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Cremation vs Burials

“Life should not only be lived, it should be celebrated” - Osho (Indian Philosopher)

Another wise man said, “If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.” For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.” Kahlil Gibrain (Lebanese poet, writer, philosopher)

Death is something certain in life. Everything must end. If death is to be understood, there will be a complete twist in our thinking - as there will be no more fear of death. End-of-life ceremonies are an important part of being human and the comfort of joining others in grief - sharing the tears and laughter can be a vital part of the healing process. Thus the subject of cremation vs. burials has become very thought-provoking and is being researched by many.

Let us review both the end-of-life options. It is believed that the most ancient religion in the world, Hinduism may have set forth the foundations of cremation. In Hinduism, the practice of cremation is called “Antyesti - the last sacrifice.” Followers of this faith believe that the body is composed of five elements - air, water, fire, earth, and space. When a body is cremated, it not only releases the spirit but the elements are returned into the universe. It’s a cyclical process. Similarly, cremation is a widely accepted practice among most Buddhists and is often considered the preferred practice.

The actual practices may vary among most religions - but the core principles remain the same, that is paying homage to the departed soul and welcoming the rebirth or entry into a new life in heaven.

Let us review the practice of cremation from the perspective of other major religions. As one of the most widely practiced religions, Christianity has more than 2 billion followers. However, according to statistical research, there has been a changing practice of accepting cremations due to evolving beliefs in a more modern era and more relaxed restrictions from the church. Previously, the Roman Catholic Church had placed a ban on cremation, mandating the bodies be buried. Currently, however, the Vatican allows for cremating the members of the church without any issue.

The stipulation released by the Vatican also requests that once a body has been cremated, the remains should not be scattered or kept within the home but rather, they should remain on sacred burial grounds like a cemetery. In fact, many catholic cemeteries are increasing their number of

columbarium niches to accommodate more cremated remains. They also typically require the ashes to be left in a dignified container which is the cremation urn.

It should be noticed that while Hinduism encourages cremation, it does not preclude ceremonies related to celebration of life. A cremation can be as celebratory as the family likes it or as simple, as can be if they choose that way. So no religion is choosing a certain way of end-of-life disposition of the body due to the cost - even though that can be a factor in the decision-making process.

Like Hinduism, Sikhism also encourages in their scriptures that the human body should be disposed in a manner (ie cremated) that all 5 elements that were used in creation of the human body. Most often the ceremonies offering the body to fire occur alongside a river or some other body of water. The ashes are often immersed respectfully in the river.

Islam is the second highest populated religion in the world and most Muslims follow a strict practice of saying farewell to those who have passed through the form of mourning and since the rituals are to be followed the religion of Islam does not condone the practice of cremation which disallows the rituals to occur.

Judaism is one of the religions that more firmly prohibits the practice of cremation. Although, technically most followers identify that there is not an explicit rule that prohibits cremation, it is not the preferred practice for most families. Jewish law does mandate that all human bodies are treated with dignity and respect and that they are not defiled. This is often interpreted as the reason not to cremate since the act of cremation can be considered as a way of defiling.

Moving on to more contemporary views on the subject of cremation vs burial, it appears that more Americans/Canadians choose cremation over burial. In fact, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) estimates that by the end of 2023, 59.4 percent of Americans and 76.9 percent of Canadians will choose cremation over burial.

Several reasons may contribute to this shift in thinking. Without the hears association of a traditional burial, it may seem less emotionally burdensome- to the family left behind. Possibly other factors such flexibility in timing, environmental concerns, cost may contribute to this shift in paradigm.

Following factors are cited:

1) Religion: in recent years, religions thinking about cremation vs burial has become somewhat laxed. Many religions have shifted to be less opposed to the idea of cremation. Many religions such as Christianity and Judaism which were once strongly opposed to cremation are now more accepting of the practice. Some cultures, like those in Ancianr Scandinavia, believed that when a body was cremated, it allowed the spirit to be realized from the flesh, allowing the spirit to be released from the flesh, thereby facilitating its movement afterlife. Examination of historical trends also shows that, at certain times cremation was deemed a necessity. For example, during the plague in the mid-17th century, the bodies were cremated to help contain the spread of infection.

2) Cost/Budget: Some families choose cremation because it can be a less expensive option - though cost differences vary widely and depend on factors such as whether there’s a service before or after and the disposition of the cremated remains. However, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the national median cost of a burial with funeral and viewing wars in 2021 was $9,420. The national median cost of cremation with funeral and viewing (including casket and urn) was $6,970. This is about $2500 less than a typical burial funeral. Mostly, cremation costs less than burial.

3) Environmental concerns: some people see cremation as a more eco-friendly process than burial; since there’s not a viewing, it does not use embalming chemicals (which may be harmful to the environment) and requires less space than cemetery burial.

4) Flexible timing: cremation allows for as much time as one needs to plan a funeral, memorial or celebration of life. Close family members can hold a viewing for nearby family and friends and then host a larger memorial of scattering service months later for friends and family who need to make travel plans and take time off work. This is especially beneficial for family and friends who live in different parts of the country or world

5) Creative memorialization: cremation allows for so many options for the lasting remembrance of a loved one. Cremated remains can be incorporated into jewelry or art. The options are endless and can be as unique as the life being honored.

To summarize, one can safely say that traditional burial or cremation is an entirely personal choice. One’s religious beliefs may dictate that cremation is not a consideration. Or, one may simply be more comfortable with the idea of a burial over cremation. One should make the choice based on several individual factors

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