Question: A newspaper reported that a ‘mother and mother-in-law did not attend the cremation [of an accident victim] as they are not allowed to, according to Buddhist tradition’. What is the rationale of this?
Answer: As there is no such Buddhist custom at all, the journalist might have misreported and/or the family members were misinformed. If the first is true, may this be a good reminder to question even popular media, to not believe what we read blindly. Even that in print, that seems more ‘official’, ‘authoritative’ and ‘reliable’ is not always so. (This was taught by the Buddha too.) After all, no single journalist or editor is an expert of every subject matter, while even so-called ‘experts’ interviewed might not have enough expertise. If the second is true, may this be a good reminder to more systematically learn Buddhist teachings, so as to better help the deceased.
May we also be mindful not to misrepresent Buddhist beliefs and practices, by confusing them with other customs. It is surely not the case that elders cannot ‘send off’ the young, for what if an offspring passes away, without other younger family members and friends to help arrange the funeral? That said, in Chinese (not Buddhist) culture, it is seen as tragic and inauspicious for ‘those with white hair to send off those with black hair (白发人送黑发人)’, as this means someone died young, and is sent off by the elder, whom should more ‘naturally’ be sent off by the younger instead. However, due to the law of karma operating naturally, the truth is, even the most seemingly ‘untimely’ passing is natural, tragic as the circumstances might be. What matters is to do our best to help.
When the younger pass away, the elder might grieve in excess too. According to Buddhist teachings, crying and tugging at the deceased can severely disturb the deceased, if the consciousness is not yet reborn. This can lead to strong attachment or aversion, which can lead to reluctance to let go or even to a negative rebirth. Be the family members and friends elder or younger, those with right understanding of Buddhist teachings should guide the deceased, in case he or she is still around, to be mindful of the most powerful subject of refuge (e.g. a Buddha, such as Amituofo; Amitabha Buddha), for birth in his Pure Land, where there is no more suffering, and where enlightenment can surely be swiftly attained.
The Pure Land Passport: The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death (临终三大要)