Buddhist Death Beliefs
Buddhist religion, from its beginning, has put death as an event that is central to its culture. Therefore, death rituals and ideologies play important role in the advancement and development of Buddhist culture. Buddhism teaches that death is an essential part of a person’s life cycle and that every death leads to rebirth. The life and death cycles in Buddhism is known as Samsara. This simply means they believe in reincarnation. Buddhists do not fear death because they believe it is not the end. It is the beginning of another journey.
Death beliefs and funeral rituals are very clear in Buddhism. There may be few traditions and cultures that may differ in modern times, however, the belief in reincarnation is one principle that is uniform worldwide.
Buddhists normally prefer cremation. Burials are allowed too. There are no religious rules that govern cremation or burials. Hence, families have a choice according to their preference. The choice for cremation is because Buddhists believe it frees the soul from the body.
Buddhists also believe that everything in life happens as a result of Karma. The actions in a person’s lifetime that may affect their future are Karma. It may be both good and bad. Karma determines a person’s death, the way they die, and rebirth.
Buddhists are always regarded as specialists in death throughout Asia. The dying process is most important and sacred to Buddhist beliefs. Death marks the moment of truth when new life begins.
Buddhism’s teachings are very clear as to what happens after death. To achieve a meaningful death Buddhists follow clear and specific directions about their dying process. Therefore, when death is near Buddhism encourages them to recite their holy scriptures. In preparation for dying, Buddhists will give their final thoughts to Buddha because they believe that it may bring good luck to a new start.
It is the key reason that Chinese and Tibetans are attracted to Buddhism. Thus, the welfare of the deceased person and the mourners are clear in the Buddhist religion. Buddhism also preaches exactly what happens after death. Furthermore, its links to the way the deceased person has lived their life. There is no other religion in Asia that has such clarity on death and funeral rites. This was the major reason for the successful transition of Buddhism from its origins in Indian culture.
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was in shock when he first saw a dead person. This shock was, even more, when he was applying the death principle to himself; realising that he too would die one day. It was this thought that resulted in Siddhartha taking all the pleasures and tastes for life from himself. He renounced his luxurious life and went into exile in the jungle searching for spiritual guidance.
In search of divine direction, Siddhartha for many years was living on alms and practicing deep meditation. Siddhartha became a spiritual nomad. He was looking for the company of like-minded people doing the same. He traveled extensively learning meditation with a succession of teachers. Siddhartha was looking at ways to know the human situation that may be liberating. When Siddharta combined the knowledge to restraint with withdrawing from the senses that he learned in meditating he entered a state of mind. Recollecting a quiet illumination moment from his childhood, he was remembering his past lives. He was also understanding what was keeping him and others being tied to the cycle of rebirth. He came to understand death.
Siddhartha attaining ‘awakening’ or bodhi, was an important experience. He came to be called Buddha, which means ‘awakened’. He realised that death may no longer mean anything to him. Thus, Buddha had death written in Buddhism from its inception.
Buddhists believe that we suffer, and we suffer all the time. It includes the intolerable and undeniable suffering of death. Applying this to our lives, everyone is naturally bound to die. Therefore, the Buddhist religion preaches that there is nothing about us uninformed. Buddhist creed emphasis on change and the absence of enduring identity. Death is a constant occurrence, it is inevitable. Hence, in Buddhism, the scriptures of death are consistent and accepted worldwide.
Buddhism believes in reincarnation. It entirely possible that a dead family member may have been reborn close to the living descendants. They may be capable of one way or another be in a dependent relationship. However, the mass belief of Buddhism is to deny that these beings may be seen as actually being our former relative or a family member who passed away.