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Different views on the ‘definition of death’

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Courtney L.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Kaliai's view on death
  3. Buddhist's view on death
  4. Christian's view on death
  5. Conclusion

What exactly is death? What is the after life? Is it even possible to define them? Pose these questions to several different people, and several different answers will be the result. Death itself and other related ideas such as the after life are presented in many different ways in each of the world's numerous religions. For example, Christians view death much differently than Buddhists, and Buddhists differently from other religions. Cultures and backgrounds also play a huge role in how death and the after life are viewed. Therefore, death cannot be defined without resorting to different religious or cultural beliefs. More than one religion exists in the world, just as more than one culture exists.

Due to these different sources of thinking, there are different ways of perceiving death; therefore, death cannot be given a general or even exact definition because it depends on what one believes. What is true for one person is not true for another, and it is not fair to assume one is correct and the other false. By looking at several different religions, one can see just how hard it is to understand what death is, because what religion you look at will determine what answer, or definition, you receive. One's cultural and religious background both play a part in defining death and the after life for each individual; and these differences in the definition of death are illustrated in varying ways by the Kaliais, the Buddhists, the Christians, and the Hindus.

The Kaliai are a relatively small group of people that live in New Guinea. These people believe that there are two forms of life: human and non-human. According to Kaliai death theories, when someone dies, they simply pass on from this life into their non-human life form. They believe, ?Death is not an end to life, but a transition between different life states.? The non-human form that one attains after death is ?super human? and, ?[?] infinitely more powerful than [humans], being capable of flight, of taking animal form, of teleporting material objects, and being in control of great wealth.? In addition to believing death grants the person who suffered a ?bodily death? a new type of life and body, the Kaliai say, ?The transition from human life through bodily death to super human life is not instantaneous. Death requires time for the severing of social relationships [?]? (Counts 40).

Kaliai people believe there is a process to death, and the most important part of that process is getting rid of all social ties to the human world. If one knows their death is drawing near, they can prepare themselves for their death by severing their ties so the families do not have to do it for them after they pass away. The process of death is completed when a person has a ?bodily death? and has completely removed their ties to the human world. Only after that process has passed can the deceased move on to a ?super human? after life.

[...] In contrast to the Kaliai and the Buddhists, Christianity poses a perception of death and the after life on the opposite end of the spectrum. Over time, Christians have divided themselves into many different denominations, each having varying beliefs but generally all along the same line. Christians believe in eternal life that is granted by God through His gift of salvation. There is the constant belief in most denominations that everyone will die an earthly death. When this happens, the soul of the deceased passes on to the after life to await judgment. [...]


[...] The only types of karma that exist are good and bad, so everyone's actions must fit into one of these two categories. The karma that one builds up results from their actions, and then in turn affects the kind of rebirth one will have in the after life (Kramer 38). Several of the world's religions have been presented here, including three of the major ones. After examining each of these religions in turn, one can see that there are extremely different ways of looking at death and the after life. [...]

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