Breaking the Circle: Death and the Afterlife in Buddhism

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In this much-needed examination of Buddhist views of death and the afterlife, Carl B. Becker bridges the gap between books on death in the West and books on Buddhism in the East.

Other Western writers have addressed the mysteries surrounding death and the afterlife, but few have approached the topic from a Buddhist perspective. Here, Becker resolves questions that have troubled scholars since the beginning of Buddhism: How can Buddhism reconcile its belief in karma and rebirth with its denial of a permanent soul? What is reborn? And when, exactly, is the moment of death?

By systematically tracing Buddhism’s migration from India through China, Japan, and Tibet, Becker demonstrates how culture and environment affect Buddhist religious tradition.

In addition to discussing historical Buddhism, Becker shows how Buddhism resolves controversial current issues as well. In the face of modern medicine’s trend toward depersonalization, traditional Buddhist practices imbue the dying process with respect and dignity. At the same time, Buddhist tradition offers documented precedents for decision making in cases of suicide and euthanasia.


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Carl B. Becker is an associate professor of humanities at Kyoto University in Japan, where he has lived for most of the last twenty years.

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