Beliefs about death and dying, and life after death

Buddhists believe that nothing that exists is permanent and everything will ultimately cease to be. There is a belief in rebirth but not of a soul passing from one body to another. The rebirth is more a state of constantly changing being rather than a clear-cut reincarnation. 

The ultimate objective is to achieve a state of perfect peace and freedom. Buddhists try to approach death with great calmness, and an open-minded attitude of acceptance.

Care of someone who is dying

Rebirth is a significant belief in Buddhism. The state of mind of a person at the moment of death is considered important in determining rebirth. Buddhists generally like to have full information about their imminent death to enable them to make preparation, although this may vary.

In order to maintain awareness and clarity, some Buddhists may wish to minimise the amount of sedatives or pain killing drugs administered at this time.  A key consideration is to provide a calm, peaceful environment in the period leading up to a person dying. 

It is equally important to maintain this calm and peaceful environment in the hours (and days, if possible) after the person has “died”. Peace and quiet for meditation and visits from other Buddhists will be appreciated. Some form of chanting may be used to influence that state of mind at death so that it may be peaceful.

End of life rituals

Ideally, the person’s end of life and funeral ritual preferences should be discussed while they are still alive, for example the type of ceremony they’d like, burial, cremation or otherwise, and if they are affiliated with a particular Tradition, with specific practices around the dying process.

If other Buddhists are not in attendance at the time of dying, then a Buddhist leader, or Community (“Sangha”), should be informed of the death as soon as possible. The invitation is to establish which, if any, Community/Tradition the person is connected to/associates with, before death.

Where there is a need for a postmortem, there is unlikely to be any objection. However, there may be a wish that the process is compatible with maintaining a respectful and calm environment around the deceased.

Rituals and customs around death and dying

There are few formal traditions relating to funerals and they tend to be seen as non-religious events. 

For some Buddhists, cremation is considered an acceptable practice, and the service may be quite simple. It might be conducted by a senior member of that Community (“Sangha”).

Support organisations

Our grateful thanks for their input into this resource to:

Amitaśūrī Yule, Chaplain/Spirituality and Wellbeing Practitioner, Stobhill and Gartnavel Royal Hospitals

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