End of Life and Funeral: Tibetan Buddhist Rites
If the patient is coming home or bringing the deceased home for ritual reason, it is a good sense to prepare the bed in advance.
Spread out a Soaker Pad or Incontinent Bed Pad on the bed. These are comfortable and leak proof. Body secretion is common in those who are dying or has passed away. Soaker pads are washable and water proof. Wallmart carry these items too.
Death certificate: Mandatory
Death Certificate is given by the doctor or the hospital where he/she passed away or by local Coroner’s office. Call 911 and paramedics will arrive. They will call Coroner’s office who will visit your house and give death certificate. Coroner may call police, if you intend to keep the body for two or more days as it is not customary here in North America to keep body at home for public health reason. You can explain to the police officer why body needs to kept for the duration due to religious or cultural reasons. Also explain how you will use AC and Dry Ice/ice to keep the body from rapid decay. The officers are very accommodating.
Cover face and whole body with a thin “white cotton” sheet. Use fan and AC both. Open windows for fresh air. if Dry ice is used to keep body cold, fresh air is critical or else it will make everybody sick.
Phowa is very personal and private. Phowa practice is a specialized practice where consciousness can be transferred through crown of the head to Dewachen land, abode of Amitabha(འོད་དཔག་མེད). Phowa can be performed by self before the last breadth or someone else can perform it for the deceased.
If deceased has special connections to spiritual lamas then inform him immediately.
Phowa can also be learned and practiced when alive. Go here
to listen(Audio in tibetan) to H.H. the Dalai Lama’s instruction on how to prepare for a dying loved one.
Viewing or Visitation, Funeral Service and Cremation/ Burial
Cost for Viewing/Visitation, Funeral/Service and finally cremation/burial may range from 1500- 6000 Canadian dollars and more.
Tibetan tradition demands that cremation must be done on certain date and time. Until then body is kept at home or in the morgue. For Tibetans, body is never an object to discard at the convenience of the living.
Some Tibetan lama or meditation practitioner can stay in ThugDam state. In ThugDam state body remains fresh; nose does not sink; elasticity of skins is retained; glow of face does not fade. It is still shrouded in mystery as far as science goes. H.H. the Dalai Lama’s senior tutor remained in ThugDam state for 13 days.
Public or friends visit the home of the decease with white Khata and envelop (with money inside) for butter-lamp offerings. After offering Khata and envelop, guest is made to sit and offered tea and snacks. This is similar to Viewing or a Visitation Service in the west.
On the day of the cremation special rituals are performed; it takes about 1-2 hours, friend and public can join in. This part is akin to Funeral Service in the western culture.
Here in the west, Tibetans ritual Texts are Lama Choepa : 50 minutes
and DewaChen Monlam : 45 minutes
At the residence few monks or layman can also read from scripture Bardo Thoedral
for the next 49 days.
To accumulate more good Karma for the dead, public and friends gathered at the crematorium are offered Tea and snacks. After this ritual, body is consigned to fire or electric furnace and ashes are collected later. Tibetans do not keep ashes for memories but we throw it in sacred rivers or scatter it in high mountains.
Therefore Tibetans do not have a special Viewing or Visitation service as such. Funeral and Cremation can be performed at Crematorium if it has a chapel to seat about 50-100 people.
Under federal rule deceased body must be enclosed in a rigid, combustible container for cremation. Such casket is also known as “alternative container for CREMATION ”.
Many crematoriums will not accept body directly from the family. There is no savings either because cost for permits, transit, deposition, transportation; special vehicle for the body will push the cost up very fast.
“Basic Cremation with 1 hour funeral service with casket present” is offered by many Funeral Services or Home. One hour funeral service offered in “Basic Cremation with Casket” is enough time for puja, Tea and public Khata. It is good idea to tell them that casket is for adult and is for Cremation. Cost of the Casket may or may not be included in the Basic Cremation Services. If it is not, ask them to provide an “Alternative Container for CREMATION ”.
Without any disrespect for the deceased, whatever little is saved from Funeral Service can be used for subsequent Puja that last for 49 days. Spending too much on Funeral service and cremation, as I see it, is pointless.
Funeral Home vs Crematorium
Funeral Homes provide services such as Visitation or Viewing ie hundreds of people can view the deceased face (it is made to look fresh with cosmetic makeups), read or narrate his or her life’s work, reminisce, obituary is read out, prayer can be offered and have tea and snacks. Funeral Homes can keep the body for weeks too if required. Such practice is very western, not Tibetan culture.
Many Funeral Homes do not have crematories, therefore after the funeral (Pujas are read by monks ) body is transported to wherever the crematories are in the town. Such a journey is not suited to Tibetan culture. What Tibetans need is a place where monks can recite the last rite for half an hour before body is cremated.
Instead of Funeral Home, Crematorium with seats for 50 people is perfect.
Saint James Cemetery, located at 635 Parliament St, Toronto, ON M4X 1R1, Phone 416 964-9194 serves us best. They have the Chapel which can accommodate around 150 people and cremation is in the basement.
Note: Most crematorium are closed on Sunday.
Shopping for Funeral Home
This is easier if you have a reference to compare price with. You can begin your search by using this link: http://www.tranquilityfuneralservice.com/
. I am not their agent!
Internet can provide you with alternative Funeral homes and services. Other source includes Yellow pages and friends.
How to keep the body cold
Power-on your AC if you have one and fan too - winter or summer does not matter. All the heat source are insulated with paper and dry towel (not wet towel). If there is a thermostat in the room, where the body is, then set it to the lowest.
Ice: Ice is available at many stores and is cheap too. Keep in mind that ice drips as it melts and will wet everything, bed, floor and body. First put ice cubes/pellets in a water tight plastic bags (Water takes less space than solid ice). Do not put ice directly onto the body. There must be a barrier between the body and the ice packs. If you have done as I have mentioned above, white cotton sheet covers his face and body.
Dry ice: Dry ice is made of Carbon Dioxide which is kept at -70 C. Dry ice do not melt and therefore no water drips or wets the floor or bed, it sublimates(sublimation is process that changes from solid to Gas; no intermediate state called liquid) I was told that Japanese use dry ice to keep body cold.
Dry Ice Safety
Do NOT touch Dry ice with your bare hands. Use garden gloves made of cotton, leather or woolen. Oven mitt or towel will work. Thin Plastic or vinyl are not sufficient protection. Dry ice will freeze skin in seconds. Dry ice will cause injury similar to a burn.
Dry Ice is Carbon Dioxide gas when it sublimates. Good ventilation is essential if it is kept in a room where the body is. Keep car windows open when transporting Dry ice from store to your house.
Do not put Dry ice in any air tight container (plastic bags). Use bubble wrap and towel to wrap Dry ice in and put it in ice-box. Do not leave Dry ice directly on tile or countertops. They will crack. Do not store Dry Ice in Freezer. It will ruin the thermostat. If your freezer is broken, then dry ice is the best solution to keep your food safe.
Dry ice is costly compared to ice. It cost $ 21 per 5 kg- these are called samples bags
Here is a dilemma. What to say to the vendor when you shop for Dry ice. You cannot possibly say you have a deceased body to keep it cold. This will be suspicious.
If it is summer, tell them that you are going camping and intend to keep meat cold. If it is winter, tell them that your freezer is broken and want to keep your food safe. Or tell them that you want to kill bed bugs.
Dry ice sublimates fast. Use a cooler (portable ice chest/box) and bubble wrap for transportation. Remember to keep car door open while Dry ice is sitting somewhere in your car.
Dry ice in Toronto
Use internet to search for “Dry ice”. If you live around downtown, Toronto, the Iceman is on Adelaide St. west. Address is The Iceman Toronto,782 Adelaide St West, phone: (416) 504-6615
Where to place the Dry Ice/Ice
There should not be any direct contact with the body and ice or Dry ice. Tibetans put a white Cotton sheet over the body as a general rule.
if you are using ice, first put ice in a plastic bag and make it air tight- solid ice occupies more space than the liquid water which is the end result. If you are using Dry Ice put the sample bag supplied by the vendor directly or wrap Dry Ice, first, in a towel - never use plastic bags for Dry ice unless it is kept open. Dry ice when sublimates will explode if gas cannot escape freely.
Ventilation is essential for Dry ice. Since Carbon Dioxide gas (Dry Ice) is heavier than oxygen, people lying or sitting on the floor may be at higher risk than standing. CO2 kills people.
Put Dry ice or ice on abdomen and navel area. If there is any heat source in the house, put newspaper and wrap it with cotton towel over it if it cannot be switched off. Paper and cotton are good insulators. Do not use wet towel on heat source - bad idea.
What to do next
Do not touch the body: Yet
Do not touch the body, if loved one has died in home. Ask for the Doctor. He will confirm the death. Bring Lama or someone who can perform a short Puja(it can be Phowa too) for the deceased. When the Puja is over body can be moved to a suitable room where it can be kept until the cremation.
TseKor: Consult Tibetan Astrologer
First thing is to consult a Tibetan Astrologer (TA). To do that you need to furnish TA with date of birth and date and time of the day he/she passed away. TA needs to know the one of the 12 Astrological signs such as Mouse, tiger and so on of the deceased. If you don’t know the animal or Astrological sign of the deceased or the family members Click here and enter
the year they were born. It will give you the correct animal signs.
TA will give you following main information that is necessary to for cremation and more:
1 When the body can be removed and in which direction
2 Who are not allowed to touch the body(family member or anybody )(12 animals sign; if you don’t
know your animal sign go to above link)
3 Who can broom when body leaves home(only animal sign will be given)
4 What animal sign should be wrap around the Broom handle (print it out from internet)
5 What extra Puja/Prayers are to be recited.
6 What color two cotton cloths should be and what figures on each cloth are; Diagrams are some zigzag lines which can be traced by anyone; sizes of the each cotton cloths are approximately 9 inches by 14 inches. Ask them to send the images by email as attached file to computer/ipad.
7 What portrait or Thanka must be ordered.
8 Where or what human form the deceased will be reborn.
If you have someone in Dharamsala, India, give them a call or Wechat or Text and ask them to go to Tibetan Medical and Astro institution(TMAI), Gangchen Kyishong, Dharamsala, HP, India, and ask for Astrology Department. Ask them to perform the Tsekor(Astro Calculation) for the deceased. You have to provide TA with date of birth of the deceased including animal sign and what date and time he/she passed away. Here is TMAI’s webpage http://www.men-tsee-khang.org/
You may call them directly but it may not be very fruitful given the time difference and cost of WiFi or email in India prevent stranger(TMAI staff) to make these sacrifices. Give it a try, anyway, but don’t waste precious time either.
Call or ask around for any number of Tibetan Buddhist monks to come to your home and do the Puja or Prayers. Etiquette demands that every monk is placed at little raised seats. In North America, single mattress on the floor against the wall, without the box, is very convenient. They also need coffee table to lay out their ritual objects and Buddhist scripture on. Normally monks will have these ritual objects with them. If not ask any Tibetan monasteries, if they are close by, to borrow; they are FREE. It is also customary that monks be supplied with tea many times during the course of the Puja. This keeps their throat wet; they have to recite tirelessly. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are served each day (Irony is that many Tibetan monks eat meat. So ask them before food is prepared). After lunch they will take a break for an hour and half or so. Before the Dinner each monk is given a white scarf and an envelope containing some amount of money. This is repeated each day until the body is cremated.
Rituals at home
Monks will prepare Torma offerings. Sangha or monk may recite particular texts appropriate for the deceased but many, mostly Kargue and Nyingma, recite Bardo Thoe Dral.
Butter lamps: Gyamchoe: Tealight
100 butter lamps (GyamChoe) or tea light candles are lit. Caution is taken not to keep the candles close to each other or they will catch fire and make a huge flame. My friend’s house almost caught fire but luckily his vigilant wife saved it. GyamChoe continues until the body leaves home.
Same Puja is followed on 7th and 49th closing day. Some families may include 14, 21, 28, 35 and 42nd day as well.
A tea spoon full of Tsampa, butter and salt mix is burned on charcoal during breakfast, lunch and dinner times. This is to represent 3 meals for the deceased. Sur has its own text too!
Items you need
1) Wheel of life (Tibetans call it Sipa Khorlo). Print it out from here. It is pdf format. It can be in color or grey. It is A4 size. Glue this A4 size on a thick cardboard and Ducktape a small handle(behind) so that it can be carried(facing forward) in front of the body when the body is removed from the house.
Click here to download pdf image of SipaKhorlo
2) DaDar (མདའ་དར): it is two foot long wooden stick wrapped around by 5 different colored(white, blue, yellow, green, red) cotton cloth. Tibetans use it for wedding ceremony, protection against evil, and to guard good luck.
3) Chemar: A simple Chemar is made by mixing Tsampa(Barley/wheat flour) with butter/olive oil and made into mound in a small plate. Run three small slice of butter along the slope at equal distance and put a small butter on the tip of the mound.
This Chemar, I made, are cheese strips instead of butter. I had to improvise for this webpage!
4) Two sets of dresses (for male, two shirts and two pants, no shoe or socks). These dresses must have been worn by the deceased in the past. New dress is not permitted.
Ask the Funeral agent to put on a set of dress for the body. Also ask them to cover his face and body with the white cotton sheet and put the body inside the body bag and close it completely. Now the body is ready for removal.
Note: In India and Tibet, it is customary to cover up the face; however, in North America, it is common practice to put makeup on the deceased for viewing or open-casket funeral. This is not our custom.
YangLen is a ritual that is performed if main earning member or elder has passed away. It is not performed for all deceased.
For Yanglen you need Chemar(above), DaDar(above), and set of dress(above) and put them on a tea-tray or a big plate. Hold the tray in your hand and go around the body, clockwise, three times.
As soon as it is over one individual, anyone, can trace a white line with flour from the body to the exit door of the house. Then the body is taken out of the house. Remember that someone else is going ahead of the body with “Wheel of Life/SepaKhorlo” facing forward (back to the body) in his hand.
As the body is out of the threshold(exit door), a particular person, chosen according to Astrology, must broom the white line out(erase) and throw it outside the house- throw it in a garbage bin laying outside the house. Do not bring the material inside the house. TA may have indicated some animal image that is needed to wrap around the broom. You can search internet for the image of the animal provided by TA and make a print out. Or you can also draw the animal.
Yanglen is done to stop if any Yang goes or escapes out of the house along with the body and White line is to led out any evil spirit lurking in the house. When the white line is erased ( broomed ) evil spirit cannot find his way in.
All the Torma are cleared or thrown out; bed is cleaned; Gyamchoe is cleaned and halted for the day; Sur is halted too for the day. This is to indicate that nothing has happened here in the house. All these works are finished before the monks return home from the cremation.
How to Prepare Pyre: India, Nepal and Tibet
Traditionally body is cremated on Pyre made of woods or Sandalwoods. Modern cities use electric furnace instead. In north America only Indian reserve, nothing to do with India, or private land may permit such age old traditions. India, Nepal and Tibet still practice traditional cremations.
Make about 20/30 balls(enough size to fill your both hands ) of ash and oil or kerosene mix. Khata is also good if you can make a ball of it. Set the logs in a rectangular shape(5 wide; 8 length; 5 height; all in feet). Heavier logs are set at the edges and smaller or softer woods are piled in the middle. This arrangement is crucial. As body burns, it falls down; as soft wood and smaller firewood burn fast and heavier logs falls on the body instead of falling outward. Use above balls wherever flame in needed most- throw them in. Skull or head and heart take long to burn as they contain most liquid and protection.
Monks and family members follow the body to the Funeral/Cremation home. As the casket is laid down in the funeral/Cremation home, put the SipaKhorlo(wheel of life) facing the crowd on the casket. Bring from home a Portrait of the Sakyamuni Buddha or the Dalai Lama to the funeral home, my suggestion, as there is nothing in these funeral homes to focus Buddhist prayer on.
Here is Buddha Sakyamuni portrait. Copy right belongs to Geshe Nechung Dorjee and he gave permission to print it.
Above Buddha image is the main Buddha statue inside the Bodh Gaya Temple. Actual size is 4.8 inches by 6.8 inches.
H.H. the Dalai Lama’s portrait. These images are bigger than what is shown here. Click the right button on your mouse and click on Save Image As to download it to your computer. Print as much as you like.
Actual size is 4.46 inches by 6.67 inches
Also bring along 5 big candles and 3 new packets of Tibetan herbal incense. Bring along 3 or 4 flower pots too. Put the flower pots in front of the casket. Light the candles and incense in front of the flower pots. Keep the candles at safe distance from flowers. Bring along a small glass that can hold incense in and a cigarettes lighter too. Tea and snack are served on a disposable cup and plate. Don’t forget to bring along paper napkins, plastic spoon and big garbage bag to put used cups and plates when done. Note: There are no facilities where tea can be made at Cremation or Funeral Homes. Bring them prepared from your place.
Once above are set. Monks will begin the recitation of Prayers. Public joins in with the help of prayer books. If prayers are decide in advance, family can borrow these text from monasteries.
There are two sets of Pechas or scripture to read for the deceased .
1- Pecha to recite before the cremation and for the next 49 days
Gelug Sects: LamaChopa : for the webpage click here
Nyingma And Kaguy Sects: Click click here
Sakya Sects: Kunrik Choga; link is yet to come.
2 Monlam Pecha to recite at the cremation
Gelug Sects: Dechen Monlam; it is different from Nyigma One.
Nyingma and Kaguy Sects: DechenMonlam; For the link click here
Monlam Pechas that are common to all sects are:
Sangchoe Monlam: for link go here
ChodJuk Monlam for link go here
JampaiMonlam (འཕགས་པ་བྱམས་པའི་སྨོན་ལམ། ): for link go here
For FREE eBooks downloads on above Buddhist text and more Click here
; These are mine and FREE.
Tea and cookies(Tibetans prefer Samosa) are served to everybody including monks while Puja continues. Two types of tea are served. They are Tibetan Butter/salt tea and Sugar Tea. Before the puja ends, Monks are offered Khata and envelope with money inside.
Soon after this, public can pay their respects to the deceased with Khata laid on the casket and outsider (non-family members) can offer envelopes to the family. People should not prostrate before the deceased body. Just stand still near the body and say few prayers. Prostration is reserved only for highly realized spiritual lamas (Prostration is reserved for teachers, gurus and lamas; my belief is that unwarranted prostration will earn negative karma for the decreased; Years ago I went to seek a teaching from a learned monk lama; he refused to teach me the Pecha, as it was beyond his understanding, and therefore he also refused to accept my prostration too. The point is that prostration has a deeper meaning in Tibetan Buddhism).
After this, if the cremation and funeral are not in the same building then the body is driven to or sent to the crematorium, where a few monks and relatives (if they insist) will accompany the body. However, I will not recommend any relatives, especially young sons or daughters, to watch or press button of the pyre. This procedure is very painful and monk’s prayers may be distracted if crying or sobbing ensues. Hindu’s have a tradition that pyre is ignited by their relatives. In Tibetan culture it is just the opposite. Pyre cannot be ignited by any relative or any person who had received teachings or are blood related to the deceased.
After cremation, monks are requested to return to home of the deceased and ask them to perform Trusol(cleaning) Puja. This arrangement or conversation should have taken place before coming to the funeral. Usually Tibetans pay $20 to each helper in the crematorium. Don’t forget to ask them about the Ash or remain to be collected later date or time. Guys helping at cremation will give you the time when to collect the Ashes or remains.
Tibetans usually throw the remains or Ashes(as it is without making it into any shapes) in high up in mountains where people usually cannot make any Circumambulation. Some Tibetans, like Hindu, throw it into Ganga River, India. Making Tsatsa(making it into small mounds) out of ash is confusing unless deceased is highly accomplished one. Negative karma may be brought upon the deceased by TsaTsa if a stranger find Tsatsa and assumed it as a sacred object. Therefore decorative Urns may not be helpful for Buddhist Tibetans. Plain plastic bag is better if you intend to bring it to India or Tibet.
The next day, Gyamchoe (100 butter lamps) and Sur(burning of flour, salt and butter mix) may continue as usual for the next 7 or 49 days as deemed fit.
If there are no monks or monasteries in area where death has occurred, if you have access to computer and internet you can goto above links and say the prayers yourself. Dechen Monlam has audio link too. I personally feel that Sherab Nyingpo, the heart Sutra, is the mother of all Pecha. Click here
for both Audio and the Tibetan text of Heart Sutra.
How days are counted(49th Day)
Days are counted from the passing away date not cremation date. The passing away day itself is counted as the day 1. For example if your loved one died on Sunday, then the 7th Day is the following Saturday not the Sunday. From there on it is a simple counting.
Why 49 days
Here is my explanation. It could be wrong. When Sakyamuni Buddha gained enlightenment he did not preach at once. Instead he remained in meditative equipoise for 7 days at 7 different locations in Bodhgaya. These seven spots are marked by Astrological Survey of India near BodhGaya Tree. 7 Days at 7 different spots, total to 49 days.
Sangha is a name given to an assembly of monks. However, according to the famous Chinese monk(Hiuen Tsiang) who visited India (629-645ad) and stayed at Nalanda for 10 years, who was one of the 10 priests among 10,000 who can explain 50 collections of Sutra and Sastra, in Sanskrit, wrote that minimum of 4 monks and above are entitled as Sangha.
Therefore try to assemble at least 4 monks as a minimum number, more is better . Different Tibetan Buddhist sects will recite different prayer but all of them are essentially from the same source.
Some Buddhist practitioners, even after clinical dead, can remain in ThukDam for as much as 20 days without any loss of facial shines; skin retains its elasticity; nostrils do not collapse; body will not decay or ooze out any fluids. North America is not a good place for such people where so many modern rules are to be followed. They lack knowledge of deep, deep, meditation.
For more on ThukDam go here
Between this life and the next there is an intermediate realm called Bardo. Tibetans believe that after death consciousness can linger in Bardo state for as much as 49 days.
Some may leave Bardo within 24 hours and others bit later. Highly realized lamas do not pass through Bardo state.
They are already on their way to next life after “clear light”. Clear light is the last stage of Dissolution process when the dying process begins.
For more on Dissolution click here
In some literature there are 6 Bardo. They are intermediate state of Birth(སྐྱེ་གནས་ཀྱི་བར་དོ།) intermediate state of Dream( རྨི་ལམ་བར་དོ།) intermediate state of Concentration( ཏིང་ངེ་འཛིན་བསམ་གཏན་གྱི་བར་དོ།) intermediate state of Near Death( ཆི་ཁའི་བར་དོ།) Intermediate state of Reality( ཆོས་ཉིད་བར་དོ།) Intermediate State of Becoming( ལུགས་འབྱུང་སྲིད་པའི་བར་དོ།)