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Q&A 121. Burial site selection and burial ritual

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Q: Dear Master Lu, my parents are currently selecting a burial site for themselves. What should we be aware of? As for the burial ritual in the future, what should we be aware of?


  • When you are still alive, it is best not to rush into such matters, including the selection of burial sites or purchase of coffins.
  • It is even worse if you have already selected your burial site or have engraved your names on the headstone. This is equivalent to registering your name in the underworld in advance.
  • For a couple, both husband and wife are brought together by a shared affinity. They may choose to share one burial site after they pass away. They can also be buried at different sites.
  • When the elders of a family pass away, names of the younger family members should not be engraved on the headstone. Generally, you should just write, “Offered by the family”.
  • Eight hours after the passing of the family member, you can begin planning for the funeral. As long as the entire body remains intact, either burial or cremation is fine. In the case of cremation, the cremation urn should also be buried in the earth. The body of the deceased must not be dismembered with parts being buried in separate places.
  • Cremated ashes of the deceased should not be scattered into streams, rivers, lakes, or over the ocean. If the parts of the body or ashes are in separate places, the soul of the deceased will become scattered and incomplete, making it difficult for the deceased to ascend to heaven.
  • It is best to have the deceased (or the cremation urn of the deceased) buried as soon as possible. Generally, you should pick odd-numbered dates for burials, and it is best if the date is odd according to both the lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar. It would be best for the burial to take place at 8am, 10am, or 12pm.
  • For the burial ritual, bring fresh fruit, a plate for the fruit, a small incense burner, three sticks of incense and a pair of red candles. If possible, bring along fresh flowers and the essentials for the burning of Little Houses.
  • At the time of burial, first light the candles, then offer the incense. The burial may then commence. After offering incense, you should kneel and bow down in front of the deceased family member. This applies to both older and younger family members.
  • Following the prostrations, you can burn Little Houses for the deceased and then pay your respect again. At the end of the ritual, blow out the candles. The candles can be taken home, but the fruit and flowers should be left behind.
  • When burying the ashes of the deceased, you can say the following prayer “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Dharma Protectors, and all the spirits and deities have compassion on <full name of the deceased>. <full name of the deceased> is buried here. May all who have affinities with him/her take care of him/her.”
    This way, any spirits from the surrounding burial sites in the cemetery who have affinities with the deceased will also take care of them. Existing spirits may give new spirits a hard time.  This is why family members may dream about the deceased asking to “move house” (i.e. have their resting place moved), because they are being hassled by neighbouring spirits at their resting place.
  • At the burial, you can line the grave with red fabric with yellow silk fabric over it. Wrap the cremation urn with the yellow silk fabric and place the urn on top of the lining red fabric. In the case of a coffin, you can place the coffin on the top of the red fabric, then cover the coffin with the yellow fabric. Avoid using any silvery silk fabric, etc.
  • If there are prayer beads previously used by the deceased, you can recite the Heart Sutra 7 times before wrapping these prayer beads in yellow fabric and placing them on top of the coffin or cremation urn.  For unused prayer beads, you need to recite the Heart Sutra 7 times for each bead.
  • You may also wrap up any photos of the deceased with red fabric and bury them with the deceased.
  • Note that family members should refrain from crying loudly, wailing, or becoming extremely emotional. You should also refrain from mentioning the name of the deceased too often. Otherwise, the deceased may have difficulty in letting go, which will make it difficult for the deceased to ascend to a higher realm.
  • Regarding burial options, it is best to perform an earth burial as it brings peace to the deceased.
  • Cremation is also acceptable, as the complete body is still preserved. If the deceased is cremated, then the cremation urn should also be buried. It is not good to have the cremation urn in the home.
  • If the parts of the body or ashes are in separate places, it would make it difficult for the deceased to ascend to a higher realm.
  • Ashes of the deceased should not be scattered into streams, rivers, lakes, or over the ocean, or else the soul of the deceased will become scattered and incomplete.
  • Do not set up an altar to place the spirit tablets for the deceased in the home. This tends to attract foreign spirits to occupy the tablet, which will cause troubles within the family.
  • Images of or tablets for the deceased should be wrapped with red coloured materials (e.g. red paper or red fabrics) and stored horizontally inside a drawer. On special occasions, such as the Ching Ming Festival, Winter Solstice, and the anniversary date of the deceased’s passing, you can take them out to pay your respects and burn Little Houses.
  • For more information, refer to Q&A 74: Performing recitations for family and friends on their deathbed.
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