2003 Abstracts Stage 2

An Investigation into Attitudes Towards Death: Tibetan Buddhism and the Modern West

Michael Atkinson, 2003, Stage 2

Part One: Exploring the Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Tibetan Buddhist way of Life and Death. The first part of this project will focus mainly on the Buddhist conception of Death, as promulgated in, what is known in the West, as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. For the Tibetans, one must become accustomed to the reality and possible immediacy of death, for this they say, can give greater vitality to life, as well as liberate us from the petty confusion we find ourselves in in our daily lives. What is more, the Tibetans have great sensitivity towards the dying to ensure that they come to terms with death, and are guided through the whole process with as little suffering as possible. The main points I will cover in this first section are:- A summary of the TIbetan Book of the Dead – Rebirth and the stages of death – Illusion of the self – Impermanence – Liberation from suffering – Caring for the dying. Part Two: Exploring Western attitudes towards death: The struggle for self preservation and the denial of death. The second part of this project will address the problem of death, as that is what it is for Westerners. I will look at how our whole culture revolves around avoiding death and decay, and the mechanisms we have in place that give us the illusion that we can escape this natural process. In the west, we find it difficult to come to terms with death, in fact, we do not have to, for there is much to distract our attention. The material world, for instance, creates the illusion that the world is fixed, and many of us identify ourselves with that fixity until the end of our life, when, in fact, the world is in a constant state of flux, death and rebirth. The main points I will cover in this first section are: – Fear of death and what this leads us to do in our lives – Death as an evil, a catastrophe, as morbid, or even unnatural – Can we learn anything about our attitude towards death from Buddhism? – Instinct for self preservation and immortality – Fascination with death: murder in the media – How we care for the dying – Would it be beneficial for us to have a greater awareness of death?

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