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. It may be impossible to know about death and the afterlife for sure, but by accepting the limits of our knowledge and the limits of our influence over ourselves and the world around us, perhaps we can accept our own mortality with grace and see objectively that death is not inferior to life—that they are two sides of the same coin which should be embraced equally.
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
“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.”
“Do not say that those who are killed in God’s cause are dead; they are alive, though you do not realize it.”
“A raven whose companion had just died said: I will teach Adam what to do. The raven took his dead companion, dug up the earth before the eyes of Adam and his mate, and buried him in it. Adam said: We will do as the raven. At once he took Abel's corpse and buried it in the ground.”
“As at the time of death, the real and eternal self of man, his soul, abandons its physical garment to soar in the realms of God, we may compare the body to a vehicle which has been used for the journey through earthly life and no longer needed once the destination has been reached.”
“Through his ignorance, man fears death; but the death he shrinks from is imaginary and absolutely unreal; it is only human imagination.”
“Tell me, brother, what happens after death?
The whole world is arguing about it—
Some say you become a ghost,
Others that you go to heaven,
And some that you get close to God,
And the Vedas insist you’re a bit of sky
Reflected in a jar fated to shatter.
When you look for sin and virtue in nothing,
You end up with nothing.
The elements live in the body together
But go their own ways at death.
Prasad says: you end, brother,
Where you began, a reflection
Rising in water, mixing with water,
Finally one with water.”
“Those who remember me at the time of death will come to me. Do not doubt this. Whatever occupies the mind at the time of death determines the destination of the dying; always they will tend toward that state of being.”
“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.”
“You are living in this world as one individual, but before you take the form of a human being, you are already there, always there. We are always here. Do you understand? You think before you were born you were not here. But how is it possible for you to appear in this world, when there is no you? Because you are already there, you can appear in the world. Also, it is not possible for something to vanish which does not exist. Because something is there, something can vanish. You may think that when you die, you disappear, you no longer exist. But even though you vanish, something which is existent cannot be non-existent. That is the magic.”
“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.”
“We can point to the wood that has burned, but when the fire has passed on, we cannot know where it has gone.”
“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.”
“Dead people, like vegetables, can be pickled or preserved. You can also abandon them to the beasts of the field, burn them like rubbish or bury them like treasure. From embalming to cremation, all sorts of techniques are used to do something with the corpse. But the point is, something must be done. This is a constant and has been so for a long time[…]the fact that early humans did decorate corpses, lay out the bodies in particular postures or bury people with flowers, aligned horns or tools would support the notion that some ritualization of death is a very ancient human activity.”
“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."
“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.’”
“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.”