Hinduism, Buddhism in VS .NET

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Hinduism, Buddhism
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Wisdom, in this sense of an insightful acceptance of life, has developed in several directions within the major religious traditions of humanity, not least in Hinduism and Buddhism Hinduism coped with death not only through its notion of karma as the ultimate moral process undergirding transmigration
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132 Fear of Death
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and reincarnation but also through the idea of ashrama or stages of life by which an individual passes from being a student to a householder, then from beginning to withdraw from social duties to a nal withdrawal from all social obligations in preparation for death and the soul s transmigration to another life While this social acknowledgement of existence in its varied phases contextualizes the fear of death socially and domestically, it does not mean to say that individuals do not fear death It is not accidental, for example, that one of the founding stories of Buddhism s emergence tells how the young Hindu, Gautama, encountered the bitterness of life by seeing a corpse and was launched on the search for enlightenment In its more philosophically grounded practice Buddhism made a major attempt to engage with the meaning of life and death by arguing that all of death s apparent reality is as deceptive as are fears themselves, or even as the sense of a distinct individual identity Although this radical approach with its embedded monastic way of life has generally come to exist alongside a multiplicity of folk-beliefs that detracts from its prime focus, there is much in Buddhist thought that appeals strongly to increasing numbers in today s world where many desire a spirituality devoid of traditional Christian orthodoxy
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As far as that Christian orthodoxy is concerned it consists, very largely, in an assault upon the fear of death In St Paul s major exposition of Christianity death is described as the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15: 26) For him, and for millions since, that triumph was rooted in resurrection and the hope of life beyond death Many subsequent Christian thinkers have explored death s dominance in a variety of ways and here we focus on several of the more signi cant and recent contributions
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Fear of Death 133
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In the mid-nineteenth century S ren Kierkegaard took up the issue of death and hope as part of his extensive analysis The Sickness unto Death ([1849]1968) His complex description focused on the nature of despair as the sickness unto death and is important for both the history of existential philosophy and for Christian spirituality because of the way it explores the nature of hope Kierkegaard does this by excavating the depths of individuals and of the self that he thinks we should give our all to become and which so very few actually achieve In some ways his formulation predates Freud s interest in the unconscious and sets the scene for later approaches to the central topic of identity and of the many psychological, social and religious dynamics that surround an individual on the road to gaining a sense of self Kierkegaard constructs sets of cameos, detailed descriptions of how people think and experience their emotions and sense of self in terms of hope and despair, and death is far from the terror one might expect it to be For him the profounder sadness in human life lies not in death but in the failure of many people to encounter all that detracts from true personhood, a failure to truly become themselves For him there is a fate worse than death: it is not to become ourselves
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Albert Schweitzer and C S Lewis
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One of the greatest Christians of the early twentieth century, Albert Schweitzer (1875 1957), also addressed himself to death in a most telling way in the form of a sermon delivered in 1907 It is worth dwelling on this creative piece because it pinpoints so many themes that would be developed by others as the twentieth century advanced Telling how all things are subjected to death, he begins, rather like Sigmund Freud, by aligning death with the decay of nature but, unlike Freud, Schweitzer goes on to address death as a theological problem Death, like the transience of so many things, exists all around us but, he asks, does it 134 Fear of Death
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not also reign within us For him the terror and fear of death had long been used within Christianity to frighten men into believing in eternal life And the result of that, he reckons, was Numbness, numbness Because such a fear-motivation had been so often repeated it had, he believed, lost its effect and led to a conspiracy of silence in a kind of comedy that pretends death does not exist: but the comedy only generates a loneliness in the players He gives what might be regarded as an early appreciation of a popular medicalization of death, describing how mourners will stand around discussing the deceased s sickness, the length of his illness, who his doctor was, and of what sickness he died But Schweitzer advocated a different approach Though he knows it is not strictly orthodox, he believed that we should develop a calm and natural approach to death, one he believed was inspired by the Christian faith This outlook realistically acknowledges how dreadful it would be to be caught up in earthly life without end This perspective begins to breed a true love for life which accepts each day as a gift and creates an inward freedom from material things Even if this state is attained one fear remains and it is the fear of being torn from those who need us For Schweitzer the deepest meaning in life comes from the sense of what others need from him and he from them Here he speaks the language of attachment and detachment, one that the psychologists would pursue in their theories of grief as chapter 2 showed Ultimately he sees his own Christian interpretation of overcoming death as lying not in an ignoring of death but in the acceptance of life as a daily gift This he sees as expressing the biblical idea of sharing in Christ s death and resurrection He, nally, adds a note on immortality to say that it is a word used too easily to comfort those who are dying, and becomes super cial when so used Schweitzer s emphasis is upon eternal life as a present experience that cannot be described in words and which may not be in conformity with the traditional picture of it He concludes that something within us Fear of Death 135
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does not pass away but lives and works wherever the kingdom of the spirit is present A much more orthodox near-contemporary of Schweitzer, C S Lewis (1893 1963), in his in uential and popular book on Miracles, also draws attention to the fear of death as a topic implicit in nearly all private conversations on the subject, and in much modern thought about the survival of the human species (1947: 151) He was, of course, writing at the end of the Second World War when millions more had been added to the list of those who died untimely deaths He contrasted this natural attitude of fear both with the Stoic view that death doesn t matter and should be treated as a matter of indifference, and with his own very traditional Christian interpretation of death as both the outcome of human rebellion against God and as the medium through which God saves humanity through the resurrection of Jesus Christ In a strange comment Lewis suggests that almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from the two facts that (a) That men make course jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny (1947: 154) While hardly an accurate route to theology s core, these comments elaborate Lewis s conviction that human beings sensed, in jokes, that they were rather funny animals and, in death, that their real inward unity had come apart People sensed that they should exist as a profound unity of spirit and body: indeed, he believed that they had been created as such and it was only in the Fallen state that they now parted from each other at death Accordingly, both the corpse and the ghost as the manifestation of spirit apart from the body are detestable On this count the fear of death results from an acknowledgement that we become something that we ought not to be and we lose ourselves For Lewis, as a Christian thinker and popular apologist, this point of loss also becomes the pivotal point of salvation at which Christ, having descended from heaven into the depths of hellish death, resurfaces in resurrection to guarantee a reuniting of spirit and body in the future resurrection of believers 136 Fear of Death
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Lewis s belief in heaven is strongly orthodox and he speaks of it in several of his books as a state that will appear more real than even life on earth In our nal chapter we return to both Lewis and Schweitzer to address the issue of what death may mean for some today
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