Religion can ground the trajectory of our lives, providing a spiritual and moral framework to guide how we conduct ourselves, the values we adhere to and define how we fit into our community and society. But what role does religion play at the end of our lives, specifically in regard to choosing cremation as a method of memorization? And what does religion have to say about we should care for the ashes we will eventually all become as our bodies are returned to the earth?
As cremation grows in popularity as a method of paying tribute to your loved one, many wonder about the viewpoints and perspectives various religions have towards it. Here, we will explore how various major religions view cremation and where it fits into each religion’s individual ethos.
Buddhism is founded upon a belief that at the end of a person’s life journey, he or she will go through a process called samsara or reincarnation. Cremation is accepted in Buddhism as a memorialization ritual that helps release the body from its physical form to aid in its spiritual transformation, while caring for the person’s mental and physical state and honoring their life. The leader of the Buddhist religion, Gautama Buddha was himself cremated and many people who observe Buddhist religious practices today follow suit, also choosing cremation as a prefered method of memorialization.
In support of the belief that at the end of a person’s life, one’s suffering should not be prolonged, Hinds also observe reincarnation as a way for the body to evolve to its next form through spiritual growth. Therefore, Hinduism also accepts cremation, considering the memorialization ritual to enable the quickest release of the body from its physical form to evolve to its next spiritual state, aiding in the process of reincarnation.
Judaic ethos does not generally encourage the practice of cremation. According to Orthodox Judaism, cremation is seen as an act that fails to properly respect or honor the body, preferring traditional ceremonial methods of burial in the ground, instead. However, reform Jews do accept cremation, allowing individuals to choose it as a method of memorization if they so wish. Rabbis will also accept Jewish individuals who have been cremated to still be honored through traditional Jewish ceremonies of burial.
According to Islamic beliefs, cremation is generally looked down upon, considered to be haram or an unclean practice. As such, Muslims are forbidden from participating themselves in the act of cremation or witnessing it in any form. As Muslims believe the body should be treated with the utmost honor and respect in life and at their journey’s end, cremation is strongly discouraged and looked at as an action that mutilates the body against the wishes of Allah.
The Catholic Pope officially made cremation acceptable as a form of memorialization when the ban was lifted in 1963. While traditional methods of burial ceremonies are still strongly encouraged over cremation in the Catholc religion, the Vatican has provided guidelines of how cremated remains should be handled so as to adhere to Catholic beliefs. According to the Vatican, cremated remains should not be scattered or kept in cremation urns at home, and instead should be honored in a “sacred place” such as a cemetery.
While traditional methods of memorialization like burials are preferred, cremation is accepted in Protestant Christianity. Unlike the Catholic Church which abides by stringent rules for cremation, Protestant Christians are free to choose to be cremated as they wish.