(p. C4) A recent paper in the journal Cognitive Science has an unusual combination of authors. A philosopher, a scholar of Buddhism, a social psychologist and a practicing Tibetan Buddhist tried to find out whether believing in Buddhism really does change how you feel about your self–and about death.
The philosopher Shaun Nichols of the University of Arizona and his fellow authors studied Christian and nonreligious Americans, Hindus and both everyday Tibetan Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhist monks.
. . .
The results were very surprising. Most participants reported about the same degree of fear, whether or not they believed in an afterlife. But the monks said that they were much more afraid of death than any other group did.
Why would this be? The Buddhist scholars themselves say that merely knowing there is no self isn’t enough to get rid of the feeling that the self is there. Neuroscience supports this idea.
. . .
Another factor in explaining why these monks were more afraid of death might be that they were trained to think constantly about mortality. The Buddha, perhaps apocryphally, once said that his followers should think about death with every breath. Maybe just ignoring death is a better strategy.
For the full commentary, see:
Alison Gopnik. “Who’s Most Afraid to Die? A Surprise.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 9, 2018): C4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 6, 2018.)
The print version of the Cognitive Science article discussed above, is:
Nichols, Shaun, Nina Strohminger, Arun Rai, and Jay Garfield. “Death and the Self.” Cognitive Science 42, no. S1 (May 2018): 314-32.