The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death

The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death

The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death

The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death


Examines how each of the major religions looks at death by including stories, teachings and rituals that present a comparative religious meaning of death and afterlife. Written in textbook style with journal exercises at the end of each chapter.


What is the purpose of death? Does existence end at death? If not, what happens after death? Are we reembodied in a similar or in a different form? Is there a final judgment? And how are we to prepare for our own dying? Answers to questions like these not only bring meaning into life but also suggest the value of bringing the experience of death into life. In fact, one of our major themes is what can be called spiritual death—a dying before dying. Unlike physical and psychological forms of dying, which have potentially negative implications, spiritual death evokes the experience of rebirth.

The title, The Sacred Art of Dying, was selected for two fundamental reasons. First, I want to highlight the fact that from a world religious perspective, dying is a sacred art, the final ritual, the last opportunity we have to discover life's ultimate meaning and purpose. Therefore, religious traditions ritualize the death process to remind us of the impermanence of life, and that whatever lies on the other side of death is as real, if not infinitely more so, than life itself. These rituals offer mourners a sense of victory over death, a way to dance on the dome of death.

Second, I want to emphasize that dying is a sacred art. Speaking about loving in theory and practice, Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving writes that living itself is an art, and that if we want to learn how to live and love we should proceed in the same way we would if we wanted to learn any other art. In this text we will speak in a similar fashion about death, for to see death as a sacred art involves both dying and being reborn together, and in an altogether new way. As the reader will discover, each of the sacred traditions represented in this text teach practitioners how to die artfully, not only before dying, but at death. Each tradition affirms that one must discover how to outlive the end of the world, while yet alive, so that all fears of death die. In this sense, dying becomes one of the greatest arts of life, and one of the most difficult to cultivate.

Distinct from most books in the field, The Sacred Art of Dying presents the story of death in its comparative religious context. Whereas many texts focus on psychological questions, sociological case studies, health care systems, medical ethics, the structure of wills, and sundry death issues (e.g., suicide, abortion, the death penalty, and the nuclear shadow), this text focuses primarily on religious attitudes toward death, dying and afterlife. What . . .

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