Engaging Suffering: Free Funeral Service Societies and a Socially Engaged Buddhist Soteriology in Contemporary Myanmar


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


School of Historical Philosophical and Religious Studies


“Funeral one time, monastery ten times.” This proverb not only reveals a surging interest among Burmese Buddhists in seeking soteriological rewards through funeral services. It speaks also to the significant role of Free Funeral Service Societies (FFSSs) -- organizations dedicated to social services for welfare of others (parahita) “without discrimination of race and religion” -- in transforming funeral services from a defiling activity into a popular merit-making practice. My dissertation argues that FFSSs are innovating a progressive, socially engaged Buddhist soteriology in contemporary Myanmar. Focusing on FFSSs, my ethnographic research explores how encountering and engaging suffering allows Burmese Buddhists to experience, imagine, and embody parahita as a practice for merit-making.