At least in the German-speaking part of Europe, an increasing number of Christian funerals incorporate Buddhist elements, according to Brigitte Loehr (University of Tuebingen).
She presented a paper on that topic at the 19th World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) in Tokyo, which RW attended in late March. Loehr relates this development to other trends related to death and dying. In German cities, funerals are often allowed only 20 minutes, with few people in attendance. In the former communist-ruled areas of East Germany, 50 to 70 percent of the dead are buried in community graves, quite often without any indication of their names or other particulars, reducing the need for public mourning.
The interest in Buddhism seems to be connected to a wider movement promoting alternative ways of dealing with the processes of dying and mourning.
The hospice movement, which seeks to provide a dignified environment of love and care for the dying, was actually influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. All of this does not mean a wave of conversions to Buddhism: the percentage of Buddhists in the population of Western Europe does not exceed 0.2 percent. Some practices, rites or ideas from Buddhism are being used in funeral rites and mixed with traditional Christian elements. In many cases, Loehr observes, the deceased person is buried in a conventional Christian way, with Buddhist prayers (possibly recited by an invited Tibetan lama) added.
The Buddhist element is less about the beliefs held by the deceased than as a way to help the close relatives cope with death. Loehr did not provide statistical estimates of the impact of Buddhist elements in Christian funerals in German-speaking Europe, but added that this interest may also be related to a growing individualism in designing funeral practices as well as other primary life rituals.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)