Understanding death is necessary to understand Life. As Rennyo states in his Letter on White Ashes, "The fragile nature of human life underlies both the young and old." When death comes to a family member or someone near to you, it is often a time of confusion. When your family goes through this experience the temple is here to help you in this difficult time.
It is important that you feel comfortable in knowing that you can depend upon Hirano Sensei and the Sangha to help you. Along with Sensei, other Temple leaders and elders have experience in assisting with funeral arrangements and we will do all that we can to help you.
Funeral service checklist
Notify Hirano Sensei
Notify the mortuary
Sensei will arrive and conduct the Makuragyo service. Makuragyo literally means, pillow sutra. Traditionally this service was held immediately following the death of a person. Therefore, the sutra was chanted at the pillow, where the deceased's head was laying. Although it is often held, immediately after death. This is a service for the family and friends who were closest to the deceased. The Makuragyo service can be held as soon as death has occurred or whenever arrangements can be made for the immediate family to gather.
At the time of the Makuragyo, sensei will make arrangements for a funeral arrangement meeting. This meeting is with Sensei and the Temple's Funeral Committee. This is a group consisting of the past presidents of the temple, who will help with setting up the funeral. At the funeral arrangement meeting we will schedule a date, place and time for the funeral. Sensei and the committee will assist you in filling the necessary personnel for the funeral.
Most funerals include of the following people:
6-8 pallbearers, optional honorary pallbearers
1-2 people to give personal history or eulogy
A family member or representative to thank those at the funeral
Representatives from organizations for incense burning (optional)
1-2 people to hand out program and stand near guest book
2-3 people to write down all flower donations
If you do not have or know individuals who can fill these positions, the Temple will help you.
Necessary elements for the funeral
The family should bring the offerings for the altar. It is not necessary to bring manju, although many people still do. If you bring manju, two dozen is a typical amount. It does not have to be white. For the fruit, there are two stands with four levels. It’s typical to provide four types of fruit, six pieces of each type of fruit. If there will be a Shonanoka service after the burial or cremation, you should bring a picture of the deceased to the temple.
It is common etiquette to acknowledge all the acts of kindness, words of sympathy, and personal services received during bereavement and the funeral. The methods of your expression of gratitude depend largely upon your personal feelings. You may ask other Temple members or the Funeral Committee about appropriate methods.
As a guide, please acknowledge others as follows:
Organizations if applicable (monetary)
Funeral personnel, i.e. ushers, receptionists, flowers, etc. (monetary or gift)
Floral pieces, koden, sympathy cards and letters (acknowledgment card)
Personal gestures: food and drink supplied, etc. (thank you note)
Common funeral expenses
Plot for burial or niche and headstone
Urn, niche or nokotsudo
Certified copies of Death Certificate
Funeral Director's fee
Flowers (casket, altar, and other floral pieces)
Acknowledgments and acknowledgment cards (often provided by mortuary)
Memorial donations to Temple and various organizations
Memorial Services "Hoji" (Dharma Affair)
after the service
Memorial services, or "Hoji,” have a long history in Buddhism. Family and close friends gather at the Temple or in the home in memory of the deceased member of the family. Following the service, the group will usually eat together. They can either eat at the home or go out to dinner or lunch. This meal is important in that it renews each member in both mind and body and strengthens the ties that bind the group together. This custom and the memorial services help to emphasize that death is a natural occurrence in life and is not something to be feared. The memorial service is also a wonderful opportunity of reinforcing family ties beyond one's immediate family, which helps to create a sense of continuity and community from generation to generation.
The first memorial service to be held is actually the Shonanoka or seventh day service. This service is usually held after the burial or cremation. It is the first time the family gathers together after the physical body of their loved one is no longer among them. It is the time to turn to one another for support and listen to the Dharma for strength and guidance.
Chuin refers to the first 49 day period of mourning after death. In the past it was often marked with services held every 7 days. In some sects of Buddhism, the karmic energy of a person is believed to be in a state of flux, moving to a new state of existence every seven days. This state of flux was called the shadowy world of yin and Chuin means "in the middle of yin." After the 49th day the energy was said to be reborn. This belief was widespread in China and Japan. This understanding was often propagated from our Issei to the following generations.
However, Jodo Shinshu categorically denies the efficacy of such observances but nevertheless observes Chuin in grateful memory of the deceased and as yet another opportunity to listen to the Dharma. The memorial service in Jodo Shinshu is not for the sake of the dead. In holding the service in memory of the deceased, we acknowledge our ties to the various causes and conditions in our life that allow us to exist. Therefore, the date of the memorial service does not necessarily have to be exactly on the date of death or before the date of death. The need to hold these services before the date of death is merely a carry-over from the superstitions brought over with the Issei. The memorial service should be held whenever is convenient for family and friends to gather.
The timing of memorial services is based on the Japanese way of counting rather than the system used in the United States or Western world. Therefore, the memorial service is held on the anniversary of the first year of death is called isshu-ki (first memorial cycle rather then first year service as we commonly refer to it). The next service is the third cycle, being the second year after death. The day the memorial services should be held can be determined as follows:
First Week (7th day) Following burial or cremation
Seventh Week (49th day) about a month and a half to two months after death
Hundredth Day (rarely observed in America)
1st year one year from date of death
3rd year two years from date of death
7th year six years
13th year twelve years
17th year sixteen years
25th year twenty four years
33rd year thirty two years
50th year forty nine years