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Post Mortem Care of Buddhism

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  • Category: Buddhism

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The Buddhists believed that 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. In Buddhism death is not being called to eternal rest to lie in the bosom of the creator god “but a continuation of a process in another form of life. 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.

Before and at the moment of death and for a period after death, the monk, nun or spiritual friends will read prayers and chants from the Buddhist Scriptures. It is important that the body is treated gently and with respect and that the priest can help the spirit continues its journey calmly to higher places, not causing the spirit to becoming angry and confused and may be more likely to be reborn into the lower lands. In Buddhist traditions, to aid the calming of the patient’s mind, this death bed chanting is regarded as very important and is ideally the last thing the Buddhist hears. Buddhists believe that we can actively assist and bring relief to the dying members through assisting the dying through the process of dying.

Buddhist believes that the final moment of our consciousness is the most important moment of all. If the ill person is in hospital and the diagnosis is forbidding that the person cannot possibly survived, the family should call in the Buddhist priest to pray for the loved one so that at the final moment, the right state of mind has been generated within the person and they can find their way into a higher state of rebirth as they leave the present lives. Some aspects of Buddhist tradition advise that people should not cry in the presence of a dying person or someone who has ceased to breathe because this could disturb their consciousness and clarity of mind at the moment of death.

The nurses and family members are not supposed to touch the body, having to wait 3-8 hours after breathing stops before touching the body for any preparation after the death. It can take up to three days for the consciousness to leave the body, which is when death occurs, according to Buddhist tradition. There are signs to indicate that this has happened – heat is no longer emitted from the heart, the body begins to emit an odor and a small amount of fluid leaves the sexual organ or nostrils.

The body should not be moved until the consciousness has left; thus, if death occurs in hospital, arrangements should be made to move the body from the ward to an empty room, where chants can be chanted and prayers read. If the body needs to be touched while being moved, some Buddhists believe that the hair on the crown of the head should be pulled (or the crown touched if it is bald or shaven) to stimulate the consciousness to leave via the crown (an exit point encouraging prosperous rebirth). Once the crown has been touched, other body parts may also be touched. Buddhism’s importance on compassion and the relief of suffering has led some Buddhist proxies to encourage organ and tissue donation upon the donor’s death.

However, the belief in some Buddhist traditions that consciousness remains with the body for a period after physical death confuses the matter. Many Buddhists will not allow any meddling with the body for three days so as not to disturb the release of consciousness as it moves toward its new life. Obviously, this delays organ and tissues harvesting. The physical body is nothing more than a combination of elements, which will break down 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. The Buddhists trust that doctors and medical staff 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 overly worried about this.

There are some who even initiate to donate their bodies after their death to hospitals for medical students to study anatomy. It is considered an act of the highest benefit for Buddhists to donate parts of their bodies after death so that others would benefit from them. Buddhism is very clear on the issue that the donation of vital organs for the benefit of others brings great value and is to be strongly encouraged. Cremation, after the three-day waiting period, is the typical tradition method.

The Buddhists guided us to prepare for death, to prepare for that journey by cleansing the mind and not being so attached to things, to be able to let go and release ourselves for needing to be. Through this we will not suffer so much as we pass through the final stage of the present life, we can let go, be grateful for what we had but not hold to it, not try to guarantee stability and cause ourselves to suffer more than we need to. This way we can end the cycle and leave forever, obtaining nirvana and release from the cycle of death and rebirth.

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