The greatest worry Ma Yu-chuan (馬幼娟) has about death is not properly saying farewell to a loved one. And she should know. The practising Muslim recalls that she had a falling out with her father when she was in college. One night he tried to make amends, but she angrily rebuffed him. He died in a car accident the next day.
“Why do we fear death?” is among the many questions posed in the first corridor at the Museum of World Religions (世界宗教博物館) in New Taipei City, where Ma serves as director. There is no correct answer, she says, but after she learned the answer the hard way, she makes sure she’s affectionate to her mother, who suffered a stroke in January.
Since 2019, the museum has put on exhibitions exploring the different stages of human life through various religious concepts and artifacts. So far they’ve covered old age, childhood and marriage. The latest, which opens today, is titled “Bright as Night, Dark as Day, A Walk with the Death” (生死晝夜：於死亡中前行).
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
“Death is still one of the more taboo topics ... and [museum founder Buddhist Master Hsin Dao (心道)] was concerned that the exhibit might make visitors uncomfortable,” Ma says. “But I don’t think it does. It leaves visitors a lot of space to reflect and contemplate on what death is and why they fear it.”
The exhibition starts with how different religions view death, judgment and the afterlife. But it soon gets personal as visitors enter an empty area for reflection, and then are asked to write down any thoughts they have about life and death, which are displayed on a screen. Finally, they go through an interactive experience of rebirth before they return to everyday life.
Ma says the topic of religion, on its own, is a touchy subject for many people, even though the museum’s aim is to promote mutual understanding of all faiths and reduce the religious strife that has plagued the world since antiquity.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei
Hence the emphasis on life-and-death education, which is common to almost all religions and relatable to everybody. The long-term mission of the museum, according to its Web site, is to “enable people to reflect on their inner selves by drawing from the perspectives of life and death of different religions.”
“If we zoom out to a broader perspective, death is just a small part of nature,” Ma says. “Only when you look at it from a human angle does it become such a monumental matter. In Islam, some say that we die every time we fall sleep ... I hope people will think deeply about these differences.”
WHAT: Bright as Night, Dark as Day, A Walk with the Death (生死晝夜：於死亡中前行)
WHEN: Today until Feb. 5, 2023. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10pm to 5pm
WHERE: Museum of World Religions (世界宗教博物館), 236 Jhongshan Rd Sec 1, Yonghe District, New Taipei City (新北市永和區中山路一段236號)
ON THE NET: bit.ly/3xw2Q5N
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