PAGE PAGE 6 Multicultural Report on Death and Dying Traditions Hmong, Buddhism, and Islam Clayton Bates ASB 353 Dr. Olson Arizona State University Multicultural Report on Death and Dying Traditions Hmong, Buddhism, and Islam Hmong What was the philosophy and meaning of life and death, nature of the soul and personality, and role of belief in the afterlife in the culture? It is impossible to speak about the Hmong?s philosophy of life and death without speaking about spirits and supernatural beings. Before coming to Earth, the Hmong believe that one is given time on Earth by the Chief of Gods, who gives a ?visa? or ?papers? for the stay on the planet. Unlike many cultures, which desire a heaven or a better resting place, the Hmong believe that human life is the most sought-after state of mind. Because of this, the Hmong believe that reincarnation, or rebirth, will comer sooner to those who live lives in an ?ethical and moral way.? For those who do not live life in such fashion, they continue to add on karmic debts which they will have to pay. These people could even be ?reassigned? to Earth as an animal or plant. An example of how the Hmong treasure human life, returning to Earth as a rock is the most awful form of reincarnation, because a rock never days, and so the person will never be able to come back to humanity. On Earth, the Hmong believe in a spiritual world that coincides with nature and all beings. Even houses have spirits, including a corner spirit for each corner in the house, door spirits and stove spirits as well. Inside the house it is believed that ancestor spirits have returned to live in the main pillar of the home. These spirits, if pleased, are supposed to protect their descendants from sickness and bad fortune. There are also spirits living in nature, and they control the weather, and protect against natural disasters if they as well are pleased. In addition to these good-favored spirits, there are thought to be evil spirits as well, who generally live out in unpopulated places on Earth, but still could attack a person walking by or attack a village at any time. The Hmong believe in many souls for each person, twelve in total. There are three major souls, as well as three shadow souls for each of the major ones. The major three souls are responsible individual for certain tasks. The first major soul is believed to return to heaven at time of death and then come back to Earth to take care of the family. The second soul returns to heaven as well, only later, and this is the soul that comes back to Earth as either a human, animal, plant or rock. The third major soul stays at the grave with the body and some groups of Hmong think of this soul as more of a shadow soul. The beliefs of all of these souls as well as the idea of reincarnation based on good deeds and actions on Earth help the Hmong to leave good lives in hope of returning as a human again. Describe how ?death education? took place in the culture. How did children learn about death and dying, appropriate bereavement behavior, taboos, values and attitudes? Death education is very prominent in the upbringing of Hmong children, they are even encouraged to take part in the ceremonies as soon as their physical maturity allows. This death education differs very much for boys and girls however, as the Hmong are a primarily patriarchal society. Girls are to learn are taught simply by watching and helping their mothers and aunts take part in the funeral work, including cooking, cleaning and caring for family. For the male youth however, there are many different funeral rituals which they can be trained in. Generally the boys are trained in one or very few of the rituals, some including: learning the text of the guide to the spirit world, becoming a descendant counselor or funeral director, or even learning to play the geej and drum. There are some talented boys who show talent in many parts of the funeral ceremonies and learn them all, but this is rarely the case. Discuss the actions, rituals and emotional expressions that reflect the values of the culture just prior to an expected death; that is, a death being awaited. While some cultures within the Hmong do engage in prefuneral customs prior to an expected death, others do not, citing that it would be bad luck to do so and that it might bring the death sooner. For those who do perform prefuneral preparations, it can be a very lengthy process. Finding a favorable gravesite is a task that can take several months or even years. As the dying individual grows closer to death, their family makes sure to provide them with clothes and animal sacrifices, as they believe they will take them to the spirit world. During this time, many family members as well as members of the community will come to the bedside to help comfort the dying. The involvement of the community during this time helps keep the Hmong communities strong. What are did you learn about the death and dying practices in this culture that was of particular interest to you? I found the aspect of reincarnation very interesting to me. Many religions and cultures believe in reincarnation, but I was struck by the fact that being human was the highest form of life for the Hmong. That after going to heaven, the soul (the second major soul of each person?s twelve) waits to be sent back to Earth as a human, animal, plant or rock. As opposed to religions such as Christianity that find heaven as the sought after resting place, or Hindus who believe in reincarnation until they have reached enlightment, Hmong merely wish to continue to be reborn as humans, and to do so, live good, ethical lives. Irish, Donald, Kathleen Lundquist, and Vivian Nelsen. Ethnic Variations in Dying, Death, and Grief. Taylor & Francis, 1993. Buddhism What was the philosophy and meaning of life and death, nature of the soul and personality, and role of belief in the afterlife in the culture? For Buddhists, the importance of death carries very strong meaning, and has a very important place in life as well. There is a Buddhist story that tells of Kisa Gotami, a widow, who loses her only child. She begged the Buddha to bring her child back to life, to which he replied, ?Well, sister, can you bring me some mustard seed from a house where no one has died?? Kisa found many seeds, but none at any of the houses where no one had perished and this helped her to understand why she could not have her son back. This story expresses the view of how necessary death is in the circle of life, as well as to let go of bodily attachments. Buddhists are taught that death is just another part of life. A Vietnamese monk said, ?They had no preparation or readiness for death. Now I see that if one doesn?t know how to die, one can hardly know how to live, because death is a part of life.? In the Buddhist culture, the idea of reincarnation also exists, and they too believe that karma on Earth affects your next life. Buddhists try to adhere to a way of life Siddhartha Gautama (or the Buddha) adopted called the Eightfold path. He believed that Earth was an, ?unsatisfactory world,? and mandated following the Eightfold path to reach a state of enlightenment called nirvana. Contrary to many Western religions, this nirvana is not a heaven, but a state of mind, one which is away from of suffering. Obtaining nirvana is not an easy task, one must rid them selves from worldly needs and wants, as it took the Buddha himself hundreds of rebirths before he reached enlightenment. Describe how ?death education? took place in the culture. How did children learn about death and dying, appropriate bereavement behavior, taboos, values and attitudes? Death education is not something one would really find in Buddhist cultures. The idea of death and the rebirth is so important in the Buddhist tradition, that children are raised around it there whole lives, from personal family experiences to Buddhist writings. There generally are many questions about the reincarnation and nirvana, such that lectures on the subjects are usually held at temples or other meeting places. This is due in part about how nirvana is described, by what it is not (?it is neither this, nor that?), instead of what it is. As Western influence grows, many Buddhist youth are not as concerned with these lectures or ideas. Discuss the actions, rituals and emotional expressions that reflect the values of the culture just prior to an expected death; that is, a death being awaited. There is great emphasis on the moments before death. Buddhists believe this period is key for the state of the sick person?s rebirth into the world, and having a good state of mind is stressed to help gain a positive position in the next life. Sutras, recorded teachings of the Buddha, are to be sung at the bedside of the dying person. This is said to help calm the mind which also helps to improve state of mind. In the Mahayana Buddhism tradition, it is important to note that maintaining enlightenment can be done differently than the Eightfold path and having the most pure state of mind. In this belief, Amida Buddha created a heaven, or pure land, for those who are unable to reach enlightenment on their own but still have trust in him. For followers of this tradition, the dying person must repeat the Buddha?s name over and over and focus on the Buddha to gain entrance into this pure land. What are did you learn about the death and dying practices in this culture that was of particular interest to you? I found the idea of nirvana very interesting in how it does from Western civilization thought. Having grown up around Catholicism and Christianity, the idea of heaven is more of a place to go and be happy. That is where everyone?s ancestors are (those deemed worthy of heaven at least), and it is painted more as a place than a state of mind. In Buddhism, rather than a place, nirvana is more of a state of mind where one goes alone, free from all worldly ideas, pains, joys or thoughts, basically just nothingness. While an escape from those worldly pains is wonderful, to me it is an interesting idea of a heaven and where one would wish to go after death. Irish, Donald, Kathleen Lundquist, and Vivian Nelsen. Ethnic Variations in Dying, Death, and Grief. Taylor & Francis, 1993. Islam What was the philosophy and meaning of life and death, nature of the soul and personality, and role of belief in the afterlife in the culture? In the Islamic faith, Muslims talk a great deal about life and death. They believe that each and every Muslim ?should have a happy life in this world, and in the afterworld.? Death is not feared, but a natural part of life, as it was in Buddhism. Muslims believe in an afterworld, both good and bad like a heaven and hell. After death, angels come to the grave to ask if the deceased were believers of Allah. Believers of the Islamic faith are taken to the afterworld of beauty, while nonbelievers return to ?the ugliness of the afterworld- the ugliest, dirtiest place where there are fires and snakes.? Also, before the angels come, it is believed that parents will see there children and their wealth after they die. They ask both what they have brought for them for the afterlife and each answer with nothing. After that they ?see? their actions and they ask them what they have for brought, to which they are told, ?I will be with you on the grave, in the afterworld, and on the day of judgment.? This belief portrays the idea that the only things on Earth that matter after you are dead are your actions, not your possessions. For Muslims, the afterworld is a much more physical place than say the ?heaven? of a Buddhist. Muslims trust that believers? souls will be able to see their families. For believers who are in good favor with God, it is said that those believers? spirits may go down to Earth to join their family members at meals or other social gatherings. Muslims also believe in judgment day, a time after no human beings are alive in the world anymore. Each and every person will go before God, who will ask about all the sins they have committed on Earth, to receive their judgment. Muslims take the funeral ceremony very seriously to prepare the dead person?s soul for this judgment day. By doing an extensive list of actions up to the death and just after, they help to guide the soul in the right direction. Describe how ?death education? took place in the culture. How did children learn about death and dying, appropriate bereavement behavior, taboos, values and attitudes? The death education for the Islamic faith is very different for those Muslims living in Muslim countries as opposed to those living in the Western hemisphere. For both cultures, people learn about the relevance of death, and that it is a necessary part of life, and an inevitable one. Those living in Muslim nations experience death far more often than the ones living in the west due to lower standards of living and lesser living conditions. Due to this, these Muslims are forcefully reminded of death very often growing up and become more accustomed to death. Those Muslims living in the west do not talk about death as much as the Muslims in those Islamic nations because they have not been exposed to death and dying and much and are not as used to it. Discuss the actions, rituals and emotional expressions that reflect the values of the culture just prior to an expected death; that is, a death being awaited. Up until the actual death, a family member stays with the dying up until the actual moment. A relative should always be praying and reading the Koran, this helps to remind the dying of God and the Prophets. The family member is supposed to continue to pray ?until the last breath is taken.? As soon as the person dies, the family member must take action as they have many things to do. They are to: Turn the body towards Mecca, close they mouth and eyes and straighten the legs and arms, clean the body and cover it. All the while another member of the family should be near reading the Koran aloud. There is a belief that angels will be in the room at death, but so will Satan, so it is very important to do everything right to help the soul. What are did you learn about the death and dying practices in this culture that was of particular interest to you The beliefs about the afterworld were very interesting to me. There is great talk about how different it is for Muslims living in Muslim worlds and for Muslims in Western societies, and of course there is great turmoil in the world between countries such as the United States of America and Islamic nations. Despite the differences between the cultures, the idea of heaven is still the same. There is a heaven and hell for both religions, and it isn?t just a mental state, it is a place where you can see family, who can recognize one another and be happy together. Islam and many Western religions both have Gods, prophets, are told to live good kind lives and have the same concept of heaven and hell. Ideas like these lead me to find it very interesting as to why there is such a clash of cultures today. Irish, Donald, Kathleen Lundquist, and Vivian Nelsen. Ethnic Variations in Dying, Death, and Grief. Taylor & Francis, 1993. Clayton Bates November 1st, 2007 ASB 353 Cross-Cultural Aspects of Death and Dying
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