comprehensive Buddhist funeral package is to help the layperson in charge of the funeral by providing him with all the necessary services and assistance required to ensure the funeral takes place smoothly. This also sets the stage for a systematic approach towards conducting the funeral in the traditional Buddhist way. This is a major improvement over the previous reactive approach whereby only selected services are being provided and issues are resolved only when they arise. With everything pre-planned and prepared, it saves a lot of time and effort as opposed to only knowing what to do when the situation arises. Usually, this approach leaves the organizer with a sense of accomplishment with his loved one getting a proper send-off and satisfactory closure. budhhist funeral package It provides a range of services and options for customization. The comprehensive Buddhist funeral package ensures that every aspect of the funeral ceremony can be tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the family and loved ones.The Funeral Director Module serves as a useful one-stop guide on how the layperson can engage and work with the professionals to get the job done. It is the culmination of the “enhancing funeral services” ideas proposed to the committee, which includes a clear elaboration of the steps of engagement, a list of useful services, and a set of criteria on how to select the appropriate service. This will also serve as a guide for the professionals that are providing the services and a standard for future reference. With the close collaboration of professionals and the use of the various services, it is hoped the funeral can proceed without a hitch and the family can manage the event in a stress-free manner. In the event of the unexpected happening, there is also a module that provides contingency preparation and issue resolution.

Traditional Funeral Rituals and Ceremonies

The main objective for conducting this study is to create a comprehensive Buddhist funeral package for Singapore Buddhist lodge, Fu Gui Shan Zhuang, to recommend to Buddhist a more meaningful funeral. The report discusses the qualitative research carried out among the local community and existing funeral packages offered by various service providers in Singapore. The qualitative research explored the attitudes and needs of Singaporean Buddhists towards a more meaningful funeral. Thereafter, it was compared to the existing funeral packages to evaluate the available options in creating a meaningful Buddhist funeral. The existing funeral packages were found to be inadequate in meeting the needs of the Buddhist community. They reflect a more Taoist influenced approach, rather than a Buddhist one. The Buddhist lodge was found to offer minimal assistance and only a basic package, consisting of prayers and a vegetarian wake. Relevance and significance of the funeral differs towards each individual. Different school of thoughts and various level of commitment towards Buddhism were reflected from the interviews, thus showing that there are diversified needs for a meaningful funeral. Many Singaporean Buddhists are not able to differentiate between a Buddhist and Taoist funeral and there are no proper guidelines to be referred to. Most of the elderly had never thought of planning their own funeral and only expect their family members to make the arrangements. This may be burdensome for the family, as there would be lack of proper understanding and confusion in differentiating a Buddhist and Taoist funeral. A more meaningful funeral will benefit the deceased, by giving him spiritual satisfaction and a good karma to his next life. By understanding the needs and aspirations of the Buddhist community, it is only appropriate that funeral services be upgraded to reflect the tradition and teachings of Buddhism. This will in turn provide an opportunity for individuals to pre-plan their funeral in accordance to Buddhist values and beliefs. It will also serve as a guideline for family members to make informed decisions when the time comes to arrange a funeral.

Professional Funeral Services and Assistance

These steps will help enhance the funeral experience for the family as professional expertise will free the family from doing these tasks and allow them to make better spiritual preparation for the wake. At the same time, without intervention, the family might procure services not suitable for a Buddhist wake and make unnecessary expenses.

The professional florist will help the family select the appropriate flower arrangements suitable for the wake and budget. The florist will have vast experience in flower decorations for funeral wakes to create a peaceful and soothing atmosphere. Although the family can choose to create their own effigy, the venture feels that a professionally made effigy by a temple artisan will be more suitable. The effigy artisan will be able to carve out a better physical resemblance of the deceased from wood, which serves as a better lasting memory for the family to hang on to during and after the wake.

Fu Gui Shan Zhuang will engage professional assistance for significant steps during the funeral and wake. This will include body preparation and makeup service, a professional florist, and religious effigy services. The body preparation and makeup service is performed by Than Lian undertaker, who has over 25 years of experience in preparing Buddhist bodies for the wake and does the makeup to enhance the look of the deceased to be more presentable to the family and public. This helps calm the family members and also enhances the last memory the relatives will have of the deceased.

Customized Offerings and Memorabilia

The primary reason for us to do this is that, on the emotional timeline of the loss of a loved one, many families are unable to come to terms with death itself. They may be averse to performing certain rituals or ceremonies and might feel that it would bring bad luck upon them. We do not want to force anyone to perform something against their will, as this would be counterproductive in terms of grieving and mourning the death of a loved one. By allowing them to mix and match package items, they may allocate specific ceremonies or offerings for a later date. This would ensure the peaceful progression of life for the family, and eventually, the older traditions may be incorporated at a time when the family is emotionally ready.

Customized offerings, as implied by the name, suggest to provide that something extra what the client wants. Our primary objective is to offer practical support to a family that has needs to come to terms with a death. The needs of families are influenced by the society in which they live, traditions, and the rituals they follow. This may also depend upon the age at which a person dies and the cause of death. Each of our packages comes with a set of offerings pertaining to the package. But under this category, we allow our families to mix and match items from various packages.

Grief Counseling and Support

Buddhist philosophy holds that by fully experiencing grief in all of its intensity, one can achieve the serenity that lies beyond it. Thus, letting go of the deceased is a primary objective in Buddhist grief counseling, as it is believed that the deceased has a new life to lead. Although it is natural to still feel an intense attachment to the deceased, our grief counselors, who are an integral part of the bereavement follow-up team, will guide individuals towards acceptance and understanding. We offer individual and family grief counseling sessions and encourage participation in support groups offering assistance from individuals who have gone through a similar experience. These sessions are aimed at helping the individual move forward from grief and to improve well-being in the social, personal, and economic aspects of life. Another aspect of grief counseling in Buddhism is preparation for death. It is widely held that the main purpose of preparing for death is to ensure that one has a good rebirth, preferably rebirth in a Pure Land (Sukhavati), and avoidance of an unfortunate rebirth in lower realms – hell, hungry ghost, animal realms. While there are various schools of Buddhist thought concerning what occurs at and after death, most will agree that a dying individual can beneficially influence his or her next existence. This is accomplished through understanding and accepting the nature of impermanence and the cessation of clinging to this life and also by positive and virtuous living. Thus, counseling for terminally ill individuals seeks to alleviate fear and anxiety and to cultivate a positive, tranquil state of mind. The above concepts are essential to a strong Buddhist approach in grief counseling and will be carried through in helping individuals with pre-death situations in the Fu Gui environment and at the HCA Hospice.

Spiritual Farewell at Fu Gui Shan Zhuang

Buddhists believe that life does not begin at birth nor does it end at death. Death is a temporary cessation of the physical body, but the mind is a continuum, which does not cease. The ending of one life is inevitably followed by a new beginning. To assist the departed in his journey to the next existence, it is important to create the right conditions for a favorable rebirth. This can be achieved through performing certain deeds and rituals, signifying good wishes and providing the necessary guidance to the departed. At Fu Gui Shan Zhuang, we will facilitate in organizing a simple and yet meaningful ritual, to symbolize the sending off of the departed to the destined realm, bestowing good wishes for a better and favorable rebirth.

For the bereaved, facing the loss of a loved one and dealing with the grief can be a very trying and painful period. A Buddhist approach emphasizes on dedicating merits to the departed. At Fu Gui Shan Zhuang, we provide an environment where family and friends are able to accumulate merits through their good intentions and dedications. This is carried out through the various Buddhist scriptures and chanting sessions, led by the Venerables. In dedicating merits to the departed, this will cultivate a virtuous state of mind and create a peaceful and conducive environment for the departed to move on to the next existence.

Fu Gui Shan Zhuang is a tranquil garden in the heart of Singapore that provides a serene environment for Buddhist funeral services. At this peaceful retreat, we are able to offer specialist services to the Buddhist community, ensuring that your loved one is able to depart from this world with peace and tranquility. Sitting on a gentle slope, Fu Gui Shan Zhuang is surrounded by lush greenery and is enveloped in fresh, unpolluted air. This tranquil environment is conducive for meditation and reflection and is an ideal setting for a spiritual farewell.

Tranquil Environment for Meditation and Reflection

Often Buddhist funerals in Singapore have a modern setting with loud air-conditioned tents and sometimes even have live band performances. This kind of setting is not conducive for meditation and reflection and is not suitable for a proper spiritual send-off for the deceased. Traditional Buddhist funeral rites are not observed in such a setting. Most funeral directors tend to compromise and adapt the rites so that they can be done quickly and without much waiting time. This is because in the modern setting, the family and friends of the deceased have other commitments and do not want to spend too much time at a funeral. Steps are usually taken to try to make it convenient for the family and friends. For example, a 20-minute cremation service, an air-conditioned Columbarium. This compromises the quality of the rituals and the environment in turn affects the outcome. At Fu Gui Shan Zhuang, it is possible to provide a tranquil environment for quality Dhamma services and rituals. This would be good not only for the deceased but also for the monks who are conducting the services and for the participants. It is a conducive setting for the monks to practice their faith and a good opportunity for the participants to take part in the service or rituals and observe the Dhamma in action.

Fu Gui Shan Zhuang provides a conducive environment for the living to calm their minds as well as to reflect on their past deeds. The practice of meditation and reflection is highly stressed in Buddhism. It is said that reflecting on one’s past deeds is the first step to changing oneself for the better. This in turn affects what happens to the deceased. The more positive the change, the better it is for the deceased to take a better rebirth. It is believed that a conducive environment has a positive effect on one’s meditation and reflection. Observing this, the current practice is to have these sessions at the wake itself and also to incorporate it into a Dhamma service. The quiet and serene environment at Fu Gui Shan Zhuang provides an excellent place for these sessions.

Buddhist Scriptures and Chanting Sessions

Buddhist scriptures are a splendid way of honoring the departed. By having a chanting session, the family of the deceased is at once showing their respect to the three jewels and the departed. An ordained Buddhist monk is invited to conduct the chanting session, reading from the ancient Pali scriptures that teach the original words of the Buddha. The tranquil environment of Fu Gui Shan Zhuang and the melodic Pali tongue combine to imprint a sense of peacefulness and tranquility within the bereaved, and the positive effects of the chanting are also believed to transfer spiritual merit to the departed, minimizing their suffering in the afterlife and facilitating a better rebirth. After the chanting session, it is recommended to have a brief sharing on the teachings of the scriptures to the family and friends present, further reinforcing their understanding of the Buddhist doctrine. This can be followed up with a series of dhamma talks in the weeks and months to come, keeping them connected with the Buddhist community at Fu Gui Shan Zhuang and enhancing their knowledge of the Dhamma. The departure of a loved one can be a saddening and traumatic experience, and the bereaved may feel lost and alone. With the family’s permission, Fu Gui Shan Zhuang is able to arrange a blessing and protection string (pirith chanted by Sri Lankan Monks) session for the departed in their home to alleviate their passing and smooth their transition into a better rebirth. This is also a great comfort for the family, who are given the chance to invite friends and relatives to join in the session and pray for the departed. Discriminated by societal roles, it recognizes the uniqueness of each individual and thus helps maintain the personal identity of a person with dementia. The time and effort involved in creating a life story book, however, may cause it to be a less feasible option.

Rituals for Proper Sending-off of the Departed

In the traditional Buddhist perspective, conducting rites and rituals is considered meritorious and is dedicated towards the dispensation (bestowal) of merits towards the departed. A ritual series known as Paccuga Sankhara (the last thoughts) is conducted over seven days pursuant to the demise of a loved one. This serves as a guide for the departed in his transition between death and rebirth. It is believed that the mindset of the departed during the point of death and the moments before finding a new footing in Samsara will determine the quality of the next life. For those who are committed to the recitation of the Buddhist Scriptures, it is generally considered that the mind of the departed will linger upon the verses and so an invited member of the Sangha, or a close relative who is well versed in chanting, will conduct a Paritta Session (Protective chanting) in dedication of the merits generated to the departed. This will be conducted over seven days or more, usually concluding on the Seventh Day Ceremony. In addition to these chanting sessions, it is encouraged the family of the departed, with the consultation of a Buddhist Monk, to carry out various meritorious deeds and offerings that will serve as a deed of transfer for the merits to the departed. This may include but is not limited to giving of alms to members of the Sangha, public offer of lunch daana at a local temple, and directing of merits towards a blessing of good reincarnation for the departed.

Peaceful Burial and Memorial Options

Cremation is the choice of disposal of the deceased taken by many people in today’s modern society. It is common that the contemporary society is expanding the concept that cremation is the best option for disposal due to the problem of burial land scarcity. However, Buddhists still believe that cremation is not the best option for the disposal of a dead body. We have received many inquiries from the public asking whether there is another alternative other than cremation for the disposal of a dead body. In response to that, there are numerous peaceful burial options and other memorial options available at Wu Gui Shan Zhuang. The objective of creating the peaceful burial and memorial options is to provide an alternative method compared to contemporary cremation, as well as to provide a place for Buddhists to memorialize their ancestors or the deceased for a very long period compared to contemporary methods, either through the Chinese tradition of 49 days or the Taoist 100 days. Regarding the burial options, there are two methods: natural burial and the Buddhist type of burial. Natural burial is the burial in which the body of the deceased will be put into the ground without going through the embalming process and put into a biodegradable body bag. After that, the body will be buried in the ground. At our place, we will use the green burial concept. This concept actually corresponds to the Buddhist concept of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and sky. According to our understanding, the body, after being put into the mother earth, will go back to the earth and be buried beneath the ground. The biochemical reaction of the body will cause it to liquefy, returning it to a water condition. Then, it will mix with the earth and greenery. After that, the body will go into an evaporation condition, and finally, the fifth element is that the body will become the wind or the air. However, according to current government law, natural burial is not applicable. So, for the time being, there will be no further information on this.

Aftercare Services for the Bereaved

Thus it would be better to offer the bereaved an opportunity for a more gradual re-entry into an environment where they can engage in their usual activities of daily living but at the same time receive emotional support and care to assist them in their grieving process. This may be done through the provision of temporary retreat accommodation at FGS, a serene environment where the family may live together and receive counseling and support. Healthier meals could be provided and informal but supportive counseling sessions may be arranged to occur between the family and visiting monastics. This service could also be open to the wider public.

It is because a major part of their mind is still focused on the loss they have just experienced. Thus going to a place where there are often many people, laughter and noise can be an unwelcome experience for the bereaved. This is further compounded in instances where the death was sudden or accidental and in situations where the deceased was still young.

Currently, after a cremation or burial, the bereaved family often will take food at a hotel or restaurant before returning home. This is not an ideal arrangement as it is not uncommon for some to lose their appetite or retain any inclination for eating.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we believe that the development of accurate and informed resources on the Buddhist funeral rites and customs, within the context of Buddhist beliefs and values, will contribute to the possible preservation of Buddhist funeral traditions for future generations. This can be achieved through communicating the significance and relevance of each funeral rite to the Buddhist beliefs and values. By educating the Buddhist community on the meanings and symbolism inherent in the funeral rites, they will be able to make a more informed decision as to whether particular rites are necessary, depending on the specific circumstances of the immigrant community in the new country. Although some adaptation of the funeral practices may be necessary, it is hoped that with a clearer understanding of the significance of the rites, the Buddhist community will be able to preserve the essence of the tradition. Through facilitating informed decision-making about the funeral practices, the preservation of cultural capital and resources will be realized. Our research hopes to contribute to minimizing the social suffering of the dying and their family by ensuring the accessibility of applicable and competent Buddhist funeral services in contemporary societies outside of Asia. It is important to note that our research focuses specifically on directives for the deceased and their family and does not concern itself with providing resources for funeral directors or general members of the community that assist with Buddhist funerals.

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