We will all die one day. This is an unavoidable fact for us all. As we age, we begin thinking about this topic and how we will handle it when it is our turn. Many people experience anxiety about death and dying, especially as they approach the end of their lives (Tomer and Eliason 2000). This anxiety often includes concern about unknown physical changes, dread of possible pain and stress associated with dying, fear of separation from loved ones, and uncertainty about what will occur following death (Tomer and Eliason 2000). One potential response to this anxiety is to seek refuge, strength, and hope through religious activities. According to Carl Jung (1969), most religions can be considered “complicated systems of preparation for death” (p. 408). Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian religions answer the question: where do we go when we die.

According to Duff and Hong (1995), Buddhist beliefs about death and dying fundamentally explore the concept of reincarnation, or a process in which one’s spirit is continuously reborn in another body until a state of ultimate enlightenment is attained. A Buddhist soul can be reincarnated into five different realms. These realms are the animal kingdom; the hells; the realm of jealous gods; the human realm and the heavens. Determining where your soul resides is based on karma, or the accumulation of all your actions during a lifetime. According to Duff and Hong (1995), “correct and compassionate deeds will allow your soul to be reborn in higher, more pure levels of existence, until that desired state of nirvana is reached” ( p.30). Buddhist believe hell is not a place where one suffers in eternal torment; rather, it is a temporary abode where you are able to transcend the negative karma you accumulated during your earthly life (Duff & Hong, 1995). Buddhism does not accept the idea of a permanently bad soul but instead subscribes to the concept of a soul as an entity which is connected to the dynamic universe. Only an accomplished Buddhist (a non-returner) can be reborn in the higher heavens called Pure Abodes, while formless realms are meant for Buddhists who are capable of meditation on the arupajhanas, or the most supreme concept reserved for skilled meditators (Duff & Hong, 1995).

According to Parsuram and Sharma (1992), a belief in the cyclical reincarnation of the soul is one of the foundations of the Hindu religion. Death is viewed as a natural aspect of life, and there are numerous epic tales, sacred scriptures, and Vedic guidance that describe the reason for death’s existence, the rituals that should be performed surrounding it, and the many possible destinations of the soul after departure from its earthly existence (Parsuram & Sharma, 1992). While the ultimate goal is to transcend the need to return to life on earth, Hindus believe they will be reborn into a future that is based primarily on their past thoughts and actions (Parsuram & Sharma, 1995). According to Wulff (1991) cremation is a ritual designed to do much more than dispose of the body; it is intended to release the soul from its earthly existence. Hindus believe that cremation (compared to burial or outside disintegration) is most spiritually beneficial to the departed soul (Wulff, 1991). This is based on the belief that the astral body will linger, as long as the physical body remains visible. If the body is not cremated, the soul remains nearby for days or months (Wulff, 1991). The only bodies that are not generally burned are unnamed babies and the lowliest of castes, who are returned to the earth. The standard cremation ceremony begins with the ritual cleansing, dressing and adorning of the body. The body is then carried to the cremation ground as prayers are chanted to Yama, invoking his aid. Wulff (1995) states, “it is the chief mourner, usually the eldest son, who takes the twigs of holy kusha grass, flaming, from the Doms’ (the untouchable caste who tend funeral pyres) eternal fire to the pyre upon which the dead has been laid”(p.37). “He circumambulates the pyre counterclockwise: for everything is backward at the time of death”(Wulff, 1991, p.38). As he walks round the pyre, his sacred thread, which usually hangs from the left shoulder, has been reversed to hang from the right. He lights the pyre. The dead, now, is an offering to Agni, the fire (Wulff, 1991). Here, as in the most ancient Vedic times, the fire conveys the offering to heaven. After the corpse is almost completely burned, the chief mourner performs the rite called kapalakriya, the rite of the skull, cracking the skull with a long bamboo stick, thus releasing the soul from entrapment in the body. According to Wulff (1991), after the cremation, the ashes are thrown into a river, ideally the Ganges river, and the mourners walk away without looking back.

According to Falkenhain and Handal (2003), a belief that Jesus Christ was the son of God, that he died for our sins, and was resurrected from the grave is central to the Christian belief. Because of this sacrifice that Christ made for all mankind, we are granted eternal life. The only requirement is a belief that Christ died and rose from the grave. Accoring to Falkenhain and Handal (2003), Jesus Christ was God in flesh that was born to a mortal woman named Mary. Mary was a virgin and God placed her son inside her. Jesus Christ was a great teacher and prophet. At age 33 he was beaten and nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers because he claimed he was the son of God. Jesus died on the cross and was placed in a tomb. After three days he was resurrected. He then ascended into the clouds and into heaven. Faith in this belief will guarantee eternal life in heaven. According to Falkenhain and Handal (2003), heaven is beautiful place above earth where God, the angels, and all the saved souls live together in harmony. There is not any pain, grief, or sorrow in heaven. In heaven we can reconnect with saved relatives and friends who have already died. In heaven all our needs are met and we are eternally happy.

Religions help shape the world around us. They explain where we come from. They explain why we are here. They also explain where we are going. As people age they begin to think more and more about death and dying. We begin seeing our limitations. We begin realizing that we are not 21 anymore. We find the tasks that were once so easy now take a little longer. We begin to realize that we are not immortal. Religion serves an important purpose. Religion offers us a chance at immortality. The peace of mind that this offers is priceless.

Works Cited

 Duff, R. W., & Hong, L. K. (1995). Age density, religiosity and death anxiety in retirment communities. Review of Religious Research, 37, 19-32.

Falkenhain, M., & Handal, P. (2003). Religion, death attitudes, and belief in afterlife in the elderly: Untangling the relationships. Journal of Religion and Health, 42, 67-76.

Jung, C.G (1969). The soul and Death, Volume 8 of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 8, 405-408.

Neimeyer, R., Wittkowski, J., & Moser, R. P. (2004). Psychological research on death attitudes: An overview and evaluation. Death Studies, 28, 309-340.

Parsuram, A., & Sharma, A. (1992). Functional relevance of belief in life-after-death. Journal of Personality and Clinical Studies, 8, 97–100.

Tomer, A., & Eliason, G. (2000). Attitudes about life and death: Toward a comprehensive model of death anxietyDeath attitudes and the older adult, 17, 78-84

Wulff, D. M. (1991). Psychology of religion: classic and contemporary views. New York: Wiley, 2, 38-64.

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