Prayers and

At the Time of
Illness and Dying

Pat Fosarelli
(Templeton Foundation Press)
Ms. Fosarelli has chosen the rituals and prayers of five religions to consider: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. The book is aimed at those who work with the sick and dying in "hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes." She dedicates a section in each of the five to special rites for children, and takes note of some rituals that may be inappropriate in a hospital setting.

She states that there are some traditions that a doctor, nurse or caretaker in this country would not be expected to be familiar with. For instance, Hindus prefer not to die in a bed, but rather "on a ritually clean ground." The reason:

    A soul released from a height (at the moment of death) would be disoriented.

She notes that some Hindu rituals may be impractical, such as a funeral pyre where, "Once the body is singed, the son takes a stick and cracks the deceased's skull to release vital air and the soul."

For Muslims, "bodies must be buried intact." They

    do not permit cremation, autopsy, or organ donation. Euthanasia is also not permitted because it would violate God's will.

Judaism does not permit embalming, and the body "cannot be moved on a Sabbath."

    Some Jews place the body (covered with a sheet) on the floor with feet toward the door and a candle by the head.

The most fascinating rituals recounted here include the words of the dying Muhammed: "Suffering is an expiation for sin."

    If a believer suffer but the scratch of a thorn, the Lord raiseth his rank thereby and wipeth away from him a sin.

And for Hindus, a reading from the Bhagavad Gita is deemed to be appropriate: "We shall be for all time ... As the spirit of our mortal body wanders on in childhood, youth and old age, the Spirit wanders to a new body."

    The unreal never is; the Real never is not.

Ms. Fosarelli confesses to the joy of discovering the rituals that might have escaped her before. The pity is that she concentrated only on "five world religions." According to The Encyclopedia of World Religions, 390 million people practice "Chinese Folk Religion." Another 232,000,000 are adherents to Shamanism, Animism, and "tribal religions." Then there are Sikhism, Baha'i, Jainism, Taoism and Confucianism with its 6,300,000 practitioners. It would be fascinating to look into their traditions and prayers for the ill and dying.

One slight error we found. The author states that in Buddhism, "compassion and wisdom lead to happiness." In Buddhism, happiness and unhappiness are considered to be equal, and one should not seek one over the other. The ultimate goal, as always, is peace, that only emerges when one has achieved freedom from desire.

--- Deb Das
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