What is the purpose of funerals in your faith?
"Dear friends, brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death" In this way the main speaker at a Buddhist funeral will often introduce one of the two primary themes of a Buddhist funeral - compassion. The other theme is the realization of transcendence.
A funeral gathers together family and friends in a communal act of grieving and reflection. It gives the community a chance to support the immediate family members in their time of loss. It allows us to express our love of and gratitude for the person that has died. It also gives us a chance to ask for forgiveness and in turn to offer forgiveness because there is often a fair bit of unfinished business at the time of death. The funeral itself triggers feelings of grief that might have been waiting to surface. All of these aspects of a funeral serve to open the heart of compassion and to remind us of our humanity, our common bond with all beings. This fosters feelings of sincere friendship that are so important to any spiritual community.
A funeral also allows us to stop. In a Buddhist culture as in most cultures we have permission to cancel appointments, put aside our diaries and for some limited period get off the wheel of interminable busyness so that we can contemplate the profundity and meaning of death. In this stopping we have the chance to consider our own mortality and in contemplating our own death we are faced with meaning of our own life. How have we lived? How are we living? When and how will we experience our own dying? It is in this stopping and reflecting that the second theme of a Buddhist funeral arises - the contemplation of transcendence.
We are often reminded that the Buddha's own search for meaning came from his profound contemplation of death. With birth there is death - this is inevitable. Is there an aspect of being that is not born and does not die? The Buddha's own spiritual journey resulted in his finding an end to the cycle of birth and death. Thus, a Buddhist funeral reminds us of our highest ethical responsibility and deepest spiritual possibility - the realization of the deathless.