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Hinduism And End Of Life Care

The "Om" symbol in Devanagari. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons
The “Om” symbol in Devanagari. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Family and community interconnectedness, karma and reincarnation are major tenants of Hinduism. Health care decisions may be made by the most senior family member or eldest son (Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing, Susan Thrane, 2010).

Karma is a concept explaining causality through a system in which beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions; harmful effects are due to past harmful actions. Karma creates a system of actions and reactions throughout the soul’s journey through reincarnated lives (World Religions, Jeffrey Brodd).

Reincarnation gives great comfort to the dying and to their families, because they trust loved ones will be reborn and into new life. Enduring suffering may lead to spiritual growth and a more fortunate rebirth (Thrane). Palliative and hospice care are compatible with Hindu values. Typically, death should neither be sought nor prolonged.

Opinions about euthanasia vary, although most Hindus oppose it. Some maintain that doctors should not accept a seriously ill patient’s request for euthanasia, as it would cause the soul and body to be separated at an unnatural time. The act would damage the karma of both doctor and patient (BBC: Religion and Ethics). However, some say that by helping to end suffering and hasten death, a doctor is performing a good deed and fulfilling their moral obligations.


HINDUISM AT A GLANCE

Hinduism, with more than 900 million adherents, is the world’s third largest faith. It is the dominant religion of the Indian subcontinent.

Krishna is worshipped as the avatar of the god Vishnu or Bhagavan, Supreme Being, in some traditions. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.
Krishna is worshipped as the avatar of the god Vishnu or Bhagavan, Supreme Being, in some traditions. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Often called a “way of life” instead of a religion, Hinduism has no single founder, set of scriptures or commonly accepted teachings. With elements stretching back thousands of years, it is often called the world’s oldest religion or Sanātana Dharma, meaning “the eternal law” (Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions).

A polytheistic religion, many scholars regard Hinduism as a synthesis of various Indian traditions. There have been many key figures teaching vastly different philosophies and writing numerous holy books.

Hindu texts are classified into Śruti (“heard”) and Smriti (“remembered”). These texts explore theology, philosophy, mythology and rituals (Hinduism: Past and Present, Axel Michaels).

Major scriptures include the Vedas, Upanishads (Śruti), Bhagavad Gita, Puranas and Brahma Sutras (Smriti).

The Vedas (Knowledge) are the oldest Hindu texts, according to most scholars. Many Hindus regard the Vedas as having been directly revealed to or “heard” by inspired seers (rishis) who memorialized them in Sanskrit.

Common practices include daily rituals such as puja (worship), recitations and festivals. Major festivals, still practiced today throughout India, may last days and aim to help participants become refreshed (Encyclopedia Brittanica).