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Buddhism: the concept of death and dying Research Paper

Table of Contents Abstract


Buddhism Views on Death

Works Cited

Abstract Death is one of the natural processes in life. It involves the cessation of life, where all living things enter into a lifeless form. It is shrouded with many mysteries and taboos.

Even though no one really knows what death is, several attempts have been made to explain its nature. One thing is certain though: death is definite. Many cultures in the world have a described philosophy and norms about death. Among them are the Buddhist communities. Buddhism distinguishes life and death. Life is permanent but death is the transition of a human soul to either one of the six Buddhist realms.

The realm that one is reborn depends on ones Karma. If one had such a negative karma, they are reborn into a lower realm. The highest realm is nirvana, a world of total happiness. This world is attainable to any person, while living or dead. In life, for a person to reach nirvana they must live a life devoid of materialism, while treating other humans with utmost goodwill. Absolute nirvana is only attainable by the holiest of Buddhists, after they die.

Buddhists death cultures vary from community to community, but have several common features, the most common being prayers offered to the dead and their families by the monks. Even though some modern Buddhists mourn expressively, traditional Buddhism does not allow for mourning. It asks its adherents to accept death as it is not the end of life. Even though Buddhism popularity is spreading to the western cultures, it still does not answer the question of what death is.

Introduction Death is one of the most mysteriously occurring phenomena in the entire world. It is revered, feared celebrated and even hated. All world communities have a way of marking death either through pompous ceremonies or with a lot of sobriety and mourning. There are many taboos surrounding death.

These taboos describe cultural practices that accompany this period. Some communities have even described the type of food to be eaten and the type of cloths to be worn by the bereaved. The nature of death still eludes even the most knowledgeable minds. This is because man has never been able to define life. The biggest question is what happens to living things when they die. Death is a phenomena surrounded by numerous question that do not have clear-cut answers.

For example, if a person brain ceases to function, but other body parts do, is that person dead? If death is the ceasation of life, what is life? Is there a boundary between life and death? Is there a difference between life and consciousness or death and unconsciousness? If a person is unconscious, can they be referred to as dead? Even though there are no answers to this question, what is known is that death is an irreversible phenomenon. Once a person dies, they cannot come back to life.

Get your 100% original paper on any topic done in as little as 3 hours Learn More According to scientists, death may be regarded as more of a cessation of life so that the various biological functions of the body no longer work. However, it is still difficult to determine what death is. While different world communities have similar views of death, Buddhists have one of the most peculiar philosophies, which elaborate the definiteness of death and the impermanence of life. The purpose of this paper is to explain the concept of death from the Buddhist point of view.

Buddhism Views on Death Scholars report that Buddhism is both a religion and philosophy, with diverse customs, beliefs and practices, as taught by Gautama Buddha. Gautama Buddha lived and taught his philosophy in 5 BC India. These teachings revolve around the issues of life and death. Its doctrine teach that all human beings are subject to suffering through rebirths, but can escape their despair and suffering and achieve the state of nirvana, an absolute world of total bliss.

Buddhism teaches its followers that even though human beings hold life so dearly living is not a permanent occurrence. Death is part of the natural process. Once a living thing has been born, it will eventually live to old age and die.

Even though a person eventually dies, Buddha reports that it is not the absolute end of life but just a transition of the soul from the current body into another realm. The human spirit continues to live, will eventually seek to be reborn, and attached to a new body. What determines the nature of the new rebirth is one’s past actions; both positive and negative. The causes and effects of one’s past actions are called Karma. Before an individual’s Karma emerges, he/she needs to b e reborn first in one of the six realms.

They include human beings, heaven, hell, hungry ghost, animal, and Asura. Existence in any of these Karmas is not definite, as one simply transits from one realm to another depending on the effects of ones Karma. Therefore it means one can remain in a certain realm if they do not improve their conduct of living (Tang, paras 2, 3).

The process of living is supposed to lead one to a state of nirvana, a world of true happiness, joy and satisfaction. Buddha realized that this state is achievable by any one if they commit their lives to avoiding the desire for worldly pleasures and ill will. Nirvana is an immortal phenomenon, beyond nature and cannot be understood easily.

It can only be experienced, not expressed in words. It is the unbinding of a person from the three sins, namely: lobha (greed), dvesha (hate) and moha (Ignorance). It is a world beyond the common sorrows and afflictions that accompany the existence of normal mortals. Liberation from these afflictions occurs only when one enters into the realm of nirvana (O’Brien para 2, 3).

We will write a custom Research Paper on Buddhism: the concept of death and dying specifically for you! Get your first paper with 15% OFF Learn More It is the final destination of all human beings. However, it is not a place outside this world, where people go after they die but a realm that can be realized in this world. It is a world within a world, a realization of life in absolute happiness, goodwill and pure enlightenment on good virtues (BDEA paras 2, 3, 4, 6). However, different Buddhist communities believe that nirvana is either attainable in life or in death (O’Brien para 4).

In life, it is the ability to overcome the craving of the joys and pleasures of this world. A person experiences a “world of real ecstasy” and all the person Karmic debts are paid when a person reaches this state in life. Reaching this state as earlier mentioned requires one to live a life of absolute goodwill. In death, only very few monks experience nirvana, a state called absolute or total nirvana (Buddhist temples para 1, 2)

The fear of death, according to Buddha comes from the fact that human beings can foretell their death. They have the knowledge that life is definite and it will eventually end at some point. Death is seen in the changes that happen in the nature surrounding us. These changes culminate in the end off a person’s youth hood that ushers in old age. The eventual destination towards a persons the realization that youth hood is just a fleeting moment in ones life (Tang para 4).

Halifax explains that the most intimate relationships people can have in this life is with a dying person. Grieving is the result of this relationship. It leads the person mourning to ask several hard questions about death. However, Buddhism explains that grieving can occur before or after death.

People can anticipated the death of a close friend or relative and grieve with them before they die. Halifax calls it anticipated grief. It may also occur after the news of the death of a person. Those mourning experience a deep sense of loss and thus enter into a world of mourning (1).

A person can however choose how to mourn the dead. Even though modern Buddhism sees grief as a weakness, Buddhists can still choose how to express the sorrows of death. A good modern Buddhist has the option of mourning the dead through the expression of sadness, anger, anguish and crying.

However, traditional Buddhist explains that grieving may not bring a person back to life and therefore not useful. Instead, they proscribe that the best way to grief is to accept death peacefully and not to let the dead be disturbed by the mourning of the living. Letting go of the dead is a humbling experience that makes the dead to be our ancestors and thus part of us (Halifax 3).

The Buddhist believes one of Gautama Buddha’s experiences informs this acceptance of death. A woman had lost her young daughter at an early age and thus experiences an unimaginable sense of loss. She grieved so much as she wanted her daughter back to life. She could not accept death.

Not sure if you can write a paper on Buddhism: the concept of death and dying by yourself? We can help you for only $16.05 $11/page Learn More However, Buddha had about her suffering and anguish and summoned her. The woman wanted Gautama Buddha to bring her daughter back to life. Gautama reportedly agreed on condition that the woman would first bring to the Buddha, a seedling from a family that had not experienced death. The woman realized that death is a universal inexperience, as she could not find such a family. She thus accepted her daughters death (Tang para 8).

The Buddhists have quite an elaborate ceremony to mark death. Tang explains that a dead person is allowed up to eight hour after dying before anyone touches them, as they believe that they spirit of a dead person lingers for a while and that it is important to give it time to be transited to the next realm.

A dead body is treated with a lot of care so as not to anger the dead person’s spirit (para 20). Religionfacts explains that the first ceremony is called “offering the cloths on behalf of the dead” and it involves monks assembling at the home of the deceased. They then offer the “Five Precepts” followed by the recitation of this well-known stanza:

“Impermanent alas are formations, subject to rise and fall. Having arisen, they cease; their subsiding is bliss.” (para 10)

Next the monks are offered “pamsukula,” a new white cloth, which is torn and stitched back into a robe for the monks (para 11). The relatives of the dead sit together in a circle in reverently, pouring water in a mug placed at the centre while the monks intone this ritualistic offering chant:

“Just as the water fallen on high ground flows to a lower level, Even so what is given from here accrues to the departed. Just as the full flowing rivers fill the ocean, Even so what is given from here accrues to the departed.” (para 12)

Three days after the funeral or cremation, mataka-bana, a burial right that involves preaching by the monks in the house of the deceased is conducted. The monks gather at the homestead of the dead person and offer a preaching from the Buddhist creed concurrent with the occasion. After this preaching, the relatives of the dead recite the necessary quotations on death. Later on refreshments are served to the bereaved and the monks are offered gifts (para 13).

Sanghika dana, the Buddhist ceremony to give alms, is held three months after the death to remember the dead (para 14). The time when this prayer is held varies from society to society. Some Buddhist communities may pray for up to seven years after death of a person. This duration of prayer is concurrent with the period of time the particular community believes life will take to reincarnate in the next realm (Tang para 21).

Buddhism is such a liberal culture that it allows for both burial and cremation of the dead (Nye para 12). This however, must be conducted within acceptable Buddhist norms and according to the wishes of the deceased. Cremation is the most acceptable form of disposing a dead body in many Buddhist cultures.

Some communities cremate the dead together with their valuables, arguing that these possessions will be useful in the next realm (para 14). However, Buddha did not proscribe the preferred ways of disposing ashes after cremation. He wanted people to understand that the body is just a physical form, void of any spiritual existence. After a person dies, the body would just return to the physical realms of nature. Thus most Buddhist either scatter the ashes to the sea or enshrine them in buildings (para 15).

In conclusion, Buddhism teaches people to accept death as part if nature. It consoles its adherents with the belief death is only the end of the physical body, that the spirit lives beyond death. Based on this precept, Buddhism therefore does not allow for grieving of the dead.

This belief supports the idea of reincarnation into a different form depending on ones action when alive. These actions determine what realm a person transits to after they die. The absolute wish for all Buddhist is to be reincarnated in nirvana, a world devoid of any physical suffering. This is usually the final destination for all people. However further studies should be conducted to establish several whether nirvana is achievable or not. It should also be established how a person’s Karma liberates one from hell, the lowest realm.

Works Cited BDEA. The Third Nobel Truth. Buddhanet. Web.

Buddhist Temples Nirvana Buddhism. 2011. Web.

Halifax, Joan. A Buddhist Perspective of Death.” Upay Zen Centre. 2011. Web.

Nye. Buddhist Belief in Funerals. Buddhism Inte. 2007. Web.

O’Brien, Barbara. Nirvana. Guide. 2011. Web.

Religionfacts. Buddhist Life Cycle Rituals. 2011. Web.

Tang, Nguyen. Buddhist View on Death and Rebirth. Urban Dharma. 1999. Web.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Three Stages of Spiritual Revival Essay

Nursing Assignment Help “I know why the caged bird sings. Ah, me, when its wings are bruised and its bosom sore”, wrote Paul Laurence Dunbar in his famous poem Sympathy (Dunbar).

Having been written several decades before the Brown v. Board of Education landmark case, Martin Luther King’s speeches and the work of the Civil Rights Movement, this poem became the symbol of African Americans’ spiritual power and aspiration for freedom in all its senses. These lines gave the name to another outstanding work of literature devoted to the rights of African Americans, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Angelou 2002).

The novel is about a “caged bird” Maya, an African American girl in captivity of racial discrimination and her own fears and diffidence.

The events described in the novel are sometimes so shocking that seem almost unbelievable; having got familiarized with the life story of the protagonist Maya, a reader sees that having faced numerous troubles and challenges, the girl did not give up and escaped from the “cage” – her fears, uncertainty and racial prejudices directed at her.

The process of Maya’s spiritual revival included three stages: facing and recognizing the problems, receiving emotional and intellectual support from her environment, and making first independent, resolute steps into the adult life.

Maya’s inner restrictions, fears and low self-esteem were born by the environment she faced during the first years of her life. Does a reader see just a weak, inexperienced girl afraid of the sorrows she is facing?

The situation described by the narrator is much more complicated and terrifying: the life of Maya, the protagonist, is the illustration of position of an African American woman in that took place in the society for centuries – “… A black woman has two strikes against her – being a woman and being born black” (Cordell-Robinson 13). The aggression towards black people combined with disrespect towards women formed a “cage” that seemed impossible to break.

Get your 100% original paper on any topic done in as little as 3 hours Learn More The racial discrimination in the country in 1930’s was merciless: the society was deeply prejudiced towards black people. The terrifying lynch mobs did not allow the girl to remain calm and careless; Maya faced cruelty of the modern world and lost self-confidence. This period in Maya’s life played significant part in her future destiny having created problems she had to overcome for decades: living with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, Maya faced numerous problems connected with her racial identity.

Being one of the few black people in the region, the girl had to overcome numerous social and emotional restrictions of her spiritual and intellectual growth: needing love and emotional support, she is nevertheless not understood, not respected and discriminated; the girl says, “There was an army of adults, whose motives and movements I just couldn’t understand and who made no effort to understand mine” (Angelou 62).

Maya’s emotional discomfort was aggravated by understanding that her parents had divorced and abandoned her and her older brother having sent them to Annie Henderson, their grandmother.

The pain of rejection is hard to overcome – a three year old girl was unable to get rid of the feeling of guilt for parental divorce. At the same time, Maya was suffering from her own diffidence thinking that she was not beautiful and would never become as pretty and charming as the other girls of her age. During this time, Maya’s low self-esteem progressed and turned into a serious problem.

The attitude of the children of the same age put its imprint: they teased and injured her – their attitude was also a result of the tendencies that existed in the contemporary society. Looking in the mirror, Maya saw an ugly girl and imagined she is a charming white young lady turned into a “too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil” (3).

However, deeply within, the girl possessed incredible strength and desire for spiritual growth. Moreover, a reader may be amazed about how kind and forgiving the heart of the small girl is: being teased by the children around her, Maya does not become hard-hearted and does not dream about revenge, “…They were going to run up to me and say, “…Forgive us, please…”, and I would answer generously, “No, you couldn’t have known.

Of course I forgive you” (Angelou 2). It is possible to say that Maya’s inherent spiritual strength helped her apprehend the life-giving impulse that came from the outside: Maya just needs understanding, compassion and support, and soon she fortunately finds in the person of Miss Flowers whom she communicated simultaneously with living in Stamps, Arkansas.

We will write a custom Essay on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Three Stages of Spiritual Revival specifically for you! Get your first paper with 15% OFF Learn More This period in Maya’s life was considered to be really important for the girl. It is possible to state that the communication with Miss Flowers gave Maya an opportunity to enter the next stage of the formation of her spiritually strong personality. This woman showed Maya that there was nothing wrong with her race, that it was possible to be black and enjoy the life.

Miss Flowers demonstrated that she could enjoy what she was doing. Having given Maya a piece of advice to read aloud was a good idea. Reading in this way helped Maya to regain her voice which she had lost as a post-trauma effect of being sexually abused by Mr. Freeman. Reading helped the girl stop thinking about that terrible event, return to the reality and continue living. Thus, reading aloud brought the “caged bird’s” voice back literally and in a figurative sense.

Another important step towards Maya’s spiritual renaissance was attendance of the Church revival where the preacher’s sermons gave her an opportunity to comprehend the situation in the society and interpret the challenges she faced from the new perspective. Listening to the sermons against white hypocrisy was a good chance for Maya to understand that the problem of racial discrimination bothered many people, that her attitude toward whites was shared among other black people in the society.

Particularly, she had an opportunity to change her opinion about white people whom she considered to be better than herself, learn about their negative traits and see that many of their “virtues” are illusive: she was able to understand that being white did not mean being a good person, it just meant that one could have more rights. The sermons gave a girl spiritual strength and inspiration demonstrating that she was not alone and that there were people who understood her feelings.

This period of Maya’s life brought her understanding of racial discrimination as injustice in the world. She realized that high self-esteem is possible even for a black girl. It is important to understand that the “crucial point” in Maya’s life described in the novel is also not isolated from the social tendencies of those years: “the ice” has been “broken”, and the African American community found its voices, the strong and spirited people who would be able to change the status quo.

These voices turn out to be powerful enough to awaken those who were “encaged” and equated life with suffering and misery. At the end of the novel, we see the Maya as a “bird” that has broken out of her cage and is enjoying her freedom.

Having passed two stages on the way to selfhood and maturation, which were recognizing a problem and getting support from the outside, Maya was ready to face the third stage, which is becoming independent and self-confident, and step into a new life free of her juvenile problems. However, she needed to be pushed to become strong and independent, and the life with her father gave her the necessary push.

Having come to her farther, Maya expected to live a happy life in a loving family, but his attitude was absolutely opposite to the girl’s expectations. Cruel indifference was the only emotion the father “bestowed” Maya with, and the attitude of the father’s new wife was the same. Tension and hatred were two feelings that Maya met in her new family.

Not sure if you can write a paper on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Three Stages of Spiritual Revival by yourself? We can help you for only $16.05 $11/page Learn More A fight with Dolores, the father’s wife, was the event which had broken the camel’s back, and Maya left home. Living with homeless children in junkyard, she had to do her best to survive and to cope with the new challenges she faced. However, Maya understood that she was much stronger than she thought; her character became tough, and her spirit was strong.

If seeing Maya in the street at that period, it was impossible to recognize the small girl she was several years ago when her parents divorced. Maya was inspired with the desired freedom she at last got, and the “bird” who escaped was not afraid of demonstrating her voice any more: as a result, Maya became the first black streetcar conductor at the age of fifteen, made an independent decision about giving birth to her child.

“Under the tent of blanket… the baby slept touching my side” (Angelou 246), the reader sees the words of not a girl afraid of the world around her, but of a young responsible woman who has overgrown her fears, knows the sense of her life and is ready to take the next step.

“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing” (Angelou 2011), looking at Maya’s life and the stages of the formation of her personality, a reader can understand the meaning of her poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. These words are the main explanation for why Maya had became who she was: within her soul, she did not lose her ability to “sing”.

She could either accept the situation and give up, or struggle for her independence and selfhood. She chose the second option: Maya managed to turn into a strong personality by means of coming through three stages of maturation, which are recognizing the problem, accepting the spiritual support from the outside, and formation of spiritually strong personality.

It is important to not underestimate Maya’s environment that significantly influenced the course of her life and her perception of herself: the society surrounding the girl encaged her, but later in the person of Miss Flowers and the preacher, it helped her break the vicious circle and find the way out. Their attitude and beliefs, as well as Maya’s desire to become herself, helped her turn into a powerful woman and tell the whole world her story.

Works Cited Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (novel). New York: Random House, 2002. Print.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (poem). 1969. Web. .

Cordell-Robinson, Shirley J. “The Black Woman: A Focus on “Strength of Character” in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why he Caged Bird Sings. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. 13016. Print.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. Sympathy. Web. .