Buddhist Belief In Death

Every being that is born dies, and reborn.

Man is mortal and death is to be expected. However, very few people can accept the separation or the fear of what happens after death.

There is so much ignorance among Buddhists regarding death that people even change their religion so that they can get a “proper” funeral to ensure a short cut to heaven. Families have been known to be separated because children who belong to one religion hastily convert their sick parents on their deathbed. Some Buddhist children are powerless because they have not learned what to do as true Buddhists. It is therefore very important for Buddhist parents to make their wishes known clearly and to teach their children what to do as Buddhists in the event of their death. Many ignorant people have taboos against death and do not like to attend funerals during certain periods thinking that it will bring bad luck to themselves.

Children must learn from young that death is a natural part of existence. They must learn not to be unnaturally afraid at the sight of coffins and corpses. They must know what is the sensible thing to do at the funeral. If this is not done and when a death occurs, young adults will be at a loss and be at the mercy of unscrupulous religious people who either use this opportunity to convert them to their faith, or make them spend large sums of money on superstitious and other meaningless practices.

First of all, we must understand the Buddhist attitude towards death. Scientifically speaking “Life” is an incessant series of rising and falling. The cells in our body are constantly dying and are replaced by new ones. As such, birth and death are taking place every moment. The phenomenon of death is merely a more dramatic ending of this continual process. But the end is not permanent. In fact in the very next “Beat” after death, rebirth takes place. So in the Buddhism, death is not ‘being called to eternal rest to lie in the bosom of some creator deity’ but a continuation of a process in another form.

So there is no need to fear death. In view of this, the Buddha did not prescribe any specific rites regarding the disposal of a corpse. The body of a dead person should be removed with dignity and be treated properly out of respect for the memory of what the deceased person had done when he was alive. His past action (Karma) will determine what his future life will be.

We are grateful for whatever services the dead person had rendered to us in the past. Sorrow arises in our minds because someone we love has departed from our midst. When we gather around the body of a loved one, as friends and relatives we find solace in the company of others who share our common sorrow and who give us moral support in our hour of grief. The different cultural practices we perform are useful because they help us to minimize our sorrow.

Buddhist belief in post mortem:

Nowadays in cases where death has occurred in special circumstances, which would necessitate further investigation, it has become a common practice for hospitals to conduct post mortems on the bodies of such dead persons to verify the cause of death. Sometimes relatives object to this practice thinking that it is somewhat sacrilegious to cut up or mutilate a corpse. As far as Buddhists are concerned, there should be no religious reason to object to this practice. In fact, if such a post mortem could help the living by providing members of the medical profession with more information which could enable them to cure diseases it should be considered an act of merit on the part of Buddhists.

As has been said earlier the physical body is nothing more than a combination of elements, which will disintegrate on death. So there is no reason to believe that the spirit of the dead person will be upset if the body is used for scientific purposes. We can be rest assured that doctors and medical aides have a high sense of responsibility and professional ethics and that they would handle a corpse with the utmost respect due to it, so relatives need not be unduly worried about this. There are some who even pledge to donate their bodies after their death to hospitals for medical students to study anatomy.

In this connection, it is considered an act of the highest merit for Buddhists to donate parts of their bodies after death so that others would benefit from them. The Buddha himself on numerous occasions in his previous lives donated his body for the benefit of others. He gave his eyes, blood and flesh and on one occasion sacrificed his whole body in order to save the lives of others. Buddhism is very clear on the issue that the donation of vital organs for the benefit of others brings great merit and is to be strongly encouraged.

  • This is based on “Buddhism For The Future, “by Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda.