Death and Afterlife

Fear of death can be a powerful impetus: it can cause people to perform great feats of valor or make them sink to the lowest depths of wickedness. In literature, death can symbolize inevitability, destruction, the end, but sometimes the new beginning and rise over the world. Regarding the development of such notions as life and death, one should pay attention to the famous Japanese and Indian tales. Whereas the Jataka Tales and The Tale of Genji were written by representatives of different countries and centuries, they emphasize the common Buddhism religious beliefs that predetermined the world’s perception of the Indians of the 5th century BC and Japanese of the 11th century. Moreover, both of these literary writings reveal death as equal to ending and rebirth.

Perception of death and life is closely connected with the religious beliefs of people. Therefore, the deeper understanding of such literary works as Jataka Tales and The Tale of Genji cannot be separated from Buddhism, which is the main religion of India and one of two central in Japan. In such a way, regarding the 5th century BC as the time when Buddhism in India has originated, one should mark out Jataka Tales as the earliest Indian Buddhism literature. The collection of these stories does not have one author or definite date of creation as they were taken from multiple sources. However, historians mark it out as collected in 300 BC- 400 AD. All the fables are focused on the soul incarnations in animals and humans. Finally, this soul is defined as Siddhartha Gautama, which is the future Buddha. As it is widely known, such events are the background for Hindus’ beliefs, and Buddha himself is the sage, the founder of Buddhism. Hence, the religious background of the stories is obvious. Not only the coincidence of the dates presented in the tales, but also of the sacred places like Benares (now Varanasi) that is considered as the oldest and the most sacred city of the Hindus makes Jataka Tales much more than an ancient literary work. The fables that seem to be quite simple, in reality, bring to the readers a serious religious content that can tell much about the morality, values and beliefs in India.

Numerous biographies of Buddha presented in Jataka Tales reveal the ideas on reincarnation of soul, victory of good over the evil. For instance, Great King Goodness teaches people of such essential virtue as non-violence and generosity. The story shows the complex connections between effects and causes. The violence can cause only violence while the goodness originates goodness, evil is always punished. Although the fairness can be accomplished not at once, finally, everyone gets what they deserve. The tale proves this life rule on the example of a noble king and vengeful minister who represent the balance between good and evil in human life. It is essential that even wild animals and goblins are presented as defenders of justice and non-violence traditions. At the same time, one of the central ideas is that in order to live and become free, the king had to die. Considering the jackal king’s power as the way to liberation, the tale shows that death in Buddhism is a rebirth that originates a stronger soul, wisdom and power. As a result, the emphasis on faith and non-materialistic values reveals the beliefs of Hindus in this story. The goodness and vocation are the main qualities that can let people to live a decent life while wickedness and ego lead people’s souls to destruction. The Golden Goose is another didactic Jataka tale that shows the importance of generosity and noble intents over selfishness. As long as the goose was treated with love, his feathers brought wealth to the family in return. At the same time, greed and cruelty made the woman lose everything she had. The motive of the father’s reincarnation into a golden goose is also essential as it shows that death of the breadwinner became for the family not sorrow, but obtainment of something new. In this case, it was the bird that literary took care about their lives. The Valiant Dwarf, The Foolhardy Jackal and The Hare’s Self-Sacrifice do not differ about their main ideas, too. The tales are focused on the importance of knowledge and realistic views. However, the connection of the human world with nature is also pointed out as highly important. At the same time, the notions of fairness and justice are emphasized. The Valiant Dwarf story shows that earlier or later the truth is revealed and the real achievements are rewarded. The Foolhardy Jackal marks out the similarities between the animals’ world and the human one. In both cases, each creature plays some definite role and everything in the world appears interrelated. For this reason, Hindus regarded it important to estimate one’s strengths and weaknesses adequately and fairly. At the same, The Hare’s Self-Sacrifice marks out not only the definite role of a rabbit in the natural circulation, but the conscious choice and death as a mean to contribute to life. Such Buddhism motives of the important moral values, balance between good and evil, strong connections between life and death, humans and animals became permanent in this religion.

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Shinto and Buddhism are the two main religions of the Japanese nowadays. Considering the Buddhism sect in Japan, it is important to mark out that the period of its strengthening in the Japanese minds dates back to the 6th century. Therefore, much time has passed since its appearance in India. However, the main ideas that it teaches can be traced in the life hood and literary works of the period and many centuries later. Among the great works that reflect the life, values and morality of the Japenese, one can find The Tale of Genji. In contrast to the above mentioned Jatake Tales, it was created by a single author Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century. Therefore, it is not a collection of the views of people, but the reflection of the beliefs of a single person. However, the work is quite deep and brings much knowledge about the religious beliefs and life perception common for Japanese of the 11th century.

Considering the peculiarities of The Tale of Genji, it is important that it is claimed to be the first psychological novel in the world. Many scholars regard it as the great aesthetics and Buddhism doctrine of the time. Among the main lessons, it can teach the elegance that refers to the aristocracy’s privileging of the expression indirectness and aesthetic sensibility. Moreover, it represents the poignant nature of beauty and some other things, the transience and evanescence of the time and everything around including human life. Murasaki Shikibu also focused on desolate beauty and imperfection of things and feelings and emotions that are beyond the human words. The structure of The Tale of Genji has nothing special as it is the 54-chaptered narration of the events that were supposedly witnessed by the narrator. The tale depicts the political intrigues of Genji, a son of an emperor, and of his descendants. What is important, it reflects the events with a considerable degree of realism and shows the real life in Japan with the powerful elites and nobility. The novel touches the common topics of love, sexual politics, marriage, suffering, death and many others; and all of these experiences bring the irreplaceable lesson to the readers. The life in the story is depicted as real and supernatural simultaneously as well as the female role. It is especially important to emphasize the feelings of women as something much higher that the physical presence. The emotions and feelings are considered as something that belongs to the characteristics of the eternal soul, not the fleeting life. The Tale of Genji reveals the influence of Buddhism on the life and views of the Japanese. One of the most obvious themes that confirm it is the reincarnation that can be followed through the whole structure of the novel. The death of Genji is followed by the story of his son Kaoru, the death of the mother is depicted as if her soul, her voice or a part of her were still present somewhere nearby and the Emperor could feel it. He searched for these parts in other women; and this implies that the part of the dead person stays alive. The same can be followed in relations between the death of the Emperor and life of his son, the death of Genji and life of his son. The Buddhist motive of reincarnation is closely connected with the one of interdependence between every sphere of life. The Tale of Genji also represents such Buddhist symbols like water, flowers, and the moon that hint on the ideas about the final teachings of Buddha and his mystic transmissions. In addition, numerous love affairs of Genji obviously symbolize how fleeting the life and the whole world nature is. The plot of the story deals much with the supernatural boundaries. Therefore, the author points out that the death is the relative notion that cannot be regarded as the end. The ghost characters, life continuation through the natural expressions and heritors, Buddhist symbols are those that emphasize the religious motives of the novel.

The above mentioned beliefs and values of the Japanese and Hindus are obviously unified by the same religion, Buddhism. These beliefs predetermine the common views on death that is considered to be a part of the world circulation that unifies all live beings and all events. The death is not regarded as something final; it is only one of the natural stages that supports the life balance. However, Jataka Tales emphasize this stage as one that improves the soul on the next one while The Tale of Genji only shows its inseparability from life. In addition, both works present the humans’ closeness to nature and interdependence of all processes happening in the world of animals or plants with those of people. The fleeting and nonpermanent life on the earth is the background for the existence of the soul immortality that is manifested in Buddha’s reincarnations and connections of generations. The balance between evil and good, life and death are the main values of Buddhism that do not change through works of literature or times.

To sum it up, one can make a conclusion that neither the time, nor the country can influence the Buddhist views of people. Jataka Tales bring the message that a soul can come on the Earth in various forms and life after death exists. Moreover, each death shifts if on the higher level of development. The Tale of Genji supports the idea of the soul immortality in contrast to impermanent human life on the Earth together with the one of how people should live. The main belief of the Buddhist religion is the tight connection and balance between everything in the world. It can be followed in both of the above mentioned works. Regardless the fact that the structure, the period of the works writing is different, Jataka Tales and The Tale of Genji show the Buddhist ideas of how life on the Earth should be perceived, how good and evil are connected and that reincarnation is what happens after death.

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