Filial Mourning: The Role Of Filial Piety In Death

Filial piety is one of the cornerstones of Confucianism, and is a greatly valued trait in many cultures. Buddhism is one religion that emphasises heavily on filial piety as well. While you may know filial piety as the respect and gratitude you show to your parents, the fact is that this concept may not be as simple as you think.

The most recognised aspect of filial piety is by honouring one’s parents. This can be shown through obedience, not speaking ill of them, taking care of them, and so on. However, filial piety can also be a generalised notion of respect to all of one’s elders.

It’s not just about gratitude for your parents’ care and upbringing for you; filial piety is also a way of maintaining order and harmony within our relationships with others in the world. As such, filial piety is not limited to what we do for people when they are alive – did you know that filial piety is also an influencing factor in matters of death?

A dignified send-off

In Buddhist communities, the responsibility of arranging the funeral proceedings of a deceased person usually falls on their children or other younger family members. The reason circles back to filial piety. Even upon death, younger family members are expected to convey their respect and honour for their senior family member by planning a dignified farewell for them.

Some families will put in the effort to arrange for rituals and prayers for the purposes of preparing their departed loved one for the afterlife. Some believe that these prayers can boost the good karma of the deceased, and raise their chances of being reborn into a better realm.

Paying respects to the departed

One’s duty as a son or daughter does not end when the funeral ends. In many Chinese cultures and religions, people continue to honour and remember their departed family members and relatives by praying to them regularly. Visits to their tomb or urn are also commonplace during Tomb-sweeping Day (Qing Ming Festival) and other special occasions, like the Hungry Ghost Festival.

The purposes of these practices are to remember one’s lineage, and also to seek the blessings of the spirits. In many Chinese traditions, people also continue to ‘take care’ of their deceased ancestors by offering incense and offerings.

Filial piety as good karma

For those who subscribe to the Buddhist notion of karma, filial piety is also one of the many things that will contribute towards positive karma. It is seen as a positive act that will follow through and reward the individual. This is another reason why devout Buddhists take special care to be filial, in the same way they dedicate their lives to doing good to others.

As a central teaching in Buddhism, karma is involved in everything that one does, and also has bearings on one’s afterlife. Beliefs surrounding reincarnation state that people with more good karma will have a higher likelihood of being reborn into a more dignified realm.


Clearly, filial piety is a far deeper subject than what we often see it to be. As a value system that many Chinese people have grown up with, it has provided not only a unique cultural backdrop for the Chinese, but also a precious structure for morality and order in people’s lives.

With these unique values and customs, many bereaved Chinese families in Singapore choose to hand the reins of funeral planning to an experienced funeral company that knows exactly what to recommend and what to do. For comprehensive Buddhist funeral services, we welcome you to contact us.

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