Buddhism plays an important role in 21st century global culture, with Buddhist-inspired contemplative practices and teachings influencing a new ‘way of life’, not just for coverts, but also broader society. However, Buddhism equally shapes our ‘way of death’. From mindfulness tools aimed at confronting terminal diagnoses and supporting hospice staff, to incense and chanting at otherwise secular funerals, Dying ‘Buddhish’ in Australia examines the current influence and future potential of Buddhist contemplative practice in mainstream end-of-life and death care. This project will generates new insights for scholarship and translate outcomes for community and state stakeholders, to create and deepen partnerships between Buddhist end-of-life practitioners and healthcare services.
University of Melbourne contributors:
- Dr Hannah Gould, Research Associate, School of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts
- Dr David Marco, Honorary Fellow, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences
- Dr Anna Halafoff, Associate Professor in Sociology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University
- Ms Deb Rawlings, Senior Lecturer, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University
At the commencement of this project, the research team convened an Advisory Committee with representatives from Buddhist faith organisations, palliative care providers and research institutes, to oversee the delivery and impact of the project.
Under the guidance of the assistance of the Advisory Committee, the research team first undertook to ‘map’ of the landscape of Buddhish services available in Australia. Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the (US-based) Zen Hospice movement emerged as the key forces shaping ‘Buddhish’ deathcare in Australia. This task also clarified some of the key values of this movement: compassion/kindness, mindfulness practice, and death acceptance.
We designed and launched our survey, which aims to capture the extent of the influence of Buddhist traditions within mainstream Australian services. This survey is open to all professionals working in end-of-life and deathcare in remain open until the end of April 2023.
In order to deepen our understanding of ‘Buddhish’ deathcare in Australia, the team then conducted interviews with end-of-life and deathcare professionals located in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. A total of 15 semi-structured interviews were conducted with palliative care physicians, Buddhist hospice staff, funeral directors, spiritual care volunteers and more.
While this corpus of data is still being analysed, we have begun to identify some key features of Buddhish death and deathcare in Australia. These include:
- a willingness to translate or adapt Buddhist teachings and ‘meet people where they are’ without proselytising
- death acceptance and honesty in the face of suffering
- valuing rich sensory experience and contact with nature at the end-of-life
To date, the work of the Dying ‘Buddhish’ in Australia has been presented on a panel at the Australian Association for the Study of Religion 2022 Annual Conference, and in an interview for Victorian Evenings with David Astle, for ABC Radio in January this year. Several conference presentations, newspaper and journal articles are planned for 2023.
A major outcome of this project has been the identification of a key gap in Australia’s end-of-life and deathcare system when it comes to the support of ‘religious nones’ or ‘spiritual but not religious’ populations. We have also made important connections within leading Buddhist, spiritual, and secular care providers, who will come together at a planned Impact Forum in mid-2023. This collaboration will result in the development of a Linkage Project grant application to the ARC.