Accepting death is a concept with which the human race has struggled for essentially all of time. Many different cultures and religions have different ways of viewing, coping with, and accepting such a mystery as death. The idea of reincarnation and the belief in or against it drastically changes the way that a person views and accepts death.
Reincarnation is defined as :the idea or belief that people are born again with a different body after death(Merriam-Webster). Belief in reincarnation helps to ease the pain of losing a loved one due to the supposed knowledge they will be born again. The knowledge that a deceased loved one will be re-born comforts a person by diminishing the intimidating idea of a person, everything they were and everything they did, being gone forever. Thinking about a dead loved one leaves a person with a feeling of eeriness and discomfort, but knowing those who have passed on are not gone but simply re-entering the world to begin a new journey in a different form is comforting. This knowledge is comforting because the essence of a deceased loved one is not forever wiped off the face of the earth, but rather exists now in a different body or form.
Many different beliefs exist about where a person is reincarnated; not speaking in such a typical sense as actual location, but rather what families, what ethnicities, what religions are dead loved ones now. Cherokee Indian tribes are known to believe “the soul chooses a family where it believes its gifts may flourish, and where it can complete a cycle of learning”(The Reincarnation Experiment).
This belief changes the Cherokee view on, and acceptance of death in a major way. Presuming those who have passed on have the power and ability to judiciously and intelligently choose into what family they are reborn assures someone that he who has passed is headed towards abright and positive future, abating almost all (if not all) worry or fear for the deceased loved one.
Dr. Paul DeBell has done a lot of research on reincarnation, the validity of the belief in reincarnation and the details of reincarnation. Some who believe in reincarnation believe people can be reincarnated as animals, Dr. DeBell disagrees- he believes people are eternal souls which inhabit one body after another(Miller). This belief comes from his practice of hypnotizing patients who want to recover memories of past lives. He has often found that many people do in fact have some type of memories which seem to indicate a previous life. DeBell himself believes he was, in fact, a caveman in a previous life. In an interview he stated “I was going along, going along, going along, and I got eaten,”(Miller). So, how does DeBell, this man who believes so strongly in reincarnation, view and accept death ? DeBell does not worry himself with death.He does not fear it, nor does he fear the death of his loved ones. While he does not , of course, want to lose his wife, DeBell believes even when inhabiting different bodies, two souls destined to be together will find meet again in their next lives.(Miller). He does not fear his own death because he feels certain death is not his end, for he firmly believes he will simply be born again.
So how does, then, the belief that a person can be reincarnated as an animal, affect their outlook on and acceptance of death? Hindus believe the actions of a person during his or her lifetime, have a hand in determining as what (animal, slave, affluent businessman) they are re-born . For example, if a person acted wildly, lacking manners or proper behavior, it is believed he or she will most likely be reborn as some form of wild animal.(What do Hindus Believe). This belief in reincarnation provides a variation on the belief in reincarnation strictly as humans being re-born as humans. Therefore, the feelings towards death evoked by this Hindu belief are, in many ways, different. Suppose somebody’s mother was always a very kind, loving, generous, and overall genuinely good person. The belief then, in reincarnation, would still be very comforting because it would be easy to assume their mother was going to be re-born into a rather pleasant life. However, say somebody’s mother lived her human life outside the lines, committing crimes or doing wrong to others. Now, the belief in reincarnation is less than comforting, for a person would feel confident his or her mother would be destined to be be born into a grueling, difficult, or painful life full of negative things and unhappiness.
Ancient Grecian culture believed that souls originally existed as pure entities, made human by sin. They believed a soul would then live and die in human form until a human life was pure enough to be returned to Its’ oringinal celestial state.(Reincarnation). Additionally, ancient Greeks believed if a person lived a moderately sinless life, he or she would be born into a higher class or a better life, whereas those who lived sinfully would be re-born into a lower social class, or even as an animal.(Reincarnation). These beliefs cause , similarly as do those of Hinduism, anxiety over the deaths of those who did not live morally righteous lives, and increase the ease with which one might accept the death of someone who did. Also similarly to Hindu beliefs, the ancient Greeks believed a person would continue to die and be reborn into different classes of life until he or she lived a life perfect enough for the spirit to be released from the cycle to once again become the originally pure entity un-tainted by sin.
In the case of these Greek beliefs, believing in reincarnation alters a person’s view on death, causing this view to become almost similar to the way present day students anticipate receiving a grade. According to these beliefs about reincarnation, if a person works diligently, acts with high morals, and does his or her best, then they will be released from the cycle. If a student works hard, does not cheat, and does their best, they can in turn expect a good grade just as a person might expect to be reincarnated as a higher being, into a higher class, or finally released from the cycle. In short, this specific Grecian angle on reincarnation changes a person’s view on death just as the level of effort put into a class in school changes a person’s view on their grade. Death ( a grade ) is only something to fear if you have done less than your best.
Considering the belief in reincarnation clearly changes how a person views and accepts death, how then, does the absence of belief in reincarnation effect a person’s view on and acceptance of death? Many belief systems and religions view, cope with, and accept death with the absence of belief in or even presence of belief against, reincarnation. Jews, Christians, and Atheists certainly have beliefs regarding what happens when a person dies that are entirely different eachother and from reincarnation.
Judaism sees death as the end of earthly life, and the beginning of something better. While the Jewish religion does not believe in reincarnation they do believe strongly in the afterlife.(Judaism 101: Life, Death and Mourning). They believe that people who live a worthy life will be highly rewarded in this afterlife. This afterlife, unlike the Nirvana of Hinduism, is a rather vast unknown. Contrary to many beliefs about reincarnation, Jewish people do not necessarily believe those who do not live a morally righteous life are to be punished the way that many beliefs about reincarnation indicate.( Judaism 101: Life, Death and Mourning ).Though the fear of loved ones living out punishment after death is somewhat diminished, the fear of the unknown is notably heightened. This absence of belief in reincarnation leaves death a much greater mystery to those who follow Judaism. For many, the unknown is almost more torturous than fear of a specific punishment (like being born as an animal or spending eternity in Hell). Jewish people have a harder time coming to accept the death of a loved one due to the lack of assurance about what happens to those loved ones after they have passed.
Christians also believe in an afterlife; however, unlike Judaism, the afterlife in which Christians believe is well-defined. Christianity states when a person has passed from earthly life his soul arrives in the presence of God for judgement which will determine how he or she spends the rest of eternity. This judgement determines wether a person will continue on to a Heaven, which is similar to the Nirvana of Hinduism consisting of an eternity of happiness and purity and in addition to Hindu beliefs, Christianity entails that this eternity is spent in the presence of the maker in the entirety of the Trinity ( The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit), or if they will be spending the rest of eternity in Hell. Christianity also states, that in order to go to Heaven after death it is not a necessity for he or she to have lived a worthy life, but only to have declared Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Christians believe if this judgment is failed, a person then enters an eternity of fire and agony in Hell. While the absence of belief in reincarnation opens Jews up to a world of unknown and fear, for Christians the belief against reincarnation and in the afterlife of either Heaven or Hell ebbs the fear of the unknown connected to death. For Christians, the absence of belief in reincarnation modifies their acceptance of death because their beliefs lend themselves to the assurance that their loved ones are beginning a new life at the right hand of God and will forever after be at peace.
Atheism, however, has a very different outlook on death which involves the eternal peace of loved ones. Atheism is not a belief system, it is simply the lack of belief in a higher being or beings. Atheists, generally speaking, do not believe in any form of afterlife nor do they believe in reincarnation.(What is Atheism?). Atheists have multiple opinions and beliefs about what happens to people after they die. Many Atheists believe that death is simply the end; that a person dies and his or her entire being is over- that once the body stops working he or she is simply gone. Atheists do not believe in a “soul” the way most religious people do; therefore, after a person’s death, there is, fundamentally, nothing. Atheists, lacking belief in reincarnation, are left facing what is most likely a definite end.( What is Atheism?) This leaves them to face and accept death as the total deletion of someone who has passed away- this makes it very difficult and frightening to cope with and come to accept death, especially in comparison to those who believe in an afterlife or reincarnation.
Believing in or against reincarnation dramatically changes how people view and accept death. Belief in reincarnation as a process or cycle where a soul is born and reborn in human form, the way that Dr. DeBell believes, virtually eliminates the need to fear death and makes it easy to accept, for a person can be confident that loved ones who have passed on are simply passing into their next lives.( Miller). This ease in accepting death is even greater for Cherokees, who believe a “soul” simply chooses what kind of life and family it will be born into.(Reincarnation Experiment). This ease is slightly lesser for Hindus, as they believe you are reincarnated into a quality of life that matches your behavior in the life out of which you are passing.( What Do Hindus Believe). Similarly, ancient Grecian beliefs that you are reincarnated into a class and quality of life equal to the quality of your morals during your previous life, can ease the fear in accepting the death of a morally righteous person and increase the fear involved in accepting the death of someone whose morals during their previous life had something to be desired. Comparetively, the absence of reincarnation in Judaism heightens the fear that someone may end up in eternal unhappiness, but lessens the pain and fear involved in the process of accepting death by lending assurance that a person’s soul lives on- though it is unknown in what state the soul continues to live. This unknown in Judaism, ultimately created by the absence of belief in reincarnation, leaves Jewish people with an underlying fear of the unknown and therefore difficulty with accepting the death of loved ones. This acceptance of the passing of loved ones is much different for Christians, who believe in the existence of an afterlife of either the pure bliss of Heaven or the fiery and burning agony of Hell. They are left with little to fear about death, for the unknown is almost entirely eliminated, therefore abating the fear of the unknown in connection to death. Christianity, though lacking belief in reincarnation, allows people to accept death by having the mental resolution of knowing where and what their loved ones are undergoing. This mental resolution is absent for Atheists whose beliefs are generally entirely absent of anything after death, and therefore also absent of belief in reincarnation. This leaves death an unresolved and fearsome concept. The belief, or lack of belief, in reincarnation dramatically changes the way that anybody, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Atheists, view and accept death.