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Death In Cambodian Culture
When there is life there is death and when there is death there is grief. According to the Cambodian Buddhist, we do not view death as the end of one's life but rather as the end of a life cycle. We believe in reincarnation/rebirth. When there is death in the Khmer Buddhist community, there is a ritual performance- a proper Buddhist tradition. Otherwise it is believed that the decease will not be able to move onto the next cycle of life; rebirth.
During the ritual performance, Buddhist monks play a critical role. The monks will perform blessing and tesnah. Tesnah is known as Dhamma talk. The Dhamma talk is not required but for some family like my family, we want to have a Dhamma talk in our family funeral. The Dhamma talk is subjected on the value of life and death.
During the funeral process, there will be an achar known as a priest, Buddhist monk, family members, and other mourners. The spouse and children mourn their love one by shaving their heads and wear white clothe as other mourners wear black. --Traditionally the son or grandson of the deceased person would require to shave their head and become a monk during the period of the funeral taken place. Woman should not wear make up if they attend the funeral because it is rude to the family member of the decease.
In Cambodia, the body of the deceased are taken cared of by the family. The body would be brought home washed, dressed, and place into a coffin. --Traditionally the body should not be dissected and all organ should not be removed. --During there stay at home, monks would come to the home and recite sermon every evening by the body. Usually the body would be kept for seven days and on that seventh day it would be carried to the temple for cremation but in the United State it is kept only for three days before cremation.
Most importantly the body should be kept as far away from animals because there is an old saying that if the dead hear a sound of an animal cries his or her soul will become attach to that animal. Another old saying is that a cat shall not jump over a deceased or else the soul of the deceased will become a lifelong evil spirit that will not reincarnate.
During the three to seventh day the funeral is being held, the family would have to carry the deceased coffin and held a parade three round around the temple. The oldest daughter in the family would have to to drop coins behind her back without looking back during the parade. After that the coffin will be lifted up and ready to be cremated.
After cremation the children of the deceased will decide to take the ashes with them home or leave it at the temple. There is also a 100th day death remembrance ceremony that is required to do. During the 100th day death remembrance ceremony, giving alms and praying is required.
Terminally Ill Person
--For terminally ill person, it is not unusual for monks to recite sermon at the bed side. It is likely a preparation for the dying person to prepare him/her to the next life. It is important for the Khmer people to have the monks at the place of the death because they believe that it is where the soul exit its body but still remain present. During this period, the soul is in the state of confusion and fright. After the soul is exiting the body the monks duty is to calm the soul and bring enlightenment. The soul will finds its way to heaven or to hell based on their action when they were a living being.