NEWMARKET — The Laotian community here will experience tomorrow one of the most elaborate ceremonies of their Buddhist faith.
Laotian immigrant Thung Phetakoune, 62, lost his life Monday, two days after a neighbor, Richard Labbe, allegedly pushed him to the ground. The victim suffered fatal head injuries in the incident.
Visitation will be tonight, from 6 to 9 p.m., at the Kent and Pelczar Funeral Home, 77 Exeter St., in Newmarket. On Saturday, Phetakoune's family and friends will host a Buddhist funeral from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Buddhists believe a funeral provides an opportunity for both the deceased and the mourners to gain higher status in the next life. The super-religious can hope to enter Nirvana — the absence of suffering — but for most Buddhists, earthly existence is simply one level of suffering or another.
In Theravadin Buddhism — the type practiced in Laos — physical suffering, like giving birth, disease, aging and even death, is the lowest level of suffering.
In the Buddhist spiritual system, a murderer is much worse off than his victim, as the mental anguish that results from violence is the worst kind of suffering — leading to rebirth as an animal, a wandering ghost or even an evil spirit.
So weeping and wailing is out of place at a Buddhist funeral. Instead, the family members usually wear white and focus on ways to earn merit for themselves and their dead. Others in attendance should wear black to the funeral.
Phetakoune's granddaughters, who will be among those wearing white, said they will become Buddhist nuns for the day on Saturday.
Somphou Phetakoune, the victim's son, has gone to Connecticut and will spend this evening in a Buddhist temple. He will return Saturday morning with a group of monks who will officiate at the funeral.
The monks and close male relatives of Thung will spend tonight purifying themselves for the ceremony.
Somphou said he will be a monk for the day on Saturday, shaving his head and wearing colorful robes to the funeral.
Conducting funeral rites is perhaps the most important role for a Buddhist monk.
"To conduct the rites for the dead may be considered the one indispensable service rendered the community by the monks," according to the Venerable monk Pannyavaro of the Buddha Dharma Education Association.
Buddhist monks recite prayers for the dead throughout the days leading up to the funeral, and most of the funeral service consists of the monks chanting in honor of the dead.
The victim's granddaughters said women should avoid eye contact with the monks as they chant their prayers.
Additionally, family members can help elevate the spiritual essence of their lost loved one by offering food to the monks.
The classic formula for presenting the food, called Matakabhatta, goes like this:
"Reverend Sirs, we humbly beg to present this mataka food and these various gifts to the Sangha" — the Buddhist group.
The invocation continues, "May the Sangha receive this food and these gifts of ours in order that benefits and happiness may come to us at the end of time."
The Venerable Pannyavaro said, "As long as the body is present, the spirit can benefit by the gifts presented, the sermons preached and the chants uttered before it."
The climax of a Buddhist funeral is the cremation, when family and friends bring candles and torches to ignite the bottom of the pyre that will consume the corpse.
Buddhists believe pregnant women should not attend cremation services, as the spirit freed from the body might enter the unborn.
Buddhists cremate the dead in memory of the Buddha himself, whose body was burned after his death around 477 B.C.
The ashes of a Laotian native are usually kept in an urn, and 100 days after the funeral family members will burn the favorite possessions of the deceased so he or she can enjoy them in the next life.