Death is one of the major issues for all religious traditions; it is especially so for Buddhism, as Buddhist teaching is centered upon death and the impermanence of life. This essay discusses death and dying from the framework of the philosophy of life and death, as outlined in the Māhayānic Buddhism of China. The discussion centers on early Madhyāmika Buddhism and its non-dualist approach to samsara and nirvana, this world and the other world, and life and death. The essay shows that the notions of reincarnation and karmic action offer an alternative perspective on the finitude of human existence and reflection upon life’s uncertainty pertaining to the experience of death. The author contends that the theory of interdependent origination explicated by Madhyāmika Buddhism helps Buddhists to develop adaptive qualities that enable a person to remain balanced in the maelstrom of change and impermanence. This realization of the impermanence of life and the emptiness of interdependent origination leads to the Buddhist ethical positions of no self and non-attachment.
The essay also addresses the question of hospice care from the perspective of Buddhism as a religious support system. Although Buddhists understand that suffering is a part of life, there is a general desire to avoid suffering whenever possible. Hospice care is important in Buddhism not only because Buddhists recognize the weakness and fragility of the body and mind in the process of death and dying, but also because Buddhists see the connection between the patient’s end-of-life needs, both physical and spiritual, and the well-being of other people associated with the patient. The essay argues that a positive attitude toward life and death, as presented in Madhyāmika Buddhism, can help patients and their families to deal with the pain and anxiety of terminal illness.