Death: End Of The Beginning Essay, Research Paper
Death End of the Beginning
Death is the final frontier. As we know, we all are destined to die. Everyday part of us is dying slowly but surely. Dying is an integral part of life, as natural and predictable as being born. (Death: The Final Stage of Growth, 14)
Death belongs to life as birth does. The walk is in the raising of the foot as in the laying of its down. – Tagore
When studying older cultures and people, we are impressed that death has always been distasteful and will probably continue to be so. Earthquakes, wildfires, floods, drought, tornadoes are all incorporated into the equation. In all those things lies the FEAR , a much known fear, the fear of death. Who will die first? (White Noise, 15) This question in Jack s life comes up from time to time. I stared into the dark, realizing I d experienced the more or less normal muscular contraction known as the myoclonic jerk. Is this what it is like, abrupt, peremptory? Shouldn t death, I thought, be a swan dive, graceful, white-winged and smooth, leaving the surface undisturbed? (White Noise, 18)
Death is a subject that is shunned and denied by our hi-tech, commercial society. We prefer, rather, to do all we can to sustain life even if that life is only a shell of artificial breath when the mind and spirit have accepted death almost willingly. It is like an everyday thing. But in fact Death is inevitable. Death is not an enemy that we have to conquer. Death is a waiting period. Birth and death, when viewed at the cosmic level of perception, describes the outer limits of the life of both the individual person and of the cosmos. Strictly speaking, neither human beings nor the universe itself experiences either an absolute beginning or an absolute end.
Hinduism is the religion of nearly 380 million people worldwide. The largest population of the Hindu faith lives in India. The basic core of the Hindu religion is a unity of ultimate reality. Essentially, Hindus believe that we are surrounded by illusion, fed to us by our senses. To become truly enlightened the faithful Hindu must break through the illusions of the world and participate in the manifestation of an individual s true self or Atman (soul). The death that ends death, transition called death: Each of us must ultimately confront our mortality. (Bhagawad Gita As it is, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivendanta Swami Prabhupada). Death is such a forbidden subject, but being afraid to survive may not be better.
For Hindus, this is not a fearsome prospect. We know we have been born and died before, and karma and reincarnation make the inevitable seem natural. One saint consoled, Death is like falling asleep, and birth is like waking from the sleep . Death is the end of sensory experience, or self. When we sleep, all our sensory perceptions are shut down and when we wake up, they all come back, just like birth. Lead me from darkness to light, from death to immortality.” This famed Vedic (sacred Hindu scripture) prayer proclaims the human urge to survive, to conquer death, and to know the joys of illuminated consciousness. People often pilgrimage to an isolated place in expectation of a vision, be it a jungle of fauna and foliage or cement and glass. Every person is on a vision quest. But for all souls, at the time of the great departure, mahaprasthana, a vision comes as a tunnel of light at the end of which are beings of divine nature.
Other sages speak of death joyously as release from bondage, as return to our Sources. The soul, the Vedas (sacred texts of earliest phase of Indian religion, 3000 years ago) declare, is immortal. Still we are attached and must cope, find understanding that will make death acceptable. As Hinduism has always taught, that death is a blissful, light-filled transition from one state to another, as simple and natural as changing clothes.
As common in Hindu culture, death rituals in all traditions follow a uniform
pattern drawn from the Vedas, with variations according to sect, region, caste and family
tradition. Hindus traditionally cremate their dead, for swifter, more complete release of
the soul. Burial, which preserves the bond, is generally forbidden. Death’s anniversary is
called Liberation Day. For saints, it is celebrated rather than the day of birth.
The family, all of whom participate, including the children, who need not be shielded from the death, fulfills most rites. Traditionally, a Hindu dies at home. The person is placed in his/her room or in the entryway of the house, with the head facing south on a cot or the ground reflecting a return to the lap of Mother Earth. The lamp is kept lit near the head and incense burned. A cloth is tied under the chin and over the top of the head. The thumbs are tied together, as are the big toes. Relatives are called to bid farewell and sing sacred songs at the side of the body. The chief mourner performs arati, passing an oil lamp over the remains, then offering flowers. The relatives prepare the body by applying sesame oil to the head, and the body is bathed with water, dressed, placed in a coffin (or on a palanquin) and carried to the homa shelter. In Hindus, only men go the cremation site. The body is carried three times counterclockwise around the pyre, then placed upon it the cover the body with wood and incense are offered with ghee (butter). Then the chief mourner circles the pyre while holding a firebrand behind his back. After the three circles, without turning to face the body, the chief mourner lights the pyre and leaves the cremation grounds. About 12 hours after cremation, family men return to collect the remains. Water is sprinkled on the ash; the remains are collected on a large tray. At crematoriums, the family can arrange to personally gather the remains: ashes and small pieces of white bone called “flowers . In crematoriums, these are ground to dust, and arrangements must be made to preserve them. Ashes are carried or sent to India if you live outside of your homeland, for deposition in the Ganges or placed them in an auspicious river or the ocean, along with garlands and flowers.
Buddhist doctrine defines death as a cutting off the life force or a total nonfunctioning of the physical body and the mind. Not that the life force is totally destroyed with the death of the body; it is merely displaced and transformed to continue functioning in another form. Many Buddhist believe that rebirth occurs immediately after death. Others believe that forty-nine days separate death and rebirth in an intermediary state . Tibetans believe there is a transitional state between death and rebirth. (White Noise, 37) Gautama, the Buddha, witnessed the four signs of suffering: poverty, sickness, old age, and death. On that occasion, he experiences a total loss of confidence in the reality and the value of existence in the finite world because he discovered that everything is subject to change and decay and death is the end which has been fixed for all. His message to all the suffering humanity is everything is inevitably comes to extinction even though it may last for a millennium. Everything must be parted from what it desires in the end. Recognize that all living things are subject to the law of death. Therefore, recognize the true nature of living world and do not be anxious about your life or your death. Everything, whether stationary or movable is bound to perish in the end.
Buddhism, which practiced mainly in Tibet and surrounding areas the death ceremony, is an elaborate affair. As soon as a person dies, the head lama is called to perform the rites of passage and chant mantras to help the dead on their way. The body is bathed and then bent almost to fetal position and out in a large trapezium-shaped box. The head is closest to the lid. The body is then kept embalmed until a fixed date of departure.
Judaism is a monotheistic religion. The Jewish People believe there is one God who created and rules the world. This God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (in all places at all times). God is also just and merciful.
Rabbi Simhah Bunem lay dying. In her grief, his wife burst into tears. He said to her: Why are you crying? My whole life was only that I might learn to die. And with this attitude, he died, peacefully. (Interview with Sandra Lawrence, June 13, 2001).
This acceptance of death was common among the Rebbes. Dying is part of living; and both life and death are a fulfillment of God s destiny. (Jewish Views of the Afterlife, 333) In commenting on the words from the Book of Psalms, I shall not die but live (Psalm 118:17), Rabbi Yitzhak of Vorki said: In order to really live, a man must give himself to death. But when he has done so, he discovers that he is not to die – but to live. For the Rebbe who accepted God s grace into his life, there was no reason to fear death. For some Rebbes, the fear of death and the acceptance of its inevitability could inspire a person to godliness.
In Jewish culture, a newborn is named after a recently deceased relative, not a living relative. This practice of naming the newborn after the dead reconfirms the core belief of Judaism.
In conclusion, I can say that death, fear, and living is integral part of our existence. Once we come to terms with death as a part of human development, different religions and their beliefs can provide us with a key to the meaning of human existence.
1. Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth, M.D. Death: The Final Stage of Growth, Simon and Schuster New York, 1975.
4. DeLillo, Don. White Noise. Penguin Books USA Inc., 1986.
5. Raphael, Simcha Paull. Jewish views of the afterlife. Jason Aronson, Inc., 1994.