Tag Archives: death

Buddha’s Death – Myth


There are many, many stories about Buddha and many variations on each story. My mother told me one such story about his death – by poison. 

In Burmese culture, Buddhist monks do not have possessions or any source of income. They are meant to be separate from society and free of worldly attachments. However, this means that if they want to eat they must often beg for offerings from Buddhist civilians. They travel around the streets with a special offering bowl and eat whatever people put in it. They must eat everything to show their thanks and to avoid waste or greed. Buddha himself also abided by this rule, and on one particular day was offered a meal of rice, cakes, and mushrooms (or some other sort of vegetable). Buddha had some inhuman powers because of his enlightenment, and was able to immediately tell that the mushrooms were poisonous. Buddha ate the entire meal anyways because he had to as an enlightened being. He died, but it is not seen as a tragic event. Buddha knew he was ready to die and willingly accepted the poison.


My mother learned a great deal of Buddha stories from her grandmother. This was the primary way she was instructed to live her life, and the primary way in which she was taught Buddhism. My mother no longer practices Buddhism to the same extent that she did when she was younger, but she did teach my sister and I how to properly pray and how to be good people (based on Buddha’s teachings). My mother related this story to the monks that we used to see at Burmese temple – we would always donate food to them when we visited. 


I believe this story has more close ties to Burmese culture than some other Buddha stories. It incorporates an element of Burmese culture that might be uncommon in other cultures. I think it also helps Buddhists accept death when it finds them, whether it is of old age or of something more sudden. It also might help them forgive people who make mistakes or who have malicious intentions. It carries the message that if one is prepared to die, death is not a tragedy. Furthermore, it is more important to live an enlightened life than it is to live a long life.

Muslim Tradition: Funerals

Nationality: American
Primary Language: English
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Performance Date: 9 April 2024

Tags: Muslim, Islam, funeral, death, burial, graves


Muslim funerals can be compared to the solemn tradition seen in most modern Western funeral progressions, but with a few key differences. Guests wear all white attire instead of all black, and the body is also wrapped in a white sheet, after having been washed and prayers having been said. Coffins are apparently similar to sarcophaguses (for lack of a better comparison), and the dead are buried above ground because it is seen as very improper to walk over the dead. Gravestones are very clean and do not have much writing on them other than the dead’s name and lifetime, and it is not as common for people to go to graveyards to visit, as the view is that once a person is dead, they let them stay dead.


J is a student studying ANTH 333 in the University of Southern California. She regularly participates in Muslim traditions and cultural activities with her friends and family, which unfortunately includes some funerals in the past.


Small details in the difference between general Western funerals and Muslim funerals might seem insignificant in the long run, but they can reveal large differences in the cultural and traditional aspects of each region’s values and morals. It is through these differences that we can realize how alike we really are, unified under common instances that make each one of us different.

Cousin’s Ghost Story in Cemetery

  1. Details
    1. Collected on 03/23/2024 
    2. Genre: Memorate 
    3. Language: English 
    4. Nationality: Mexican-American
    5. Relationship to Informant: Friend’s Younger Sister 
  2. Text
    1. Summary
      1. The informant’s cousin told her this ghost story about when he and a group of his friends decided to use a Ouija board in a cemetery in Mexico. One boy asked the Ouija board when he was going to die, and the Ouija board responded “soon.” A little while after, he begins to cry uncontrollably, and he starts walking away from the group. The informant’s cousin runs after him, but when he grab’s his friend he sees that he has no face. The friend snaps out of it, but has no memory of crying or walking away. They return to the group, and the other boys ask who they were talking to because they saw a third figure standing with the group. The cousin and his friend have no idea what they are talking about because they thought it was just the two of them. They decide to leave, but the boy who asked when he would die began having awful nightmares. About one month later, that boy commits suicide. 
    2. Direct transcription of folklore:
      1. “So, this was told to us by our cousin on our mother’s side. Essentially, somewhere in Mexico they would go there with a couple friends every now and then to just hang out at the cemetery to spook each other out. One time, they invited girls because they wanted to scare the girls. So, they are there and it’s pretty late at night. They decide to pull out a Ouija board because they want to scare these girls. They had essentially already been hearing some spooky sounds in this cemetery, so the girls were already kind of spooked. They start doing the Ouija board, and it starts moving, and they are like ‘oh my gosh it’s actually moving.’ So, the girls are spooked, and they are like ‘we are actually going to leave…like this isn’t fun for us.’ So they leave, and the guys stay, and they are like ‘haha this is so funny bla bla bla bla bla.’ At some point, one of the friends – we will call him Rob – asks the Ouija board when he is going to die. The only thing the Ouija board says is ‘soon.’ So, everyone is like ‘ah, this is so scary … yada yada yada.’ But whatever, they keep playing because obviously they think it is more of a joke. At some point, the friend who asked that question starts uncontrollably crying. Everyone is like ‘what the h***?’ And Rob gets up, and he starts walking away. So, everyone’s like ‘oh maybe he is going to do something, who knows.’ So, two of the friends get up and they start walking over. The guy is walking pretty quickly, so they have to catch up. So, our cousin is the one that catches up to him and the other friend that was with him kind of like gives up. And he goes to talk to him and be like ‘hey man what’s up?’ and he turns him around and he has no face. And so then he freaks out and gets really spooked. Then Rob turns back around and then like turns again and then his face is back to normal. Rob is just like ‘oh my God, what’s going on’ and our cousin is freaking out that it was just in his head. So he’s like, ‘you just started crying’ and Rob remembers nothing of this. He doesn’t even remember how he got over there. So, they start walking back together kind of freaked out about the whole situation. When they catch up to the friend that started following but then kind of gave up and he was like ‘who was that guy that you guys were talking to?’ and they’re like ‘what guy?’ he’s like ‘there was a guy over there with you guys who was talking to you guys.’ They had no idea what happened, and decided to go home. As it turns out, Rob commits suicide a month later. Apparently, he was also plagued by nightmares that started right after that night in the graveyard.”
    3. Context 
      1. The informant is a young woman in her early 20s who attends UCSB. This story was told to the informant by an older cousin on her mother’s side. It has become a family story, but it is told with a serious tone because it deals with serious topics. 
    4. Analysis 
      1. This story deals with scary subjects such as death and suicide, so it serves as a warning for young people to not mess with the spiritual world. The boy who asked the spirits when he would die ended up taking his own life, which tells the audience not to see death and ghosts as a joking matter because it can have real consequences. The ‘third figure’ that the friends saw is assumed to be the devil, or at least a spirit figure with very harmful intentions. “Spirits may appear in order to reinforce social norms, proper behavior, and traditional customs.” (Valk, 33) In this case, the spirits appear to reinforce proper behavior. Overall, this memorate is used to instruct others not to instigate contact with the devil or the spiritual world. It also tells listeners to take things seriously, because what started out as a joke ended up as a terrible experience with permanent harm.

Grandmother’s Goodbye

Genre: Folk Narrative – Ghost Story


“My dad once told me a story about an experience he had with a ghost. My dad was really close with his grandparents; he spent a lot of time over at their house when he was younger and as a child, he had these really weird dreams where his grandmother would appear to him. In the dreams, she was just sitting on a stool beside his bed and talking to him.

“When I was around ten years old, my great-grandmother, his grandmother, passed away. But my dad told me he had one of those dreams the night she died: in his dream, he was a child again as he was looking at her, and just as she always did in the dreams, she was sitting on a stool and talking to him. But he had a feeling that this dream was different. Although he doesn’t remember the details of the conversation he had in the dream, when he woke up, he felt a visceral change and later discovered that that was the night she passed away.”


“My great-grandparents on my dad’s side, around when I was ten years old or so, were dying of Alzheimer’s and they needed a caretaker. It was a really big burden on my family, and I remember my dad talking about them a lot during that time because he had a really deep connection with his grandparents. He spent a lot of time with them growing up, and he even ended up remodeling their house and turning it into his parents’ house, which is where my grandparents live now. I think my dad’s dreaming of them was a representation of the deep emotional connection they shared. I think he really felt a change in that connection the night his grandmother died, and I like to think of that dream as her way of saying goodbye.”


Although I am skeptical about the idea of a truly prophetic dream, I think this is an example of how dreams can sometimes help someone process an ongoing trauma or complicated emotions. The informant explained that his great-grandparents were dying of Alzheimer’s, which is a slow end. It is possible that the informant’s father dreamed about conversations with his grandmother as a way of processing this difficult mental condition, and only after hearing news of his grandmother’s death did he feel that, at the time of the dream, he felt that he knew she had died at the time. Memories are notoriously faulty and dreams even more so, which is why I personally believe that this was not a ghost the informant’s father envisioned the night his grandmother died, but merely a way of his brain processing the difficulty of losing a loved one.

Another idea to consider is the fact that the informant’s paternal family is Mexican. Ghosts are prevalent in Mexican culture, particularly the ghosts of loved ones (as seen in holidays such as Día de los Muertos). It is possible that this cultural background influenced the informant’s father to be more inclined to believe in a supernatural explanation for his dream/ghost rather than a scientific one.

Memorate (Soul of Family Member After Death)

Nationality: American
Primary language: English
Age: 18
Occupation: Canvasser
Residence: Echo Park, CA


MM’s father was on his death bed. His aunt, his father’s older sister, was taking a plane from Pittsburgh to Seattle to see him. Without her knowledge, MM’s father died while she was on the plane. She saw a burst of light flash inside and outside the plane and into the air. She knew in that moment that he had died and that must be him. She made note of the time. When she got off the plane, she was notified by someone in Seattle that MM’s father had died. His time of death was about the same as the time she recorded the light on the plane.


MM was 7 or 8 when this story was shared with him by his mom. He thinks it’s beautiful and really moving. It affirms for him that there’s some kind of soul, and that humans can communicate with each other after death.


This memorate from MM’s aunt is deeply moving and emotional. While the light MM’s aunt saw isn’t a “ghost,” I believe that her account of it as the soul of her deceased brother, as well as the personal and narrative nature of this story, classifies this as a memorate. One interesting element of this memorate is in relation to something Professor Thompson mentioned in class: friendly ghosts are more commonly reported among older people. MM’s aunt’s description of a burst of light, followed by the calm realization that her brother had passed on, makes this memorate peaceful rather than scary. These kinds of peaceful memorates represent the human impulse to make sense of and come to terms with death. Seeing her brother pass on as a bright light allowed MM’s aunt to feel that he was at peace and going to a better place in the sky. As MM notes, the story also demonstrates an idea that the dead can communicate with the living. MM’s father seems to choose to visit his sister in this story, coming to her on the plane almost as if to say, “It’s alright. I’ve passed on, but I want to say goodbye.” This matches with the traits of friendly ghost stories, which are comforting for the living loved ones of the dead.