When it comes to death, religion has less to do with sweeping uncomfortable thoughts and feelings under the rug and is instead more about confronting these thoughts and feelings head-on, thinking through them realistically, and helping us to understand how to live well. Religion offers practical advice, not fairy tale stories with happy endings. The metaphysical claims regarding death in religions can be seen as metaphors for how to live.
One Universal God
“That is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.”
“Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things; who created death and life to test you [people] and reveal which of you does best.”
“Through his ignorance, man fears death; but the death he shrinks from is imaginary and absolutely unreal; it is only human imagination.”
“One believes he is the slayer, another believes he is the slain. Both are ignorant; there is neither slayer nor slain. You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies.”
“O mighty Arjuna, even if you believe the Self to be subject to birth and death, you should not grieve. Death is inevitable for the living; birth is inevitable for the dead. Since these are unavoidable, you should not sorrow.”
“For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law. People forget that their lives will end soon. For those who remember, quarrels come to an end.”
“When she first died, I certainly mourned just like everyone else! However, I then thought back to her birth and to the very roots of her being, before she was born. Indeed, not just before she was born but before the time when her body was created. Not just before her body was created but before the very origin of her life’s breath. Out of all this, through the wonderful mystery of change she was given her life’s breath. Her life’s breath wrought a transformation and she had a body. Her body wrought a transformation and she was born. Now there is yet another transformation and she is dead. She is like the four seasons in the way that spring, summer, autumn, and winter follow each other. She is now at peace, lying in her chamber, but if I were to sob and cry it would certainly appear that I could not comprehend the ways of destiny.”
“Lieh-tzu then said to his student, ‘Many people sweat and toil and feel satisfied that they have accomplished many things. However, in the end we are not all that different from this polished piece of bone. In a hundred years, everyone we know will be just a pile of bones. What is there to gain in life, and what is there to lose in death?’ The ancients knew that life cannot go on forever, and death is not the end of everything. Therefore, they are not excited by the event of life nor depressed by the occurrence of death. Birth and death are part of the natural cycle of things. Only those who can see through the illusions of life and death can be renewed with heaven and earth and age with the sun, moon, and stars.”
“If I think my life good, then I must think my death good. A good craftsman, casting metal, would not be too pleased with metal that jumped up and said, ‘I must be made into a sword like Mo Yeh.’ Now, given that I have been bold enough to take on human shape already, if I then said, ‘I must be human, I must be human!’ The Maker of All would view me somewhat askance! If Heaven and Earth are like a furnace and Nature is the craftsman, then is it possible he could send me anywhere that was not appropriate? Peacefully we die, calmly we awake.”
“Chi-lu asked how the spirits of the dead and the gods should be served.
The Master said, ‘You are not able even to serve man. How can you serve the spirits?’
‘May I ask about death?’
‘You do not understand even life. How can you understand death?’”
“He thought that fear of death was perhaps the root of all art, perhaps also of all things of the mind. We fear death, we shudder at life’s instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do."
“NDE [near-death experiences] events display near-universal features (like supernatural environs, deceased humans, or beings of light), but also real cultural differences. Western NDE events, for example, often (but not always) assume a one-life model, whereas an NDE like that of Moorjani engages directly and critically a reincarnation model. Of particular note is the apparent pattern in which the famous ‘life review’ or ‘panoramic memory’ is not generally present in NDE events within hunter-gatherer or tribal societies (the data here are drawn from Guam, Native America, Aboriginal Australia, Africa, and Maori New Zealand), although it is present in accounts from the USA, Europe, India, China, Thailand, and Tibet. This makes some sense if we posit, along with a number of philosophers and anthropologists, that the ‘self’ or ‘individual’ is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of human civilization and is by no means a cultural universal.”
“The dead provide resources for disrupting boundaries, not only through their otherworldly existence, but also by calling into question nationalistic, mythical, and heroic narratives. A dialogue with the dead of the sort exemplified by the hibakusha’s [survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan] vow to abolish nuclear weaponry draws strength from the dead to resist and unsettle the conditions of this world, replacing them with an evolving vision of a different world—a world not bound by the image of the mushroom cloud, but by a sympathy for others that knows no earthly bounds."
“Knowledge is not going to solve our problems. You may know, for example, that there is reincarnation, that there is a continuity after death. You may know, I don’t say you do; or you may be convinced of it. But that does not solve the problem. Death cannot be shelved by your theory, or by information, or by conviction. It is much more mysterious, much deeper, much more creative than that.”
"When you live, you should accept life and let it run its course. When you die, you should accept death and go to it peacefully. Life and death come by themselves. We should let them run their course and not try to speed or delay them.”
“For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)
“Plato, for example, had defined philosophy as an exercise for death, understood as the separation of the soul from the body. For Epicurus this exercise for death takes on a new meaning; it becomes the consciousness of the finitude of existence that gives an infinite value to each instant: ‘Persuade yourself that every new day that dawns will be your last one. And then you will receive each unhoped for hour with gratitude.’”
“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." (Romans 8:13)