Developing faith through family life

Most Buddhists would agree that the teachings of their religion can be practised within the context of the family. This helps children to recognise that all their actions have consequences which need to be considered.

In Buddhism, the family is the place where children are introduced to the faith. Parents may provide a Buddhist home with a shrine, daily meditation, puja and take children to monastery or temple, celebrating festivals, etc. In some countries the parents may send a child to spend some time in a monastery in order to learn proper behaviour from the monks.

What does this mean in practice?

Birth ceremonies

In some countries when a baby is born, monks are invited to the house and they prepare a horoscope for the baby based on the time of birth. From the details of the horoscope, they decide the first name of the baby. Within a month of the birth, the parents take the baby to the local temple and put him or her in front of the statue of the Buddha. They ask for the blessings of the Three Refuges - the Buddha, the dharma and the Sangha. The parents make an offering to the temple in thanksgiving for the child.

Marriage ceremony

In Buddhism, marriage is a purely social contract with no particular religious significance. Marriage is a choice some Buddhists make to demonstrate their commitment to each other, however some Buddhists argue that marriage is not a necessary precondition of a loving relationship. Marriage is not considered to be holy in any way. For this reason, there is no marriage ceremony in Buddhism, and marriage celebrations are linked to the culture and country in which the marriage is being celebrated. Marriage ceremonies may well be performed at a local temple for another faith.

Divorce holds no stigma in Buddhism. If a couple are no longer in love and are causing each other suffering, then divorce is acceptable to ensure that suffering is reduced.

Death and mourning

In Buddhism, death is not the end of life. It is the end of the body we currently live in. Buddhist believe in karma or 'intentional action'. The effects of our actions will remain and seek attachment to a new body and new life, known as rebirth.

Among Buddhists, death is an occasion of religious significance, both for the deceased and those left behind. For the deceased it marks the moment of transition to the next round of rebirth. For monks, it provides an opportunity to teach the community about key beliefs such as impermanence - anicca, and non-self - anatta.

Funeral rites vary within Buddhist traditions. While mummification does occur as a funeral custom in some Buddhist traditions, it is not a common practice. Cremation is the most common form of disposal of a body.

Care of the elderly

Buddhists often live in extended families with grandparents helping to raise their grandchildren and being looked after in turn. Buddhism teaches that older people are deserving of our respect both for the care they have given to us, and for the wisdom they have accumulated. They should also be cared for because old age may be a time of great suffering for them. Care for the elderly is shown in various ways, including:

  • Buddhist temples, as well as the home, are places where the elders of the community are respected and also where they mix with young people. They may often take up important roles in the organisation and running of a temple, even teaching there.
  • The community elders often have pride of place at festivals or in the audience during sermons.
  • Children within the extended family are brought up to serve their elders, for example to bring them food and drinks, or other things they ask for.
  • Some Buddhists in the UK and other Western countries provide generously for the elderly by funding homes, assisted living, and hospices.
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