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Different cultures have different approaches towards death and dying because of the differences in religious beliefs. Some religions believe that the life on earth for a person happens only once while other religions argue that birth and rebirth taking place in this world continuously. China is one country in which religion has least influence in social life. Because of the communist regime, it will be difficult for Chinese people to spread their religious as freely as the people in other countries. At the same time, Buddhism is the most influential religion in China. On the other hand, Mexico is a country in which Christianity plays a prominent role in social life. Majority of the Mexicans are Roman Catholic believers. Because of the differences in the religious beliefs in China and Mexico, people in these countries treat or accept death and dying in different manners. This paper compares the attitudes of Mexicans and Chinese people towards death and dying.
Chinese and Mexican Culture on Death and Dying
China is one country which is dominated by Buddhism. The beliefs of Buddhists about life, death and dying are entirely different from that of other religions. While most of the other religions such as Christianity treat sufferings in life as a curse, Buddhists treat sufferings as an opportunity to purify life. Buddhists believe that it is difficult for a person to lead a life with full of happiness. They argue that human life consists of physical sufferings such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and death and psychological sufferings such as sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. They believe that the creator of the world is responsible for the sufferings of the people (Harvey, 1990). Buddhists connects sufferings in present life with the activities in the previous life. It should be noted that Buddhists believe in births and rebirths. They argue that human attain the last stage of life Nirvana after going through many phases of births and rebirths. Nirvana is the ultimate stage of human life as per the beliefs of the Chinese people of Buddhists. Chinese people believe that human life develops through plenty of rebirths. In other words, the death of current life results in the rebirth of another life. The destiny of new life would be highly dependable on the activities in the present life. In other words, those who commit fewer sins may get a better new life whereas others may get a worst life. Buddhists believe in six realms of rebirth; Humans, Gods, Titans, Animals, Ghosts, and Hells. The last three realms of rebirth are regarded as unfortunate whereas the first three are regarded as fortunate (Khong, 2003). All these realms of rebirth are taking place in a person’s life based on the karma in his previous birth. “Karma functions as the elevator that takes people from one floor of the building to another” (Khong, 2003, p.51). Rebirth as animals is not good since animals do not have intelligence and are motivated by cruel instincts. Ghosts on the other hand are humans in their previous birth. Buddhists teach that ghosts are people who had strong attachment to this world in their previous humanly birth.
On the other hand, Mexico is one country which is dominated by Christianity. Christian belief about the sufferings in the present life is almost similar to that of Buddhism. Both Buddhism and Christianity believe that sufferings in the present life are taking place with the knowledge of the God. At the same time, Christians do not believe in rebirths. They believe that birth and death happens only once in the life of a person. The idea of rebirth is completely rejected by the Christians. They do believe that the activities in the present life decide whether a person gets heaven or hell after his death. In other words Christians believe in only one earthly life and an eternal life after the death.
Buddhists label Nirvana as the ultimate stage of life whereas Christians label eternal life either in heaven or hell after the death of a person. In other words, both religions have belief in the life after death. Buddhists have the belief that the sufferings can be ended through nirodha which means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment (The Four Noble Truths, n.d) Nirvana is the ultimate state of human life. It is similar to the concept of heaven. It is a state in which human experiences full happiness. In short, Buddhists have the belief that a human attains happiness ultimately in his life even though he may be forced to take birth and rebirth in different forms based on the activities committed in the previous birth. “During life or beyond death, Nibbana is the unconditioned cessation of all unsatisfactory, conditioned phenomena (Harvey, 1990, p.62). Buddhists believe that the cycle of rebirth would end only after a person attains nirvana. The long cycle of rebirths may help a person to control his desires and lead a purified life. On the other hand Christians believe that a human will not get a second opportunity to rectify or compensate for the wrong doings in the previous birth.
Buddhists have plenty of peculiar beliefs with respect to the treatment of a dead body. They observe or perform special rituals at the time of dying and the handling of the body. They will not allow anybody to touch the dead body of a Buddhist, at least for 3-8 hours after the breathing was ceased. They believe that the spirit continues in the body at least for 3 -8 hours after the breathing was ceased. It is necessary to allow smooth transition of a soul to a new life (Lobar et al, 2006).
On the other hand Mexicans or Christians do not have any problems in touching the dead body immediately after the death of a person. Mexico is a state which gives ample importance to family life. In other words, the relations between the members of a Mexican family are extremely strong. When death is about take place in a Mexican family, a person will always keep company with the person who is going to die. In traditional Hispanic families, the care is mostly by a female relative. Most of the Hispanic families resist the idea of admitting the seriously ill person in nursing homes (Redmond, n.d.). Mexicans want to spend as much as time possible with the dying person. In other words, Mexicans do not want to allow a person to die alone. Moreover, all family members attend the death procession and accompany the body till its burying in the cemetery (Godoy, 2012).
Chinese and Mexican approaches towards death and dying people are entirely different. Since most of the Chinese people are Buddhists, they perform Buddhist norms and rituals while approaches his end of life situation. Chinese people believe in births and rebirths. Therefore they will not allow anybody to touch the dead body at least for 3- 8 hours after the breathing was ended. This is for helping the transition of spirit from the present life to another life. Chinese people believe that human undergoes many cycles of births and rebirth before attaining the ultimate happiness or Nirvana. On the other hand Mexicans do not have such beliefs. They believe that the earthly life happens only once for a person. After the death, a person will get hell or heaven based on his activities in the present life. Mexicans will not allow a person to die alone. They will give company to the dying person until his breathing is ended.
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- Harvey P. (1990) An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices
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- Khong, B. S.L (2003). The Buddha Teaches An Attitude, Not An Affiliation. State University of New York Press.
- Lobar, S. L., Youngblut, J. M. and Brooten, D. (2006). Cross-Cultural Beliefs, Ceremonies, and Rituals Surrounding Death of a Loved One. Pediatr Nurs 32(1), 44-50.
- Redmond, J. (n.d.). Hispanic Culture of Death and Dying. Retrieved from http://dying.lovetoknow.com/death-cultures-around-world/hispanic-culture-death-dying
- The Four Noble Truths, (n. d) Retrieved from http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/fourtruths.html