Every religion has its own customs and traditions when it comes to different stages of a person’s life. The ancient religion of Taoism is no different. In Taoism, while death is considered to be a phase of life, the process of death is referred to as shijie which means “release from the corpse”.
On the religious side, Taoism is based on the belief that the human body houses monsters and spirits. The spirits protect the body from the monsters. If the spirits desert the body, the person dies.
Whether you believe in Taoism or are interested in its customs, after reading this post, you will be able to gain some insights into the interesting aspects of Taoist funeral traditions. Let’s start, shall we?
The departed should not have anything red with them
After the death of a person, preparing the physical being of the departed soul for burial is an important aspect of the funeral traditions. In Taoism, the body is first cleaned with a damp cloth. Talcum powder is used too. Then, the dead are clothed in clean dresses.
The interesting fact to note here is that the departed should not have anything red with them at the time of burial. This is because it is believed that the red color is responsible for converting their spirit into a ghost.
Loud expression of grief is encouraged
All human beings express themselves differently and thus, it is not fair to categorize their expression of grief based on their religion. But certain practices become a part of our expression and can be gauged from historical behavior.
Followers of Taoism believe that the expression of grief at a funeral is a show of our love and affection for the dead. Hence, overt displays of grief are not looked down upon and are instead encouraged.
Mirrors are taboo
Just like the red color has a negative connotation in Taoist funerals, so do mirrors. In fact, it is an accepted fact that there should be no mirrors in and around the area where the coffin is placed at the funeral.
The belief behind this taboo is that if any person looks at the reflection of the casket in such a mirror, then there may be death in the family of such a person. No wonder people make sure there are no mirrors at a funeral.
Funeral processions have an order
As soon as the funeral rituals are completed, the next step is to carry the deceased for the burial. The hearse is followed by a funeral procession (known as cortege in Taoism). In this procession, the eldest son of the deceased is given the most respect and his position is just behind the hearse along with the rest of the family.
Along with this, tradition dictates that the family members must touch the vehicle with their heads as a mark of respect. If the family is large and this is not physically possible, a white cloth is used to connect all the family members with the hearse.
No trimming of hair and nails for a period of 49 days
As a custom which is followed post the funeral, the lineal descendants of the deceased are not supposed to cut their hair and nails at least for a period of 49 days after the funeral.
In Taoism, it is believed that the hair and nails have been received by the children and grandchildren from their parents and hence they must not be trimmed during the mourning period.
No visits to friends and family during the mourning period
Another Taoist funeral tradition that is strictly followed is that during the mourning period (which is 49 days typically), one must avoid visiting family and friends.
The mourning period is believed to be a time set aside for Taoists to reflect on their lives and come to terms with their loss so that they can cope with it. However, it is encouraged that offerings be made to the designated spiritual tablet to express their appreciation and respect in the memory of the departed soul.
Avoid wearing bright colors
This is a custom that is common among most religions. Families and friends who attend the funeral must avoid bright colors, especially red.
At the same time, immediate family members must wear only white clothes for a period of 7 days. However, this is not common in all Taoists as the minute details vary from dialect to dialect. The period may be longer in some dialects of Taoism.
Clothes must be burnt
In Taoism, not just the clothes of the deceased but also the clothes worn by the family members and other funeral attendees must be burnt as it is considered to be bad luck to keep and use those clothes.
The central question in any religion is ‘what happens after death?’. There is an answer to this in Taoism also. There are three routes – a person either becomes immortal, transforms, or directly goes to heaven.
Want to know one last interesting aspect of Taoism? While it is believed that the dead may follow one of the three routes after death, it is also believed that one can get in touch with the departed through the use of meditation.