Belief in Karma and Mokṣa at the End of Life in India

  • Joris GielenEmail author
  • Komal Kashyap
Part of the Science Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Science book series (SACH, volume 9)


Karma, the belief that every deed of a living being will have a consequence in this life or in a later one, and mokṣa, release from the cycle of death and rebirth, are part of Hindu views on life after death. In this chapter, using anthropological data, we study how these two concepts give direction to the experience of illness and death in two very different contexts. One is Varanasi, where, since ancient times, stories have been told about how dying there leads to mokṣa, and the other is a pain and palliative care unit in a tertiary cancer hospital in New Delhi. In religious stories and practices in Varanasi, the focus on mokṣa and the end of karmic effects through death in the city created an environment in which the dying were encouraged to accept and embrace death. In the pain and palliative care unit, the belief in karma and mokṣa was less decisive in the experience of illness. The concepts were used to give meaning to suffering, but, overall, belief in a God who has the power to cure was much more important. In this way, in the pain and palliative care unit, religious beliefs focused on the current life, while, in Varanasi, the emphasis was on the afterlife. The religious emphasis on cure in the pain and palliative care unit may have made it harder for the patient to accept their upcoming death.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Healthcare EthicsDuquesne UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of Onco-Anaesthesia and Palliative MedicineDr. B.R. Ambedkar Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital, All India Institute of Medical SciencesNew DelhiIndia

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