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

Conclusion

Nurses who care for Hindus at the end of life whether at home or in the hospital should remember that Hindus are very family oriented and so may have many visitors at one time. There may be singing, chanting, praying, reading from holy books, and shared food. Healthcare decisions will likely be made by a senior family member or eldest son.

With a growing number of Hindus in the United States, it is helpful to know something about Hinduism to provide culturally sensitive care. Some of the main beliefs of Hinduism include the belief in one god named Brahman and a belief in karma and reincarnation. Karma is the principle of cause and effect that can continue over many lifetimes. Any thought or action, good or bad, contributes to karma. Reincarnation is being born into a new life to learn spiritual lessons and to resolve karma from previous lifetimes. 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 they are not gone forever.

Palliative and hospice care are aligned with Hindu values. Hindus believe that death should neither be sought nor prolonged. Spiritual suffering is connected to karma. Enduring physical suffering at the end of life may reverse bad karma. Hindus would like to die at home surrounded by family. Ideally, they would like to be conscious and be thinking of Brahman at the very moment of death. If the person is not conscious, having the eldest son or a senior family member chant the person's mantra (sacred phrase) in his/her right ear prior to death is helpful. Rituals such as placing Tulsi leaves in the mouth, chanting, or washing the body may or may not be practiced by a particular Hindu family. Completing a spiritual assessment of the patient and family is essential to facilitating appropriate spiritual care.

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