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Humanity has made great strides in technological advancements, so great that extra caution is now being taken to ensure these advances do not turn out to be ticking time bombs that may go off sometime in the future. Unfortunately, none of these breakthroughs has managed to beat death.
It is inevitable. Having this in mind, different cultures have embraced it and tried to prepare themselves for whatever comes after death. This paper will analyse the cultural and social stances of the Chinese and Hindu from an anthropological standpoint.
Death According to the Hindu Society
The Hindu believes in reincarnation. They believe that the soul (jiva) is immortal, and for this reason, they do not consider death a tragedy. They only acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the soul has moved on to another lifetime and arrange for a respectful send off.
Another key feature of the soul according to their culture is that it cannot be destroyed; they can only shift worlds in accordance to the characters they displayed while in the previous world, that if the dead was of good will and used to help the needy while alive, his/her soul proceeds to a world seen to be higher than its previous one.
This is to ensure that its faith keeps growing in intensity as it will be better nurtured in the watch of the Lord Krishna. The final stage for a soul is when it finally reaches the Lord Krishna. Here, it settles peacefully with him.
Death According to the Chinese Society
Similar to the Hindu, the Chinese believe in the existence of souls in living human beings. These souls exist in form of a cosmos consisting of the Yin and Yang, a dark spirit and a light one.
They can be referred to using numerous terms depending on the context. “In the…bodily existence of the individual…are…two… polarities, a p’o soul (or anima) and a hun soul (animus). All during the life of the individual these two are in conflict, each striving for mastery. At death they separate and go different ways. The anima sinks to earth as kuei, a ghost-being.
The animus rises and becomes shen, a spirit or god.” (Baynes 64). The anima (yin) is the spirit the Chinese claim to be the driver of all evil in humanity. It is the dark spirit left behind with the body after death. The yang (animus) on the other hand, is the spirit credited with all the good in humanity. This includes humility within the being, self actualization, honor and respect of one’s life, culture and ancestry.
Similarities in Their Views of Death
In their view of death, the Hindu and Chinese share a lot in the way they treat their dead and how the deceased is supposed to carry on. They both regard death not as a tragedy, but as a necessary rite of passage in a soul’s lifetime. This is guided by belief that souls of human beings are released from the body at death.
The Chinese believe that once they have been released, the yin and yang head in separate ways to their respective destinations, where they keep on maintaining humanity’s well being. On the same, the Hindu believe that once the souls have been released after cremation, they go to a world of corrective suffering if they did wrong while alive, or one of more pure souls as it continues the ascension towards Krishna, the final destination.
Though mortal, two philosophers in Chinese anthropology, Russian-born Peter Ouspensky and Armenian Sage G. I. Gurdjieff (1877-1949) once pointed out that human beings could acquire immortality. This was received as very good news by all society, though the process was almost unachievable. It instead created a controversy as he indicated that all humanity was asleep. If only they could reach to their self conscious and wake up, they would achieve immortality.
This results in different levels; physical, emotional, and the intellectual level (way of the fakir), the emotional level (way of the monk), and the intellectual level (way of the yogi), following Fakir, Monk, and yogi’s criteria respectively. In the same context, Hindus believe in reincarnation. At cremation, 5 elements of being are released i.e. fire, water, air, earth and the jiva are released. The fifth element is the most important due to its immortality.
One’s death does not does not translate to ceasing in existence, as many situations determine the destiny of his/her jiva (soul). One is the state of mind during death.” if a person is thinking of money matters at the time of his death, very likely he will travel to the world of Vishnu and will be born as a merchant or a trader in his next birth.” (Jayaram Para 9).
Differences in Their Views on Death
Just as much as they are similar in a number of situations, they contradict in ways more than a few. The Hindu believe that cremation is a ritual…intended to release the soul from its earthly existence (Mailer India Para 3).
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This is to grant it the ability to move to another world as it is destined to. Contrary to that belief, the Chinese believe in preservation of the body as it is destined to remain with the yin upon death. This allows the yang to advance to the world of the pure spirits.
The Chinese believe that death means the end of the person’s soul as the yin and yang will under no condition ever come together again. They are totally opposite spirits with contradicting roles in the beings they occupy. “In life, as in death, these souls were most indefinite, vague, and feeble.
After death, when this small troop of colorless spirits was dispersed, how could they possibly be gathered together and reformed into a unity? … (The body is unique, and serves as the dwelling place of all these spirits….” (Maspero 177). The Hindu on the other hand believe in the possibility of the individual coming back in another form, and even better off joining his/her own family lineage.
Moreover, the Chinese believe in the fact that beings have only on lifetime. Upon death, this lifetime comes to an end and that will be it. The soul elements disperse never to meet again, hence making it impossible to have multiple lifetimes. The opposite of this belief is heavily emphasized by the Hindu.
The soul only goes through this lifetime as part of its stages on a long term quest to achieve ultimate holiness and take a place beside the Lord Krishna. This promotion and demotion to different worlds is inevitable until the soul reaches its expected purity level.
The Role of Culture in Shaping Society
Such culture as that of the Hindu and Chinese shapes greatly the way society reacts to certain phenomenon. Children nurtured in them tend to grow up respectful to their ancestry and of good ethical morals. By naming after the dead, these cultures keep in mind that the new born children in Hindu societies are reincarnations of their fore parents; hence they are brought up in utter discipline.
The Chinese often train their young ones to overcome temptations originating from the yin and to pay attention to their yang (conscience) as they try to reach out and guide them. Finally, with the thought that there is some form of severe punishment with the wrong people do on earth, people tend to try as much as possible to do more good than possible evil.
People believe in such after reading them from aged articles about the consequences of behaving otherwise. Such include the Chinese Oracle, the I Ching (pronounced yee jing) (Life after Death), and through such realizations as the Fourth Way. To add onto that, in times of calamities, individuals resort to seeking hope from such beliefs, and increase their belief when the situation settles down after their soul searching.
Everyone in the world belongs to a certain culture. No matter where from, cultures often work to the advantage of society. This is specially noted when they result in the establishment of strict behavioral discipline with the belief that the almighty one is watching. This is then take more seriously with the ever looming thought on everyone’s mind that judgment day gets closer with everyday gone by.
Baynes, Cary. Wilhelm, Richard. The Secret of the Golden Flower. 1962. 64.
Jayaram, Victor. “Death and Afterlife in Hinduism.” London: Word press, 2010.
“Life after Death.” The Chinese after-life: Taoist approaches to immortality. Spiritual Book Store. W.Va, 2010
Mailer India. “Hindu Way of Life.” Mailer India. 08 October 2010 http://www.mailerindia.com/hindu/veda/index.php?death
Maspero, Henri. “Le Taoism.” Smith, Howard. Chinese Concepts of the Soul. Paris, 1950. 177.