Four major views of natural death emerge when Asian religions are compared: (1) the cosmic, (2) the existential, (3) the familial, and (4) the natural. Hinduism has focused on the cosmic dimension of death, though it has also included the familial in connection with ancestor worship and the existential because of its long interaction with Buddhism. Buddhist views of death are existential in philosophical texts and some monastic circles; cosmic in the popular religion of both Theravada and Mahayana countries; and familial (in countries with traditions of ancestor worship). Chinese religions emphasize the familial aspect of death, though cosmic dimensions are derived from Buddhism and popular Daoism, along with natural ones from philosophical Daoism.

Some of the Asian religions legitimated self-willed death (and sometimes assistance) in certain circumstances— such as a way to attain heaven or enlightenment, or a way to cope with a crisis such as terminal disease or extreme old age—as an exception to natural death. Although there were attempts to distinguish such self-willed death and assistance from suicide and homicide, respectively, some of the religions decided that the practice had created problems over time.

Each religion has a tendency to assimilate many, often contradictory, views, as if these provide extra antidotes against death. When views are too this-worldly—for example, the desire to eliminate suffering or mundane problems—or too otherworldly—for example, promises of easy heaven or liberation by self-willed death—premature death may occur. People, it seems, need to balance respect for the body and transcendence of it in order to live with health and purpose, thereby doing justice to their full humanity.


SEE ALSO: Anthropology and Bioethics; Autonomy; Body: Cultural and Religious Perspectives; Buddhism, Bioethics in; Care; Compassionate Love; Confucianism, Bioethics in; Daoism, Bioethics in; Grief and Bereavement; Harm; Hinduism, Bioethics in; Holocaust; Human Dignity; Infanticide; Jainism, Bioethics in; Life; Life, Quality of; Life Sustaining Treatment and Euthanasia; Literature and Healthcare; Narrative; Paliative Care and Hospice; Pediatrics, Intensive Care in; Right to Die, Policy and Law; Sikhism, Bioethics in; Suicide; Virtue and Character; Warfare; and other Death subentries

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