Tuesday January 10, 2006
I spent yesterday at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre attending the funeral of Dharmachari Abhayaratna, a member of the Western Buddhist Order. I did not know Abhayaratna particularly well, although over the last seven or eight years or so our paths had crossed from time to time, and I always enjoyed it when they did. It was a privilege to be there at his funeral, and in particular to hear those who knew Abhayaratna far better than I knew him speaking about his life.
It was, in fact, the first Buddhist funeral I have been to, and was a simple, moving occasion. But it also provoked me to think about my own funeral, whenever that occurs. This is something I have been conscious that I need to give attention to for some time. How would I want my own funeral to be?
This reflection is one that is useful from a number of points of view. In thinking about something as practical as this, it takes the unthinkable event of my own death and places it back in the everyday, back in the world, as one of the things that inevitably, at some time, will happen. And this, no doubt, is useful in itself because if I can only think about my own death from my own perspective, I suspect it is very difficult to think about it at all. But it is also a way of trying to orientate myself with relation to my own values, thoughts, hopes, fears. To say, “This is the kind of farewell I would like,” is also a way of getting a more tangible sense of where I might stand in life, whilst I still have the power to stand. And, finally, it is also something that I think is worth considering and planning for – not only my own funeral but also my own death – out of consideration for those around me. So that when the time comes, those close to me and having to rush round too much with a (real or metaphorical broom), sweeping up after me and having to second-guess what is appropriate. Particularly as many of those I love – both family and friends – are not Buddhists, and I have no direct affiliation to any one Buddhist community with a ready-made ritual, so it is important to set things out clearly.
This, then, will be one of the matters I’ll be dealing with over the next few months: asking what kind of a funeral is appropriate for a more-or-less secular and irreligious Buddhist in the 21 st century, one that will do justice both to my own practice of Buddhism and also to those who may attend; and putting things in place so that when it comes to it, I have made sufficient plans and communicated these sufficiently well to others.
There is something curiously liberating in all of this…
(There’s an information page about Buddhist funerals on the Network of Buddhist Organisations website, which is a good starting place for those wanting to find out more.)
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