Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Published October 26, 2022 by with 0 comment


Funeral expenditure is becoming a massive and a practical waste of resources with huge part of expenditure on extravagant meals. The intention is to give away on charity for the benefit of the demised. But does that mean the meals served after the dead at the funeral must be no less than a marriage banquet? 

I am beginning to understand that a funeral ceremonies in towns are better than those in villages, and very expensive affair. In the recent years even those in villages are beginning to become a costly affair. The banquet is fine, it is believed to increase merit ‘a Gewa’ if people are happy and pleased. 

There is unacceptable culture growing with people coming to offer condolences and for mourning- they have choices for drinks. Why should we buy ‘Breezer’ drinks so much than local wine to serve? I asked. The responses were that mourning visitors anticipate Breezers because in other funerals it was served that and people like that. If what must be served should go by what people desire, dead ceremonies will soon become a party hall. It already is in fact.

People visiting to offer condolences are going to a party hall than to a mourning altar. In Bhutanese culture people do not go empty hand to the mourning house, they take things as an act of condolence, nevertheless, the house of the deceased will have to serve varieties of meals and choices of beer and whiskies. 

The flurry of activities is no different from any marriage party. Instead of mourning and praying, perhaps even meditating in solemn silence, the place becomes a hall of laughter, of telling stories, of talking about other people, of business and politics too. This may be crude to say so, but this is a painful scene for those who mourn and those who have meagre to expend. When behaviours become custom, and custom give rise to culture of a place, the behaviour can become irrevocably less meaningful act of service.

In many funerary events, meat is beginning to become secondary, and many educated people make it vegetarian. This is a value that has been imbibed into Bhutanese psyche, propagated by HH The Je Khenpo in the recent past. It was a spiritual advice and rational by any philosophical logic to refrain meats from meals during home rituals and funeral events. 

People’s craving can be ravenous. Although meat servings are declining, it is beginning to be replaced by choices people have for drinks. At another funeral event a few years ago, a family was loading crates of ‘Spy’wine. This was to serve visitors with it because it was peoples’ choices. They said, visitors demanded it. The cost on the grieving family may be rather costlier than what we contribute to lighten the weight of expenses and the heart that mourn!

Why do we visit house of the bereaved? The answer and the act have become a contradiction. We visit to pay tribute to the deceased and offer condolences to the grieving family. We are expected to offer prayers and respects, to praise the deceased and comfort the bereaved. I anticipate a solemn gathering of people who sit together in prayers, be part of the ritual, talk in modest ways and also be served modestly. I don’t expect laughter echoing roof to roof, visitors becoming drunk and arguments and debates inciting the solemn space!

After Queen Elizabeth passed away, from the the day to the burial, it became a solemn state of affairs. People donned black garments to mourn, offered flowers, lit candles, sang solemn songs and mass prayers. It was a silent ceremony yet extravagant in how ceremonial events unfolded. They even walked in silent and slow paces. In any other funeral ceremonies of the West, there is a significance and honour of bereavement, by mourning in decent respect and by offering condolence with deep spiritual reflections. The funeral ceremonies doesn’t seem to be a banquet but a benevolent celebration of the life lived.

Today funeral events in our villages are also changing, from a modest state of affairs to an extravagant event. In our village and even in towns people need to be offered copious variety of choices to drink. While providing meals, tea and some beer and whisky is normal, people are now expecting to have their choices to lavish on. In my village people seek Redbull drinks and Fizzer drinks too. After their departure, countless empty bottles will be lain waste and so much in the store. Is this necessary, to quench the palate by their choices? 

It may appear like the charity, a generous offering for the transition of the soul of the dead, but will extravagant drinks and meals have any benefit to the dead? Should people sincerely offer prayers and deep wishes in remembrance of the dead than desire choices to serve. I doubt if this is what is in the canonical teachings of the Buddha!

In fact, the gathering becomes a space for people communion, to laugh and regale the gathering of relatives and friends. The dead is barely talked about or prayed for. The after death rituals and prayer ceremonies are also becoming a costly affair. In towns, like Thimphu, the monks have set a standard value for their services. The sort of competition is only growing exponentially. It is impossible to have 21 days of ritual without expending over two to three lakhs. Does the value of money equal value of life lost, or will that value of money make bigger difference to the soul of the late?

Visiting a grieving family is a age old culture. We visit to provide support upon death of a member.  The traditional visits are in 7th, 14th, 21st, 49th and on an anniversary. This has glued our filiality, bringing together relatives and people. The events provide space for people to provide moral support for each other during the painful hours and days. These are days on which rituals and prayers are offered, and family bond together to pay respects. The days of mourning are solemn days to make offering to Buddhas, Dharmapalas, deities and other unfortunate beings. The days are opportunities to practice act of generosity, by offering rituals, chanting prayers, raising flags and offering foods. 

What is very important in such dark moments to help the dead and the grieving family will be offering of sincere prayers from monks and people. Sometimes we must recall, how we can serve better by being part of the family.



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