Hindu End of Life: Death, Dying, Suffering, and Karma

Susan Thrane, MSN, RN, OCN

Disclosures

Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing. 2010;12(6):337-342. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Hindu suffering can be perplexing to Western thought. With almost 2.3 million Hindus of Indian origin and an additional 1 million practicing American Hindus now in the United States, healthcare practitioners need to know more about the tenets of Hinduism to provide culturally sensitive care. Family and community interconnectedness, karma, and reincarnation are major beliefs of Hinduism. Healthcare decisions may be made by the most senior family member or the eldest son. Karma is a combination of cosmic and moral cause and effect that can cross lifetimes and life lessons learned for spiritual growth. The belief in reincarnation gives great comfort to the dying and their families because they know their loved one will be reborn into a new life and that they are not gone forever. Enduring physical suffering may lead to spiritual growth and a more fortunate rebirth.

Introduction

Death is a universal experience. No matter what our culture, our religion, our race, or our country of origin, we will all die. How we approach death, how we think about suffering and grief, and what we believe happens after we die vary based on our culture, religion, and spiritual beliefs. Spiritual beliefs ground our thinking about end-of-life concepts. Humanists, which include atheists and agnostics, believe that death is the end.[1] Christians believe that death is the beginning of everlasting life with God.[2] Hindus believe that while death is the end of this life, it is also the beginning of a new cycle.[3]

Several estimates of the number of Hindus in America exist. According to the magazine Hinduism Today, there are about 2.3 million Hindus of Indian origin and another 1 million practicing American Hindus.[4,5] Every state in America has at least one Hindu temple, while larger metropolitan centers have many.[6] Historically, in the West, there has been very little exposure to Hinduism. With the exception of Hare Krishnas, one sect of Hinduism, Hindu people do not believe in proselytizing, nor do they often talk to outsiders about their religion.[7] With the population of Hindus growing in the United States, healthcare practitioners need to know more about this faith to be able to provide culturally sensitive care.

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