Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Death and Rebirth... From a Buddhist Perspective

From a Buddhist prospective, there is no need to fear death, as it’s inevitable, as it’s not really the end of life. Death is part of a process, life is a process, where we are born, we live a life, and at some point we die and are reborn again.

In Buddhism, death is not the end, it is the end of the physical presence only.  The spirit is reborn as a resultant karma of one’s past actions.  The person will be reborn in one of six realms which are heaven, human beings, asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell -  according to the severity of one’s karmic actions.  Buddhists believe however, none of these places are permanent and one does not remain in any place indefinitely.  

The fear of death stemmed from the fear to cease to be existent.  It is also the fear of leaving behind your loved ones.   Death is certain, however,  the time is uncertain.  There is no possible way to escape death.  Life has a definite, inflexible limit and each moment brings us closer to the finality of this life.  We are dying from the moment we are born. Death is what separates us from the next life.        

It is natural to grieve the loss of family members and others we know, as we adjust to living without their presence and missing them as part of our lives.  The death of a loved one is terribly painful, as time goes on and people pass away, and each time we feel a loss, we are reminded of our own journey of life and how impermanent it actual is. 

According to Buddhism, our lives and all that occurs in our lives is a result of Karma.  Every action creates a new karma, this karma or action is created with our body, our speech or our mind and this action leaves a subtle imprint on our mind which has the potential to ripen as future happiness or future suffering, depending on whether the action was positive or negative.
If we bring happiness to people, we will be happy.  If we create suffering, we will experience suffering either in this life or in a future one.
This is called the Law of Karma, or the Law of Cause and Effect.  Karmic law will lead the spirit of the dead to be reborn in realms which are suitably appropriate to their karmic accumulations. 
Good actions are an excellent way to prepare for our death.  Not performing evil deeds, keeping our heart and mind pure, doing no harm, no killing, no sexual misconduct or lying, not using drugs or alcohol has very positive merit which enable us to die as we have lived.
Improving the moral and spiritual quality of life, in the bigger schemes of things has more value than medically trying to prolong it. 

Live a responsible and compassionate life, fully aware of the impermanence, with a loving attitude towards all living things, with no regrets when death approaches trusting that in your moment of truth you will find grace.  In Buddhist traditions, a dying person will wish to have spiritual friends read prayers and chants from Buddhist Scriptures and this is important for them as it will be the last thing they hear and therefore in their final moment of their present life, the right state of mind has been generated within the person and they can find their way into a higher state of rebirth as they leave the current life.    

In fact, Buddhists don’t want anyone to even touch the body for 3-8 hours after breathing ceases. Buddhists believe that the spirit of the person will linger on for some time and can be affected by what happens to the corpse.  It is important that the body is treated gently and with respect so the spirit can be at ease, not angry or confused.

According to Buddhism if a human does not obtain nirvana or enlightenment, to separate themselves from egotism, the person cannot escape the  cycle of death and rebirth and we are destined to be reborn into the 6 possible states beyond this our present life, these being in order from the higher to lowest:

Heaven:  In Buddhism there are 37 different levels of heaven where beings experience peace and long lasting happiness without suffering in the heavenly environment.

Human Life:  We can be reborn into human life over and over, either wealthy or poor, beautiful or not so, and every state between and both as it is served up to us.  Anything can happen, as is found in human life and society all around us as we are already familiar.  What we get is a result of our Karma of what we have dragged with us from previous existences and how it manifests in our temporary present lives.

Asura:  A spiritual state of Demi- Gods but not the happy state experienced by the gods in the heavens above this state.  The Demi-Gods are consumed with jealousy, because unlike humans, they can clearly see the superior situation of the gods in the heavens above them.  They constantly compete and struggle with the gods due to their dissatisfaction with their desires from the others.

Hungry Ghost:  This spiritual realm of those who committed excessive amounts of evil deeds and who are obsessed with finding food and drink which they cannot experience and thus remain unsatisfied and tortured by the experience.  They exhaust themselves in the constant fruitless searching.

Animals:  This realm is visible to humans and it is where spirits of humans are reborn if they have killed animals or have committed a lot of other evil acts.  Animals do not have the freedom that humans would experience due to being a subject constantly hunted by humans, farmed and used in farming, also as beasts for entertainment.

Hell:  This realm is not visible to humans.  It is a place where beings born there experience a constant state of searing pain and the various types of hell realms reads like a variety of horrific torture chambers.  Those with a great deal of negative Karma can remain in such places for eons of time.

To conclude, none of us can avoid death, however, the only thing that can help us at the time of death is our mental and spiritual development.   Practise the spiritual path and ripen your inner potential -  by cultivating positive mental qualities and abandoning disturbing mental qualities.     All that goes on to the next life is our mind with its karmic positive or negative imprints.

Death and Dying in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition:  Compiled by : Ven. Pende Hawter

Buddhist view on Death and Rebirth.... Ven Thich Nguyen Tang

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