In Malaysia, approximately 20% of the population practice Buddhism, the majority being ethnic Malaysian Chinese and some amongst the Indian community.
There are 4 major sects of Buddhism being practiced here: Mahayana (which is primarily practiced by most in Malaysia), Theravada (or Thai Buddhism), Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.
Despite the numerous branches, all followers of the teachings of Buddha are bound together by a common set of beliefs, characterised by individual practices and traditions. As far as Buddhist funerals are concerned, death is seen as a transition from the present life to the next. As the soul is being brought closer to nirvana, a state of absolute bliss is achieved. After a funeral service conducted by Buddhist monks or members of Buddhist organisations, the casket is then transferred to a burial plot or columbarium after cremation.
Buddhism teachings emphasize the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. At the core of Buddhist ideology is that existence is a form of suffering, whether it is the day you were born, childhood, adulthood, old age and death. Upon death, the karmic forces (good deeds and bad deeds) accumulated by the deceased throughout his or her lifetime become activated and will be used to determine their next rebirth. Every action has a causal effect – whether good, bad or neutral, these karmas will determine the believer’s future reincarnation. Liberation from the cycle of rebirth can only be achieved when one reaches the state of nirvana (where there will be no more suffering, cravings or ignorance). This can be achieved over several lifetimes, when the soul is purified thought right thoughts, speech, actions, understanding etc.
For the living, Buddha’s teaching on impermanence is reinforced through death.
Buddha says: “Life is a journey.” In other words, death is not the end but merely a transition. Buddhism teachings emphasize on simplicity, peace and serenity where those seeking to be enlightened will find true happiness and freedom from suffering. There seems to be an overlap between Taoist and Buddhist funeral rites in Malaysia but as long as they do not contradict the teachings of Buddha, they are generally accepted.