25 December 2011

A Christian in a Buddhist Columbarium

It was my first visit to a columbarium with my in-laws, a Buddhist one too, on the Memorial day to remember the dead. After being married for 16 years, it was quite an eye-opener to accompany them to see how they offer food to the dead and how they practice their remembrance for the loved ones. I am quite fortunate as all my loved ones are still around and though I have deceased grand parents, I was not asked to  visit them nor did I bother to visit till now.

I drove them to the temple in Bedok, which was quite crowded by the time we reached there at 9.30 am. They packed quite a lot of food for the 3 deceased relatives: rice, "vegetarian" meat, vegetables, bee hoon, sweet dumplings and drinks. All the food had to be vegetarian and no meat was to be served to the dead. And the servings had to be in odd number, i.e. even if you have two dead relatives, you have to provide three sets of food. Apparently it had to do with some Chinese beliefs that it cannot be even numbers as it is not auspicious.

My in laws had three deceased relatives at this site, two of them in the older section and one in the newer wing. I understand that the older section was cheaper, about S$600 per space and the newer ones are in the region of thousand two/three. It will also be good to book now as the prices will increase with demand. Some are position at eye level, while some are very low and the rest can only be accessed via a high ladder. Again, book early for the best spots. This is true for the living and for the dead too.

How do we tell whether the dead have finished their food? I saw my father in law dropped two crescent shaped wooden objects on the floor. If they are both up/down, it means they have finished eating.  I learnt something new again :-) It reminds me of the Biblical urim that the priests used in the temple to discern the will of God.

Before they leave, my mum in law bought some clothes and  hell notes for the dead. It costs about S$19 for three sets of clothing and stacks of hell notes in 3 different currency for ease of change/use. I was quite amused at the thought of this earthly help for their after life - how would they know that it would reach them?

While I do not subscribe to all these practices, I see value in having a day set aside to remember the dead. We do need to remember them to live better here on earth. Only then will we value more of what we have and cherish those who are still living.  

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