Essay about Hinduism and Death

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Each month our educational center section provides the Hinduism Today staff with a 'kind of group meditation. Individually we ponder our subject, and together we discuss it in detail. These past 30 days our meditation was on death. You might think we had a morbid March. Not so, since, as U.S. General George Patton rightly noted, "For Hindus death is the most exalted experience of life."

This idea is sometimes hard for non-Hindus to grasp - especially for atheists facing Eternal Oblivion and for those of the semitic faiths which define death as a kind of punishment for man's sin and disobedience. According to this view, death is the ultimate sign of man's spiritual failure, a belief which understandably arouses instincts of
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Impermanent though life is, we are getting more of it these days. It is estimated that the average life span for prehistoric man was only 18 years. In ancient Greece and Rome it was 20-22. Alexander the Great, having conquered the world, died at the ripe old age of 32. Sankara, having conquered the mind, also died at 32. Obviously, the quality of life does not correspond too directly with its quantity. In Europe in the Middle Ages, life expectancy increased to about 33, then to 36 by the 18th century. By 1841 it was 40 for an Englishman, and 42 for his wife. Today it is between 69 and 70 for men, 75 women. A person living to 80 will see 1,000 full moons and 30,000 sunrises. By Hindu tradition, the natural length of human life is 120 years, and some believe this was once the norm in India.

Down through human history, the study of death has fallen almost exclusively to shamans, mystics and theologians. In the 20th century, science joined the fray and added a new term to the English language: thanatology, the study of the medical, psychological and social problems associated with dying. (One scientist humorously noted that, statistically speaking, the death rate for homo sapiens has remained constant throughout recorded history, holding steadily at 100%.)

One reason for the new emphasis on scientific analysis is that death is rapidly changing. Technological systems of life-support have
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