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Vietnamese funeral customs
chanphenglew wrote in little_details
In Thai custom, after the cremation, everyone takes a red thread which they wear for three days so that the ghost of the dead person does not follow you home. In Lao custom, people wash their hands in scented water for the same reason. Does anyone know what the custom is for Vietnamese Buddhists? I've found some general funeral information by Googling, and although I was just in Vietnam, I felt a little strange asking people I was start starting to work with, "So after a funeral, how do you prevent the ghost from following you home?" Thanks in advance.

I don't know but I'm interested in knowing the answer.

I'll post it when I get it all figured out.

I'm not sure about the ghost, but a bowl of uncooked rice is placed on top of the lid of the coffin to stop the body from rising. Vietnamese Buddhism belongs of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, so their practices might be similar to that of the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese.

Off topic, but yay for Laos. Family's from there :)

Holy crap, your icon is terrifying.

Why thank you? XD The video it came from was cheesy and depraved at the same time.

That's interesting about the rice. It's used for everything. There are a lot of similiarities between Vietnamese and Chinese culture - China occupied VN for a thousand years. Local customs vary though.

Actually, an important point is the issue that my character died in a motorcycle accident. That makes the ghost issue more important. Hummmm.

PS What part of the country does your family come from?

Rice is great. You can use it to stuff things, make statues out of, etc XD

My dad's from Khammouane(Thakkek to be exact), while my mother's from Savannakhet.

You may not care at all anymore, but I can tell you how an intensely Americanized one works. Major points shared by both Americanized-VN and Vietnam? Incense and offerings. Eating Without either, and you can guarantee a pissed off ancestor/ghost.

You can use one of those yin-yang mirrors afterward, if you're really worried about angry ghosts. I'm not too sure how effective that is against ancestors in particular.

The immediate family of the deceased wears white headbands. Those directly descending wear it wrapped around without any tail left behind, while those that married into the family wear it with a tail. Um... adult direct-descendants with children might actually wear it with a tail (as in you knot it and let the excess trail at the back). I can double check if you care. At the funeral, there is an altar with a picture of the Buddha, a picture of the deceased, incense, flowers, and food offerings, including water. Sometimes there will be paper money (I'm not too sure if this is required). It is first by the body if there is a viewing and then later by the grave site at the burial.

Before the ritual, most observers/well wishers will light up an incense stick and place it in a container at the altar. Usually, this is a pot with rice in it. My family (I don't know if this is always the case) does this while whispering prayers and bowing three times.

Now the rest of this is specific to customs followed by my family, which is part of the Buddhist majority from the North. In the formal ritual/chanting part, the lead monk says a speech. There will be a little bell/stick chimed every once in a while by the other monks. We also throw in flowers into the casket, but I actually don't know if that is an American-adopted custom or not. The most adult male descendant will present/hold-up food (rice, do NOT forget the rice), water, and incense toward the deceased at appropriate times when the monk tells them too. Then there is more monk chanting. And then everyone packs up to walk to the burial grounds.

A precession made up of all the headbanded family members follows the body to the site of burial. Usually, this is on foot but more Americanized ones can use cars. Selected members, usually the youngest direct descendants, carry either incense, flowers, or the picture of the Buddha. An altar is set up at the burial site, which holds the picture of the Buddha, food (usually rice and fruit), flowers, water, money, and a massive amount of incense. Another side note: Altars will normally have utensils and bowls/plates.

The coffin is lowered in to the grounds. Insert more chanting by the monks. And then either dirt (or flowers, but that may also be an Americanization) are thrown in by the family before the coffin is finally buried. Oldest/closest family drops in the dirt first before the rest follow suit. The offerings are left at the site.

After, there are family and well-wishers gather at a house and eat. Usually this is the oldest son's house. There is another altar set up in the house, with the same thing: food, water, flowers, incense, and a picture of the deceased. There may or may not be a picture or statue of the Buddha with this altar if there is a separate altar for it in the house. The food is usually little bits of what everyone else is eating.

For every year after this, the immediate family gathers on the day of the person's death and eat and have a similar altar to the one at the gathering. More avid Buddhists will also individually light an incense stick and whisper prayers (like at the funeral itself) before placing it on the altar. It can be large and include other extended family and well-wishers at first, but usually just consist of the immediate family as time wears on.

Other notes: It is good for it to rain on the day of the funeral, because it washes the bad luck away. Do not take food off of an altar before snuffing out the incense and adding appropriate prayers, because that would piss of the spirit that you're offering food to. Kind of like taking someone's steak away as they've just cut into it. Sometimes there is paper money left on the altar. Others (especially those that can afford to) burn money so it can reach the spirit, wishing him/her wealth in the after life.

The wealth/happiness of the deceased depends on the children/family maintaining the spirit's memories.

Cam on for your detailed comments. A lot of the rituals are similiar with Thai and Lao, especially the rice part and offering of food. The family wears white and depending on the circumstances of the death, the casket will be set up for up to two days in the house before being taken to the temple for cremation. Everyone stays in the house with the bereaved family, the adults playing cards all night and the kids watching videos. Like what you describe, there are also days to honor the dead, the most important being at 100 days and then every year afterwards.

I have another question - do any of the North Vietnamese Buddhist cremate the dead? I noticed a lot of cemetaries.

Thanks again for your response! I've been working on a story set in present day Hanoi about a college student who's caught between VN tradition and wanting to go to the US with his half-brother. Later on, there's a ghost involved.

Yup. There's plenty of burials, but there's cremation too. Maybe because of ritual but mostly because it's practical. It's popular among both communists (Ho Chi Minh publicly approved it) and non-communists (my family). Cremation doesn't take much valuable space up which is important in such a populated place and it makes it easier to relocate burial grounds, which is pretty common. Although it's fairly common for people to still bury the ashes rather than releasing them... at least for the initial period, then they may release it or relocate it. Going back to the site to add offerings is a pretty big part of the culture.

People don't always stay at the grieving families house all night, mostly because Vietnamese families can get so HUGE, like most of SE Asia. Example: My grandma comes from a family of 9, then she had 8 children, all of whom had at least two children. But with natural deaths there's generally a huge family gathering around the dying person so people will generally wind up crowding into a house for a few days because there's nowhere else to stay.

I have to admit. I don't know the exact details behind everything or the reasoning since I'm don't formally practice Vietnamese Buddhism, I just watch my mom pray and my grandma freak out over wearing red to certain occasions. :)

So there's the ngay gio, which is the death anniversary, where everyone gathers and eats. The altar is set, all that good stuff. There's no 100 days thing, but on the 15th day of every lunar calendar Vietnamese Buddhists don't eat meat and also put up offerings to both the Buddha, the Kitchen God, and maybe the deceased... usually that only happens if a death is recent. Same thing happens each Lunar New Year just bigger, on top of an official prayer containing hopes/goals/wishes the person has for their family.

When it comes to hauntings, my most superstitious aunt and her family have the little yin-yang mirrors everywhere and several of my cousins are convinced my grandma visited them in their dreams (one said that she told him the Lotto numbers... but he missed the last one *g*). Also, one stole food from an altar when she was young and was convinced that a ghost haunted her house in retaliation until her family moved out.

For the first post, about the red thread to keep the spirit from following you, and using the Ba-Gua Mirror, that is used alot. I am buddhist and vietnamese also. My family uses the Ba- Gua mirror while also, each time we go to a funeral and we go home, before we go into our house, we use paper and burn it, waving the burning paper around our body, removing anything that will allow the spirit to follow you. You are also not supposed to, if you cry and there is an open casket, let any tears whatsoever fall into the casket. That will cause the owner of the tears or the person crying to later become very ill and may soon die.