Different religions and cultures greatly affect our perception and views about life and death. Consequently, bereavement and funeral practices and tend to vary from one religion to another.
Thus, although death is a universal experience, it is interpreted in numerous ways in all the cultures and religions. Consequently, there are different methods for disposing of the body of the deceased.
Religious Beliefs on Death and Dying
Christianity believes in an afterlife in Heaven or Hell depending on one’s conduct on earth and belief or disbelief in God. The believers face death without fear and gain eternal life in Heaven in the presence of God.
It is believed that the body itself is also a gift from God. Thus, it has to be celebrated and honored. Therefore, elaborate funeral procedures are performed after death.
Islam believes in continued existence of the soul with transformed physical existence and a Day of Judgment (similar to Catholicism) deciding eternal destination of the human beings to Paradise and Hell.
Thus, when one approaches death, the family and friends give comfort to the individual and recite from the Qur’an, thereby reminding one of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Upon death, the near and dear ones are encouraged to stay calm and consider the loss as God’s will because He is the one who gives life and takes it away.
After death, there are no complicated rituals, and the body is washed and wrapped in a shroud for burial as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours, in order to avoid embalming.
According to Hinduism, the oldest known religion in the world, death is a natural process in the existence of a soul that takes several births and reincarnations on the basis of karma.
It explains the body like a set of clothes covering the soul. Hence, the soul changes bodies like one changes clothes.
Hindus think of prolonging one’s life artificially as interfering with karma and hence does not encourage it. More often than not, they prefer dying at home.
So, they mostly bring terminally ill loved one’s home so that they can die at home peacefully while family members sing, pray, and read the scriptures to help the dying individual focus on Brahman.
After death, Hindus generally dispose of the dead body by way of cremation (except for great spiritual leaders who are respectfully buried) and disperse the cremated remains in holy waters.
During the funeral, they prefer to wear white or dress casually but avoid black. To read more about Hindu beliefs on death, dying, and funeral rites, visit Hinduism Today. Plus, you can get information on traditional Hindu beliefs on this page.
Buddhist funeral traditions tend to vary because there are different types of Buddhism. Nevertheless, like Hindus, Buddhists also believe in rebirth, which is influenced by the state of mind in which a person dies.
Thus, while dying, a Buddhist is surrounded by family member, friends, and monks who chant mantras and recite Buddhist scriptures to help the person leave the mortal body in a peaceful state of mind.
Chinese Folk Religion
Chinese folk religion is among major religious traditions in the world with at least 800 million adherents. It is a combination of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism.
According to this religion, it is believed that at the time of death, the spirit is taken to Ch’eng Huang, the God of walls and moats for a sort of preliminary hearing.
Those found virtuous in this hearing are allowed to go to one of the Buddhist paradises. Besides, they may go to the place were Taoist immortals reside. Furthermore, they can be sent to the Tenth Court of Hell, followed by immediate rebirth.
Sinners, on the other hand, are sent to Hell for a fixed period of punishment. Hell is located at the base of the cosmic mountain, Mount Meru.
After the punishment is over, the souls are supposed to drink an elixir of oblivion. It helps prepare them for their next reincarnation.
Thus, as per Chinese folk religion, death opens a gap between earthly and spiritual existence. It is believed that the sinners descend to Hell after 49 days.
You can learn more about cultural aspects of death and dying at Dimensions of Cuture.